The Calm Before the Storm: Free Agency Thoughts

Feature image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America

I love the off-season. The draft is always fun but free agency is another beast entirely, as fans, writers and even league executives await a tweet that reveals a free agent’s destination, a change in fortunes, a change in scenery, a change in direction…it all happens in free agency if it hasn’t happened in the draft.

And this year’s free agents class is chock-full of great players. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap to name a few. Sure, not all free agents will necessarily leave their teams but free agency is a wild beast. You just don’t know…

There’s so much talent available this summer, far exceeding last year’s free agency class. From potential franchise changers to role players…it’s all here this summer.

Quite a number of teams are already regretting how much money they spent last season. Teams like Houston already looking to move on from Ryan Anderson, Atlanta possibly from Kent Bazemore… I think you’re going to find that the teams who didn’t spend all of their cap space for the sake of spending (Boston, Denver, Phoenix etc.) are going to be the teams with a huge say in free agency this season.

Because teams might look to move on from the mistakes of years past, I think you could see a lot more trades that relieve salary so that they can become involved in free agency this season, which may cost teams valuable assets. Look at the Lakers, they had to sacrifice D’Angelo Russell just to dump that horrible Timofey Mozgov contract. The Nets are ultimately going to reap the benefits of the Lakers’ mistake, even if they’re left with Mozgov for a few years.

That’s just one story, are there similar ones waiting to be written when July 1st hits?

We’ve already seen superstars under contract on the move via trade. Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler so far but surely there’s more to follow, and you’d imagine Paul George will eventually join this club. What if OKC can’t convince newly crowned MVP Russell Westbrook to sign another extension? That’s an interesting thought.

Chicago are in an interesting spot. They’re clearly heading for a rebuild but their veterans (Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade) will surely seek a way out of Chicago and I think you’ll see them wiggle free. Who knows where they’ll end up.

Boston haven’t looked great recently. With the Timberwolves package that the Bulls ultimately settled for, the Celtics could’ve easily have gotten involved and acquired Jimmy Butler. That’s just a fact. They’ve seemingly been reluctant to overpay but it’s cost them the opportunity at acquiring one star. How will free agency play out?

Restricted free agency should be interesting as always. The Brooklyn Nets are always in play in this market, just waiting to catch playoff teams unawares with big offer sheets that they may not be willing to match. Players like Tim Hardaway Jr., KCP, Andre Roberson and Otto Porter could be pried away with big money offer sheets.

Miami are my team to keep an eye on. Watch out for them, think they’ll be big players in free agency, especially if there’s a resolution to be found with Chris Bosh that will free up a lot of cap space. They’re my favourites to land Gordon Hayward.

Let’s do some predictions. Those are always fun.

Who stays?

Curry and Durant stay, that’s for sure. I think Serge Ibaka stays in Toronto along with Kyle Lowry as will Jrue Holiday in New Orleans — they simply have to keep him.

Who’s leaving? Lots of players.

Griffin, Millsap, Hayward (NOT to Boston…), I think some team will pry Andre Iguodala away from Golden State with an offer he can’t refuse, JJ Redick will leave as will Danilo Gallinari.

It’s going to be a wild summer filled with bad contracts no doubt but, hey, you never know.

Can the Celtics Nab the Number One Seed?

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The most wonderful time of the basketball season is nearly upon us — the playoffs. Once basketball resumes after the All-Star break, everyone sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Those in contention know the playoffs are around the corner and there’s just that extra focus.

For the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference…there’s an extra focus to peak at the right time. Though the Washington Wizards are close, the race for the number one seed is coming down between two teams: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics.

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Initially, I thought that there wasn’t much of a race here. I thought that period where the Cavs were struggling, one/two weeks ago was Celtics’ chance to take the one seed but they didn’t take full advantage. But upon further inspection, the Celtics could take the one seed yet…

Let’s take a look at Boston’s remaining schedule:


Celtics march


Celtics april

Strength of schedule: .503

Some very nice games here for the C’s. Brooklyn twice, Orlando and Phoenix at home and Philly on the road. But it’s that six game home stand in the later stages of March will have a huge say whether or not the Celtics can take the one seed.

Those are all winnable games but the two big games nestled in that home stand are the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards.

The Heat, by far, would prove the toughest challenge in a 1-8 or a 2-7 matchup. You could make a strong case that the Heat — if they didn’t have so many injuries earlier in the season — would probably be well in the hunt for home court advantage. This will definitely be a tough game with high stakes for both teams, especially given last season’s regular season finale. I honestly believe that the Heat would beat the Celtics in a playoff series…

That Wizards game could almost decide who gets the number two seed, that’s a huge game in its own right. These two teams have beef.

Then, of course, you had the Wiz players wearing all black for their next meeting — the funeral game — which the Wizards won.

