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For both human beings and NBA teams, the end of the year is a time to look ahead. Everyone strives to make themselves better for the future, shoring up weaknesses and building upon strengths in an effort to make 2018 more successful than 2017.
But as the calendars flip to a new year, reflection is also important.
There’s a time and place for highlighting what went well, but this is neither that time nor that place. We’re looking at regrets for each of the Association’s 30 squads, focusing on what went most wrong during the tail end of 2016-17, the 2017 offseason or the beginning of the current campaign.
Optimism can’t reign supreme until we’ve finished analyzing the negatives. After all, you can’t learn from your mistakes unless you first admit to them.
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The Atlanta Hawks can’t keep prolonging divorces with key players and taking back far less in return for their services. They made that mistake with Al Horford, then watched as he joined the Boston Celtics, with whom he’s developed into a Defensive Player of the Year front-runner and legitimate MVP candidate. Now, they’re starting to realize they fell into the same trap with Paul Millsap.
“Atlanta (19-16) is engaged in discussions with several teams on forward Paul Millsap, who can become a free agent in July, and the organization is motivated to move him sooner rather than later, sources said,” Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski reported for The Vertical in January. “Toronto, Denver and Sacramento are among teams with an interest in Millsap, league sources said.”
But the Hawks held tight.
Instead of getting intriguing young players and/or draft picks, they extended their playoff streak to 10 consecutive seasons and lost in the first round, bowing out after six games against the superior Washington Wizards. Then Millsap opted out, and the front office was able to finagle a three-way sign-and-trade that netted Jamal Crawford (waived), Diamond Stone (waived), a protected first-round pick and cash.
They made the best of a bad situation, but the bad situation was already worse than it should have been.
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The Boston Celtics haven’t really done anything that deserves regret.
They exhibited nearly unmatched patience throughout trade season and the summer months, declining to give up key pieces for established superstars such as Jimmy Butler and Paul George. Then they made the seemingly controversial decision to trade down in the 2017 NBA draft…except Jayson Tatum has been vastly superior to Markelle Fultz thus far and they netted another first-round pick as a result.
Everything general manager Danny Ainge has touched has turned into gold. Even after marquee free-agent signing Gordon Hayward went down minutes into his Beantown tenure, head coach Brad Stevens has pieced together a new-look rotation and facilitated breakouts from nearly everyone on the roster, allowing the C’s to remain contenders in the Eastern Conference.
So perhaps the only regret is a silly one: What might have gone differently if the Celtics had looked into their crystal ball and disallowed Hayward from ever pursuing an alley-oop jam?
Of course, this would’ve been nonsensical. Per NBA Savant, Hayward was 14-of-15 on alley-oop dunks during his final year with the Utah Jazz, making more of those highlight-reel maneuvers than all but 21 players throughout the league. No one could be that prescient, and the star small forward could’ve injured himself on a different play, likely just as innocuous, moments later.
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Allen Crabbe hasn’t been a big addition for the Brooklyn Nets, averaging only 12.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from the field, 37.2 percent from downtown and 81.1 percent at the stripe. Those are fine numbers, but they become less palatable when the attached salary is worth $ 19,332,500 for 2017-18 and $ 18.5 million each of the next two years (assuming the wing picks up his player option in 2019-20).
For that type of mediocre production, the Nets needed to be compensated more by the Portland Trail Blazers, who got out from under that albatross salary in an offseason deal. Sure, Brooklyn wiped Andrew Nicholson’s deal from its ledger, but receiving a first-round pick for the willingness to play garbage dump would’ve been nice.
As Zach Lowe wrote for ESPN.com, this is a self-admitted concern of general manager Sean Marks:
“The Nets instead played their last flexibility chip on Crabbe — and extracted zero picks for saving the taxed-to-oblivion Blazers almost $ 45 million. They undid what most executives considered a lucky break in Portland matching Brooklyn’s offer sheet for Crabbe a year ago. ‘Would we have liked a pick?’ Marks asked. ‘Sure. But this is what it took.'”
