Around the Rim

By Josh Eberley #41

Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome to Around the Rim.

Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices heard and trendy issues. This week I’m stoked to give you an entirely draft focused collaboration.

You can find the previous edition here. As promised, the roundtable will run every Tuesday, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped on for the current edition.

This week we are fortunate to have five dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

Andy Bailey: Bleacher Report, contributor

Noah Coslov: SiriusXM NBA, host

Patrick Fenelon: NBA freelance

Dustin Hawes: HolyBackboard podcast, host

Morten Jensen: BBallBreakdown, contributor

Gordon Hayward breaks the heart of Utah fans while saving Danny Ainge’s offseason in one fell swoop. Thoughts on the move?

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Bailey: There are plenty of points to be made on both sides of this debate. Boston plays in a significantly weaker conference. It has interesting young players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. It has more picks coming in the future. And of course, it has Brad Stevens, who appears to have been the biggest selling point in this whole saga.

But the better situation for Hayward as an individual player was in Utah. There, his No. 2 was Rudy Gobert, a 25-year-old center who trailed only James Harden in Win Shares in 2016-17, and who took only 7.7 shots per game. He’s arguably the most dominant defensive player in the League, which would’ve meant a much lighter load for Hayward to carry on defense.

Contrast that with the Celtics, who have a point guard in Isaiah Thomas who will almost certainly bump Hayward from a No. 1 option to a No. 2. Thomas was seventh in the NBA in field-goal attempts per game last season at 19.4. And he came in 467th among 468 players in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Stevens will probably find a way to make these two work, but on paper, it’s hard to see Hayward being much more than a glorified 3-and-D guy as long as he’s on the floor with the ball-dominant Thomas.

Maybe that’s part of what he wanted, though. Hayward made great strides as an individual player since Utah and Quin Snyder made him the unquestioned alpha there, but his former teammate Trevor Booker wondered aloud on the HoopsHype Podcast whether he really wanted anything to do with that pressure.

In terms of Xs and Os, Utah was the right basketball choice. But if Hayward’s more comfortable as a No. 2 playing for his old college coach, who are we to fault him for moving somewhere he’d rather be?

Coslov: Batting .500 in free agency gets a GM a smooth ride to Springfield, especially since Danny Ainge has access to Kramer’s wide lanes on the expressway that is the Eastern Conference. Ainge’s hope was to land Hayward and Paul George, but the Pacers inexplicably pulled the trigger early on the deal with OKC. Unlike other free agent moves around the League, we don’t have to wonder about Hayward buying in to a system and making things work with the head coach and I’d imagine Brad Stevens won’t be accused of treating Hayward like Doc Rivers treats Austin. Losing Avery Bradley in the process hurts the Celtics as it’ll be an adjustment defensively for whomever is guarding opposing point guards, likely Marcus Smart.

For Hayward, a core with Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio and Rodney Hood isn’t as good now and as promising in the future as Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder, Jalen Brown, Jayson Tatum and picks, picks, picks and more picks. He’s in a much more favorable position to reach the Conference Finals, but anything less than losing to LeBron is a failed season for the Celtics.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Fenelon: It’s always hard when a fan favorite signs elsewhere in free agency. That said, Hayward was obviously 100 percent within his rights to do what he did. As for how he did it, that’s more complicated. The confusion that ensued after his agent, Mark Bartelstein, contradicted initial reports that he had chosen to sign with Boston put fans through a lot of unnecessary anxiety. This could have and should have been handled better. Regardless of who was at fault for the initial leak, everyone in Hayward’s camp dropped the ball doing damage control after it happened. Fans deserve better than that.

As far as basketball decisions go, I think Hayward made a smart choice to get out of the Western Conference, which will be an absolute bloodbath next year. He also fits very well with Boston’s roster. This team should be better than the team he would been on had he stayed in Utah, though watching him, Gobert, and Rubio would have been a joy. This team still won’t challenge LeBron, but it has lots of upside long term. I think he made the right call.