Looking outside of that home stand, the Celtics only have five road games left for the entire season. That’s all. And the ones they do have left should be pretty easy. They’re all against teams with records below .500, bar one in the form of the Atlanta Hawks. And then, of course, there’s the game that could literally decide who takes the top seed in the East: April 5th…a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics won at home against the Cavs last time out, so the Celtics’ belief will be there. If the one seed hinges on this game…what an incredible game it will be.

With Avery Bradley also now back in the fold, it sure looks good for the Celtics at the right time of the year.

How about the Cavs? How’s their schedule looking?


Cavs march


Cavs april

Strength of schedule: .494

On the face of it, the Cavs seem to have a much more difficult sled of games than the Celtics. They play a difficult Jazz, embark on a four game road trip, come back home to play one game against a very good team in the form of the Washington Wizards and then head back out on the road to play the Spurs. That’s pretty rough, especially that San Antonio game. Add to that a home game against the Pacers (which could be problematic, you never know with Indy, but Cavs should win), a home-and-away against the Hawks, a road game against the Miami Heat and a home game against the Raptors to finish the regular season.

That’s a lot of teams with a lot to play for. Out of all of their remaining fixtures the Sixers, the Lakers, the Magic and, to an extent, the Hornets haven’t much to play for (Charlotte too far back of the eighth seed at this stage). Everyone else is either jostling for seeding or fighting for the playoffs in general.

There’s a number of factors you have to take into account when it comes to this Cavs team and the number one seed.

Firstly, do they even care?

In this six-year stretch (2011-present) where a LeBron James led team has advanced to the Finals, the Cavs had only had the one seed twice — 2013 and 2016. In 2011 the Heat defeated the top seeded Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Finals. In 2012 the Bulls, again, took the one seed but were undone by the Derrick Rose injury in the first round. In 2014, the Indiana Pacers, to be fair, were basically given the first seed by the Heat. If you remember, the Pacers were awful in the second half of that season, if Miami wanted the first seed they could’ve had it. They met in Eastern Conference Finals and the Heat prevailed in six games. In 2015, the Hawks stormed to the one seed but were banged up considerably by the time they met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals with LeBron, again, pulling through.

LeBron has shown time and time again that he doesn’t need the one seed to make it to the Finals. I think things would be different if the overall top seed was in play and, as such, home court advantage for the NBA Finals. The first seed in the Western Conference has been the team who has claimed home court advantage for the Finals in recent years. But, once again this season, this is out of the reach of the Cavs.

Secondly, the Cavs want to be healthy  by the time the playoffs arrive. This is the most important thing to them. Kevin Love is close to returning, as is Kyle Korver, and the Cavs have just got J.R. Smith back. The focus will soon switch to LeBron and Kyrie Irving.

Trailing by just .2 of a minute to Kyle Lowry, LeBron totals 37 minutes a night and hasn’t taken a whole lot of time off. Irving, meanwhile, is right up there too, logging 35 minutes a night. Eventually, Cavs head coach Ty Lue will have to bench these guys for some of these stretch games, especially LeBron.

If sacrificing a few games is what it takes to make sure LeBron and Kyrie are ready to rumble for another run to the Finals they should/will do that. But will this allow Boston to pass Cleveland for the one seed?

Another thing to consider is this… If the Heat are looking at the eighth seed and the Cavs are still the one seed…do you try get out of that series and possibly screw the Celtics over with that 1-8 matchup? No team should want any part of the Heat in a playoff series. Their record does not reflect fairly on that team and the Heat have actually beaten the Cavaliers twice in March alone, although one of those games LeBron and Irving were rested but the game Irving and James did play against the Heat — and lost — was in their own building.

None of this is to say that the Heat would beat the Cavs in a round one matchup, but it would be a very challenging matchup for sure, one you’d like to avoid if possible.

For all these reasons, I do think the Celtics will eventually end up with the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but if they face the Miami Heat in round one it may not matter…

Surprises of the Young NBA Season So Far

It has been a fun two weeks of NBA basketball so far. Triple-doubles, multiple 50 point games, buzzer beaters… It’s been a good.

Before the start of the season, we form our own expectations of how the season is going to go. We put teams and players in boxes and some out of them. Naturally we don’t get everything right and surprises are always sprung. With that said, here are some of the things that have come as surprises to me so far in this early 2016-17 season.

The Los Angeles Lakers

Are the Lakers actually decent again?? Wow, it has been a long time… The Lakers sit above .500 with a 4-3 record — rolling behind a 3 game streak after they fought off the Suns. And they’ve beaten some decent teams too. The most notable being the home drumming of the Golden State Warriors, but they’ve also beaten the Hawks on the road as well as the Houston Rockets at home in their season opener — all teams that figure to be pretty decent.