Knowing now how little growth Crabbe would show—you could actually argue his slipping percentages have made him less useful despite a change in scenery—Marks might like a do-over.
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When Kemba Walker is on the floor, the Charlotte Hornets outscore the opposition by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. Without the All-Star point guard, that net rating plummets to minus-15.1, essentially meaning the squad morphs from the Boston Celtics (4.6 net rating) to something far worse than the Sacramento Kings (minus-10.5).
That’s a swing of 20.3 points per 100 possessions—nearly double the differentials posted by the players with the next biggest gaps. The Hornets see their net rating leap by 11.8 and 11.2 when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dwight Howard are on the floor, respectively.
This isn’t normal. One person isn’t supposed to be this impactful, and Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale showed on Twitter just how rare this type of on/off chasm is for even the league’s biggest superstars.
It all stems from the black hole behind Walker on the depth chart.
The Hornets attempted to address the glaring need for a backup point guard by signing Michael Carter-Williams to a one-year deal worth $ 2.7 million. But that’s backfired massively, as the veteran floor general (when healthy) has played solid defense while looking utterly incompetent on the scoring end. Point-preventing work is nice, but Charlotte has to find some way to provide offense when Walker is on the pine, and slashing 26.8/27.3/80.0 isn’t cutting it.
Had Charlotte gone almost any other direction on the free-agent market rather than leaving itself tethered to Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone and Marcus Paige, its bench might not give away so many leads through an utter inability to score. Currently, the second unit ranks No. 29 in offensive rating, and that’s not what a team that entered the year with playoff aspirations is looking for.
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As Ricky O’Donnell wrote for Blog A Bull in the wake of the Chicago Bulls’ decision to trade away Jimmy Butler, the swap seemed indefensible at the time. Here comes just a small part of the impassioned argument:
“The trade with the Timberwolves is simply unforgivable. If the Bulls were going to trade Butler, they needed premium picks in this draft and future drafts. They had to give themselves more shots at acquiring another superstar who could carry this franchise like Jimmy Butler. Instead, the Bulls got none of that, trading only for an old point guard prospect who can’t shoot, an electric athlete recovering from a torn ACL and a pick swap that moved them up just nine spots in the draft order. The Bulls got an F for this deal only because that’s as low as the grade scale goes. In truth, even an F doesn’t show just how shortsighted and stupid this trade was.
“The Bulls have decided to rebuild, but this Butler trade already starts the rebuilding effort off at a massive disadvantage. This trade already puts a hard cap on how good the team can be before their new reality even has the chance to set in.”
Zach LaVine still hasn’t played. Lauri Markkanen has fallen back to Earth after his scorching start to his rookie campaign. And while Kris Dunn has blossomed into arguably the team’s best player, that hasn’t been enough to salvage this swap.
After all, retrospective analysis is tough when it seemed, in the moment, that the Bulls could’ve easily gotten more for their big-name player. At the very least, they shouldn’t have given up a first-round selection and agreed to a pick swap when they were the ones giving up all the established talent.
That’s simply not what rebuilding teams are supposed to do. And even if Justin Patton turns into a massive bust for the ‘Wolves, LaVine becomes an All-Star and Dunn continues developing into a top-tier point guard, the optics around this deal will remain poor.
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Perhaps the most notable thing Derrick Rose has done during his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers is declare that he’s re-evaluating his NBA future while (temporarily?) walking away from the team.
He hasn’t suited up in a game since Nov. 7 and averaged only 14.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists over the course of seven appearances. Worse still, those scoring numbers came while he shot 47.0 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from downtown, effectively torpedoing the Cleveland offense with his diminished range and ball-commandeering style. During his 188 minutes, he dropped the Cavs’ net rating from 5.3 to minus-12.6.
But the biggest detriment of all? Opportunity cost.