Hawes: As a fan of another small market franchise (Portland) who recently saw their All-Star caliber player (Aldridge) leave for what was perceived as greener pastures, I empathize with the Utah Jazz and their fan base. Utah took a gamble and bet on Hayward with the ninth pick of the 2010 draft, spent countless resources to help advance and develop his game, made him the focal point of the offense, and positioned him as the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. While basketball is a business and Hayward put in his seven years, earning the right to choose his next destination, it’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re a Jazz fan or a fan of small market teams in general. Boston was in the right place at the right time (and with the right coach) to reap the rewards of those previous seven years without any previous commitment.

Only time will tell if this was the correct basketball decision for Hayward. I’d argue the 2017 Jazz were a better team than the East’s No. 1 seed and that their style of play, suffocating defense, and supporting cast were set up for more long-term success. Now, is the road to the Conference Finals clearer in the East? Will Hayward rack up multiple All-Star appearances in the Celtic green? Yes and yes. But don’t get it twisted, neither team with Hayward is outlasting the Warriors or Cavaliers.

Lastly, it comes down to what Hayward wants out of his career. If he wanted to build a legacy, be the face of a franchise, and ultimately have his jersey retired, he should have stayed in Utah. However, if he wanted a chance to take care of unfinished business and reunite with his college coach at Butler, then Boston was the right choice.

Jensen: While the breaking of hearts was unfortunate—and the Twitter teaser certainly didn’t help matters—going East was in this climate always going to be the correct basketball decision for Gordon Hayward. Let’s be honest about something: The East is in serious trouble. Three All-Stars from last year’s game (Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap) went to the West, as did former All-Star Jeff Teague. Hayward is, at best, a consolation prize for the Eastern Conference as a whole, but for Boston specifically, the signing unlocked a new level for their team. Hayward is not only back together with his college coach Brad Stevens, he’s also in a position where the nightly challenges are far less severe. Instead of battling Kevin Durant one night, and Kawhi Leonard the next, he’s going to look across the floor and find DeMarre Carroll and Paul Zipser. However you slice it, that’s always going to be preferable if you want to win.

The Washington Wizards matched that scary offer sheet Otto Porter signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Will they regret it? 

Coslov: If John Wall, Bryce Harper, Alex Ovechkin and Otto Porter walk into Pineapple & Pearls, who pays? Before Bryce signs for $500M and while John Wall sits on his extension, Otto Porter’s picking up the bill. No doubt this was a career year, but Otto Porter is significantly less valuable to the Wizards if John Wall isn’t on the team, running the offense, leading to Porter threes in the right corner where he shot 51 percent this season. The Wizards will regret it if Wall makes it clear he wants out before his contract is up in two years, but if Ernie Grunfeld can move salary around and make room for another All-Star, then no regrets.

Fenelon: Does it make sense that I think the Wizards will regret matching Otto Porter’s offer sheet, while at the same time believe that they really didn’t have a choice, given their cap situation? Because that’s how I feel about this. Had they not matched the offer sheet, the Wizards would have still been over the cap, but without Otto Porter or the ability to replace him. Porter may not be the sort of guy we think of as a max-contract sort of player, but he’s damn good. He plays an unselfish style that is absolutely essential to the Wizards on offense. He’s also crucial for their floor spacing, as he shot 43 percent on three-point field goals last season—the fifth best in the NBA. He’s also a very solid defender, with enough size & athleticism to switch onto both bigger & smaller opponents. Don’t get me wrong, the Wizards are overpaying here, but they had no choice. They’re in too deep with this core to let a player like Porter go.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Hawes: As long as John Wall and Bradley Beal are on the roster, the Wizards need to do everything possible to win now. With LeBron James looking like he could move to the Left Coast in the summer of 2018, the Wizards should position themselves to take the crown and they won’t be in proper position without Otto Porter. At just 24 years of age, Porter’s 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 43.4 percent from three are strong numbers and, by all accounts, is only getting better.

Is it a risk to bet that Porter continues his ascension? Of course. Do those numbers warrant $20 million a year? Absolutely not. But here’s the thing with restricted free agency: it’s a no-win scenario. Your classic catch-22. On one hand, you’re overpaying to keep homegrown talent. On the other hand, you can’t lose a player of his age, size, and skill set and get absolutely nothing in return.