And they haven’t been driven by a single player like the Pelicans are with Anthony Davis, it has been by committee. Five Laker players are averaging double digit scoring and Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram are not among them. It has been their bench has given them such a boost: 50 points per game (the most in the league) led by Jordan Clarkson (14.1 PPG) and Lou Williams (15.3 PPG). Brandon Ingram is also coming off the bench to begin the season and I think that’s the smart thing to do with Ingram. There’s no rush here, let him adjust to NBA second units first and take it from there. It’s a long season and injuries happen (especially to Luol Deng), there’s no rush. Good stuff from Coach Luke Walton.

D’Angelo Russell has been pretty good so far, as has Jordan Clarkson. Other players that have impressed are Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black, whose emergence meant that Yi Jianlian wasn’t going to play a whole lot of minutes, and he subsequently asked Laker management to be released.

But perhaps the biggest surprise for me is Nick Young is actually playing and contributing in a significant manner. I thought this guy was absolutely done, at least with the Lakers. So to see him actually start and play well (averaging 13.7 PPG and 33% shooting from deep).

The Los Angeles Lakers and Nick Young… Things I didn’t think I’d be talking about at this early stage of the season in a positive manner. It’s early days but this team might have to be taken a little more seriously this season. The Byron Scott chains have been broken!

Dwyane Wade — three-point specialist?

While the Bulls sit with a 3-3 record, they’ve actually begun the season pretty decently. They started 3-0 before losing their next 3 games, but it has been Dwyane Wade that has shocked the basketball world by shooting 47% from three on 3.5 attempts per game.

Let’s just put this into context: for his 13 season career Wade has shot 28% from behind the arc on 1.6 attempts per game — Josh Smith like. So to see these numbers out of Wade is staggering. I certainly thought his Game 6 three-point heroics vs the Hornets (triggered by Purple Shirt Guy) was a one off, but it may have been just the start.

People made fun of the Bulls’ hilarious lack of spacing with Rondo, Wade, Butler and Lopez, but if Wade can even hit 35% of his threes, they might have the last laugh… As they get KO’d in Round 1/2 of the playoffs.

The Washington Wizards

There’s a lot to be said for continuity in this league and the Washington Wizards have been one of the better examples of this in the recent years. The core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter have been together for years now and they’ve done well to add to that core. The addition of Markieff Morris has helped the Wizards quite a bit (an unbelievable upgrade over Nene, holy crap…) and Ian Mahinmi is a player I like quite a bit, coming off the bench. Add to that bench unit of point guard Trey Burke, second year wing Kelly Oubre, veteran Jason Smith, Marcus Thornton and Andrew Nicholson — decent players to have coming off your bench. This, combined with a very decent starting five, is a team that is definitely better than the 1-4 record that the Wizards currently rock.

Their offense has been shaky (96.6 points per 100 possessions) and their defence isn’t good enough to make up for their lack of offense (104 points conceded per 100 possessions). Bradley Beal has been healthy so far but has shot a very poor — for his standards — 29% from behind the arc and John Wall has been turning the ball over an awful lot: 5.3 per game. This is killing the Wizards, who concede 21 points per game off of turnovers — only the Timberwolves concede more in the league.

They have played some tough teams: Memphis, Atlanta twice and the Raptors. Not the easiest schedule but if the Wizards want to be in the playoff picture they need to be beating some of these playoff calibre teams.

It’s early days but in the competitive — at least for playoff seeding — Eastern Conference, but the Wizards need to enforce themselves as a legit playoff contender. They have no excuses right now, everyone is healthy.

The Minnesota Timberwolves

A lot of people where very quick to hop on this bandwagon before the start if the season and it seems as though it was too much too soon — at least at the start of the season. The Wolves sit at 1-4 and things haven’t come together as people expected.

Towns, Wiggins and even LaVine have been great but the Ricky Rubio injury really hurts this team in the short term because now Kris Dunn is thrown into the frying pan. It’s so hard to be a rookie point guard in the Western Conference, the quality of opponent is unbelievable. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Mike Conley and technically James Harden. These are all the guys you’re facing 3-4 times a year, and that’s tough for a rookie. There’s going to be a huge adjustment period for the Wolves with Dunn and that’s going to hurt them in the short term while he figures things out.

They’re a young team, and with K.A.T entering Year 2, Wiggins and LaVine entering Year 3, Kris Dunn being an interesting prospect and the addition of Thibs on the sideline, I think people expected too much too soon and they’ve been let down by this team just being themselves: young. They’ll get better as the season progresses as they figure out and grow into Thibs’ system and his ways, but it might be too late for the playoffs by the time they do hit their stride.

I would mention Joel Embiid, but his season is of no surprise to me. You only had to look at his college highlights to know that he was going to be a monster if he did play.

And look, take all of these things with a grain of salt: we’ve played, like, six games. There’s a long way to go yet…