The Cavaliers expected to have a playable version of Rose starting in Isaiah Thomas’ absence, then leading the second unit when the All-Star floor general returned from his lengthy hip injury. Now, they get neither, forcing them to use makeshift lineups and count on Jose Calderon for meaningful minutes.
Playing for the 2016 NBA champions was always an appealing prospect, which is how they first got a former MVP on board for a minimum contract. What if they’d been able to use that roster spot on a different veteran who could A) stay healthy, B) not leave the team and C) accept a role that would help the efforts?
Cleveland’s bench is already coalescing and helping facilitate an ascent up the Eastern Conference standings, but we still can’t help but wonder what could have been.
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This isn’t about anything that’s happened during the 2017-18 season.
Nerlens Noel hasn’t clicked during his first full campaign with the Dallas Mavericks, at times seeming to clash with head coach Rick Carlisle and struggling to earn consistent playing time on a roster that could use even more athleticism from the frontcourt contributors. He’s gone under the knife to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, but a rotation spot is far from guaranteed when he’s healthy again.
But rewind to this summer, when he was embroiled in difficult contract negotiations that ended with him accepting the qualifying offer and agreeing to play out a one-year deal before again hitting the open market in summer 2018. Then rewind further, back to his time with the Philadelphia 76ers.
What if Dallas had never traded for him in the first place? What if it had been able to avoid the nonstop headache caused by the contract talks, his affinity for hot dogs and his inconsistent spot in the lineup?
They had to give up Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a pair of second-round picks for Noel’s services. Maybe Anderson wouldn’t have developed with the team that originally selected him at No. 21 in the 2015 NBA draft, but he still would’ve caused far less stress and misallocated resources.
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This isn’t meant as negativity geared toward any individual member of the Denver Nuggets frontcourt.
But here’s the list of rostered players most would consider natural power forwards: Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez, Richard Jefferson, Tyler Lydon.
Now, small forwards: Wilson Chandler.
Even that’s questionable because Chandler’s diminishing foot speed might actually leave him better suited for a bigger role at the 4, where he can show off his physicality at the expense of chasing smaller players around the half-court set. And while Will Barton and some of the aforementioned power forwards can spend time at the 3, they’re working out of position.
The Nuggets’ roster construction is just strange, especially because they’ve neglected to acquire capable wings and offensive initiators while continuing to compound a preexisting frontcourt logjam. Faried, for example, is receiving DNP-CDs and averaging a career low in minutes per game because Denver has so many other options, and that’s just not a proper allocation of money or roster slots.
Maybe this regret manifests itself in the unwillingness to deal for Eric Bledsoe or go after a big free-agent point guard. Maybe it shows up as the passing over of Donovan Mitchell in the 2017 NBA draft (though it’s worth noting the Nuggets didn’t draft him and then trade him, so much as select him for the Utah Jazz).
No matter what specific incident you single out, it’s regret all the same.
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As soon as the free-agency period opened, the Detroit Pistons agreed to terms with Langston Galloway, signing him to a three-year deal worth $ 21 million.
In a vacuum, that’s far from a bad move. The 26-year-old combo guard has responded appropriately, averaging 6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.7 assists while slashing 40.6/38.1/87.0 in a fringe rotation role. He’s not been a star for the Motor City, but his consistent offensive play and ability to at least hold his own defensively has made him a key piece for the second unit.
But regardless of the contract value, the Pistons hard-capped themselves by agreeing to this deal so early in the process.
“If [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope signs an offer sheet that would take the Pistons over the hard cap, they must clear sufficient payroll before matching,” Dan Feldman explained for NBC Sports. “Had they waited to sign Galloway, they could have matched then cleared salaries on a looser timeline before signing Galloway and officially hard-capping themselves.”
Even if the Pistons had never intended to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, this was a procedural misstep that made their offseason more complicated. Completing the process efficiently and correctly is important, if only for future optics.
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What exactly are the Golden State Warriors supposed to regret?