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Jensen: The NBA’s salary cap is a beast worthy of starring alongside Eddie Redmayne in the 2018 sequel. General managers realized they couldn’t unleash crazy contracts upon the League with no consequences, and as such, teams have been less inclined to hand out larger deals this summer, almost as if they’re taking the early Sunday morning walk of shame for the craziness that was last year. Otto Porter, however, while now on a max contract is at least worth the gamble. At the obnoxiously young age of just 23, this guy sported a True Shooting Percentage of .628 and threw himself into the conversation as one of the best shooters in the League. The 6-9 forward is superbly athletic and has a wonderful 7-1 wingspan thrown in for good measure. The contract is most certainly steep—but defensible in every way.

Bailey: This one might depend on John Wall. If he doesn’t sign the extension Washington recently offered him or re-up with the Wizards in 2019, it could be tough for the team to pivot toward rebuilding on a dime. It’ll still have a ton of money tied up in Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and it’s tough to forecast trade markets.

Even still, Washington almost had to match this offer. If it hadn’t, the Wizards still would’ve been up against the cap, and no bargain bin wings left on the market can provide what Porter does.

He’s one of the best second-third wheels in the League. A glorified 3-and-D guy (though not in the pejorative sense used above). He finished fourth in the League in three-point percentage and has the size and athleticism to defend 3s, 4s and even some 2s in a pinch.

 

Who was the biggest loser this offseason?

Fenelon: Biggest loser this offseason was the Pacers, in my view. While they were smart to trade Paul George now in order to get something instead of letting him walk after next season, and getting nothing, they got a pretty poor return for a player of his caliber. Oladipo is fine, and Sabonis seems destined to be a quality role player, but that’s not good enough to pull the trigger on that trade in my view. No picks? No salary dump? That’s not good enough. Indiana will be tanking next year, and I don’t think they set themselves up to re-build very well with this trade.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hawes: With so many teams having disastrous offseasons in the Eastern Conference, it’s tough to pick just one which is why I went with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks.

Everyone knew the Pacers would not get equal value in return for Paul George after their All-Star informed the team he would not be re-signing with the franchise in 2018. All leverage in trade talks with opposing GMs was lost for Kevin Pritchard, even more so knowing George was likely a one-year rental for any team other than the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the aforementioned hurdles facing Pritchard, teams were lining up to place their bid on the small forward with hopes of convincing him their franchise would be the best long-term fit. Portland reportedly put three 2017 draft picks on the table plus any player not named Lillard, McCollum, or Nurkic. Boston’s plan all along was said to have been signing Hayward and then making a play for George, positioning the Celtics as the new beasts of the East. Deciding to pass on better offers, Pritchard hit the panic button at the worst possible time—after the draft and before free agency—and settled on a deal from the Thunder which saw the Pacers receive zero draft picks and also take on more salary. It’s a move that still has GMs shaking their heads.

In a normal year, the Pacers would be odds on favorites for this unfortunate distinction of having the worst offseason, but New York told Indiana to hold their beer while they made a mockery of basketball operations. Whether it was Phil Jackson putting young star Kristaps Porzingis on blast, on multiple occasions, for skipping an exit interview and holding open trade calls for the unicorn or the team offering RFA Tim Hardaway Jr. a preposterous four-year, $71 million contract that had many shocked, it’s no surprise the Knicks haven’t been relevant since the 1999 Finals. Don’t even get me started on the Carmelo Anthony saga either, we all know how that one will play out…

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Jensen: The Indiana Bulls. Or is it the Chicago Pacers? Either way, the two Central Division rivals gave up two of the best wing players in the League for what ultimately amounted to peanuts. It made for sense for Indiana to move Paul George given how he essentially threw the entire franchise under the bus by declaring his intentions to go to Los Angeles, effectively murdering his own trade value in a way that James Wan has in all likelihood left several voice messages offering George a role in every horror film he’ll make for the rest of his life. Chicago, however, was not in a similar position with Butler. In fact, Butler often reiterated his desire to stay with the team that drafted him 30th back in 2011. Butler even had two years left on his deal, which was significantly below market value due to the fact he signed in 2015 before the cap spike. For the Bulls to pull the trigger on a deal wherein they got minor pieces and couldn’t even hang onto their own draft pick, is indefensible.

Bailey: I’ve been tracking Wins Over Replacement Player (VORP) added this summer. If we go by that number alone, the biggest loser is the Indiana Pacers, who lost 17.01 WORP with their various moves. Their hand was forced, though. And while the Paul George return was a head-scratcher, there’s still some semblance of a plan there. Myles Turner is really good and it’s too early to give up on former Hoosier Victor Oladipo. That and a couple other interesting young guys might be enough to compete in the decimated Eastern Conference.

Second on that list is the Bulls, who lost 16.2 WORP and get my vote here. Jimmy Butler was under contract for at least two more seasons, and Chicago’s return for him was almost as tough as the Pacers deal to figure out. Butler is still three years shy of his 30th birthday and trailed only LeBron James and Stephen Curry in RPM wins this past season. Getting an underwhelming rookie in Kris Dunn, an ACL recovery in Zach LaVine and a pick swap for Butler is borderline criminal.

Coslov: Miami Heat. It’s uncomfortable to use Pat Riley’s name in a “loser” category, but Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk are making $36M+ combined for each of the next four years. Plus, Tyler Johnson’s salary jumps from $5M to $18M after this season. So not only did the Heat not land a premier free agent this season, they will have the punishing & nearly impossible task, of trying to make moves to free up space for next year. They’ll have to rely on discounts for culture.

Who was the biggest winner this offseason?

 

Jensen: The Minnesota Timberwolves gained from the Bulls losing the offseason, by stealing All-NBA swingman Jimmy Butler away for what amounted to peanuts. Not only did get move one of the most disappointing rookies of last season in Kris Dunn, they also avoided to deal with Zach LaVine’s pending restricted free agency while coming back from an ACL tear. The Jeff Teague acquisition was decent, not spectacular, but their follow-up moves of signing both Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford (both former Bulls) helps paint a picture of an overall winning summer. The Timberwolves (Timberbulls?) are in a terrific position to make a playoff run, and not as in a run to make the playoffs, but a run in the playoffs. They’re athletic, they bolstered their defense, and they have capable scorers at every position. They still need more shooting, but that may come internally via the evolution of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Fenelon: Biggest winner, in my incredibly biased opinion, is the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves absolutely swindled the Bulls in the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. This team has missed the playoffs for over a decade—teams like this almost never acquire legit superstars in their primes. This trade alone will turn the entire organization around. They also acquired veteran help in Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague in free agency. Both of those guys will fit well with what Tom Thibodeau wants this team to do, and will help foster the development of the team’s young players. This is especially true regarding Taj, as his familiarity with Thibodeau’s defense will establish a continuity on that end of the court that this team desperately needs. Do I think they paid a bit too much for Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson? For sure. Does the Jamal Crawford deal make any sense? If it does, I don’t get it. But all of this is ok. The Timberwolves now have a core of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. They are about to take a leap and stay there for a very long time.

Bailey: Butler’s new team, the Minnesota Timberwolves hit this offseason out of the park. You can certainly question going for Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford instead of Patrick Patterson and C.J. Miles, but on the whole, this summer was a big win.

Jeff Teague makes more sense than Ricky Rubio with this roster, simply because he’s a better shooter. Butler and Andrew Wiggins will have the ball a lot, and they need someone who can space the floor off their drives.

And speaking of Wiggins, it wasn’t long ago that there were the reports that the Bulls wouldn’t trade Butler to Minnesota without Wiggins coming back. So much for that, huh?

Finally, there’s Towns. Butler will be the team’s best player for the next season or two, but Towns has the potential to be the best center in the league. Combining him with Butler and virtually any power forward gives the Timberwolves a terrifying frontcourt.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Hawes: Golden State is too obvious an answer. The reigning champs brought back KD on a discounted deal, rewarded Steph Curry with a historic contract, and found money in the budget to shore up their role players by re-signing Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West, and Zaza Pachulia and bringing in new faces Omri Casspi and Nick Young.

That’s too easy. Too boring. The unconventional answer is the Sacramento Kings. Not only did their find an elite floor general out of the draft in De’Aaron Fox but they took a smart gamble late in the first round on Harry Giles, a player who, had it not been for injuries, would have been a lock to go No. 1 in the draft.

After a strong draft, the Kings used their cap space wisely and added veterans George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter. Now, will these moves put the Kings in the playoffs—a spot the franchise has been desperate to get back to since 2006? Unlikely. However, for an organization that been perceived as dysfunctional from the outside looking in, I love the fact they brought in veterans to help guide the youth movement, particularly Hill who can now shoulder the responsibility of running point until Fox is ready to take the keys.

Coslov: Oklahoma City Thunder. By March, this could be the biggest loser, but Sam Presti turned the $63M-man Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who will be 22 when the Pacers are playing golf in May, into Paul George. Oladipo and Sabonis came with Ersan Ilyasova (whom the Thunder should not have dealt to the Sixers) in the Serge Ibaka deal, so there were more pieces involved, but with Russell Westbrook waiting to sign his contract extension, the organization had to send the message that it wasn’t going to sit and wait while Kevin Durant is daydreaming about his next title while having coffee with a 26-year old CEO. It is known that Paul George wants to be in LA, but the Thunder have a full year to recruit him and the MVP, to stay, putting OKC in a better position than anyone else. Could Bricktown beat the beach? If Westbrook and George can’t make it work together on the court, then maybe the Thunder have bigger issues on their hands.

Also, it wasn’t just the Paul George trade. Patrick Patterson is one of the summer bargains and the Thunder are now a favorite to get a top-four seed in the West.

More likely scenario this season; the Cavaliers stumble over internal chaos and LeBron James misses the Finals for the first time in eight years. Or, Golden State is upset by one of the improved Western Conference powers?

Jensen: The Cavaliers are a mess. They have a truly remarkable roster, but their ownership is effectively ruining every good vibe this team acquired by winning the title in 2016. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert offered Chauncey Billups less money to be the team’s general manager than Billups would have gotten had he decided to come back to the NBA as a player and signed a minimum contract. Read that sentence again. Chemistry is crucial, especially for championship contenders, and with LeBron James and company dissatisfied with how Gilbert handled the David Griffin situation, they’re very much inclined to crumble internally at some point this season, which is a shame. For the Cavs to recover, Gilbert will have to hire a new general manager who understands the delicate situation the club is in, and afterwards sacrifice himself by distancing himself from the team to unite them against him—and that’s not going to happen. His ego could never carry such an unselfish deed.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Bailey: At the outset, I’ll say that both these scenarios seem extremely unlikely to me. Even with Boston’s improved roster, it’s hard to imagine the Celtics toppling Cleveland. One could argue that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are better than Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford (I wouldn’t, but one could). And of course, LeBron is still the runaway best player in that series.

As for the West, the only thing that would’ve put a team anywhere near the Warriors’ level was Chris Paul teaming up with Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. That, of course, didn’t happen. CP3’s new team in Houston will be dynamic offensively. The one-two punch of Russell Westbrook and Paul George will cause everyone problems. And Kawhi, Pop and the Spurs are Kawhi, Pop and the Spurs. But in the end, Golden State still has two top-five players in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, another top 15-20 player in Draymond Green, and yet another top 50 player in Klay Thompson. If the gap’s closed at all, it’s closed to the point that one of these teams might be able to sneak a game or two in a seven-game series.

So, if I had to choose, I’ll go with the Cavs falling to someone in the East, despite how tragically weak that conference is.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Coslov: Although I don’t think either is likely, it’s more likely that LeBron misses the Finals for the first time since 2010 when he couldn’t carry Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Shaq past the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s more realistic to bet on Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Love getting hurt than it is the Warriors getting complacent. The Cavaliers margin for error against the Celtics isn’t what it was last year, so LeBron exiting early, as unfathomable as it seems, is more plausible than a collapse in the Bay.

Fenelon: Neither of these scenarios are going to happen unless LeBron gets injured or the entire Warriors team succumbs to the plague. The former is obviously a lot more likely than the latter, but it’s still super unlikely to happen given LeBron’s near-flawless injury history. And even if that happened, that wouldn’t exactly be internal chaos bringing the Cavs down. In short, I’m dodging the question. We will see the Cavs and Warriors in the finals again next year.

Hawes: Neither is likely and I’d put both scenarios at less than five-percent chance at happening. But, if I had to choose, the Cavaliers missing the Finals would happen before the Warriors get upset. Golden State is stacked. Their margin for error is as large as I’ve seen in my 27 years of watching the NBA. It would take not one, but two season-ending injuries to their Big Four for them not to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Knock on wood, though. If Golden State is knocked off the pedestal, we should all hope it happens with their roster at full strength.