Winning the 2017 title? Having a near-perfect offseason that featured them re-signing Kevin Durant at a discount, retaining all key pieces, adding Nick Young and Omri Casspi and selecting arguably the steal of the draft in Jordan Bell? Everything they’ve done has worked out wonderfully, to the point that experiencing even the tiniest pangs of regret is nearly impossible.
But one blemish did prevent them from making even more history.
The Dubs swept the Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs’ opening round, then polished off the Utah Jazz without dropping a single game. The San Antonio Spurs weren’t able to steal a contest in the penultimate round (aided, of course, by the unfortunate season-ending injury suffered by Kawhi Leonard).
At 3-0 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the Warriors seemed poised to sweep their way through the entire postseason. But they dropped Game 4 and prevented themselves from making history—their only legitimate source of regret all year.
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The Houston Rockets may not have won a title, but they’ve still put themselves in a fantastic position for a run deep into the 2018 postseason. Everything they’ve done has contributed to the team’s two-way prowess, unrelenting depth and star power at the top, whether acquiring Lou Williams and then using him as part of the Chris Paul trade or moving to get P.J. Tucker.
No serious missteps exist during any part of the 2017 calendar, as was the case for the Golden State Warriors. So we’re forced to get creative once again, looking back at the end of their ill-fated venture in the 2017 playoffs.
Houston was always going to have trouble advancing past the San Antonio Spurs after dropping Game 5 in overtime and assuming a 2-3 deficit. But the lack of effort in a home contest that could’ve forced Game 7 remains embarrassing, particularly while Kawhi Leonard was sitting out.
Not only did the Rockets lose by a whopping 39 points in a closeout contest, but James Harden basically disappeared. Checked out after the first few minutes, he scored only 10 points on just 11 field-goal attempts, worked his way to the stripe six times and exerted minimal effort on the defensive end.
This was only one game, and they may have lost the series all the same. But it built upon the bearded guard’s prior reputation as a player who flounders on the biggest stages, and that will be tough to overcome during the inevitable gauntlet that will be the 2018 Western Conference playoffs.
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The Indiana Pacers haven’t experienced nearly the same level of success that the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors have enjoyed, but they’re the third team in a row (alphabetically) that’s experienced few serious missteps.
Of course, this is rather unexpected, considering the decision to trade Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo was widely decried as a terrible choice at the time.
And yet, general manager Kevin Pritchard is getting the last laugh. George can still become a free agent at the end of the season, while Sabonis has developed into a useful rotation big. Best of all, Oladipo has blossomed into a bona fide stud making a serious case to start for the Eastern Conference during the 2018 All-Star Game. Second-guessing the trade now is a poor use of your time.
Indiana has hit on the blockbuster trade. Most of its signings have worked out, even if Lance Stephenson hasn’t always served as a positive presence. And that leaves us scrounging through minor decisions, like paying the New Orleans Pelicans $ 1 million for Edmond Sumner, who’s still recovering from a knee injury and hasn’t yet had a chance to justify either his two-way contract or his status as the No. 52 pick of the 2017 NBA draft.
This move could also work out. But for now, it’s the best choice among a bunch of uninspiring possibilities.
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Remember when the Los Angeles Clippers weren’t decimated by injuries and were instead prepared to serve as dark-horse playoff contenders in the brutal Western Conference?
At the time, a three-year, $ 65 million contract looked perfectly fine for one of the league’s more underrated forwards, even if the Clippers had to give up Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, $ 1.3 million and a 2018 first-round pick in order to facilitate the sign-and-trade with the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks. But that move for Danilo Gallinari just gotten worse and worse.
Not only have the Clippers fallen out of the race while the 29-year-old Italian recovers from a partial tear in his right glute, but he’s also looked like just a shell of his old self. During his 11 appearances, he’s seen his per-game numbers decline while he misfires on just about every shooting attempt and looks far more slow-footed on the defensive end.
Previously, Gallinari was a combo forward—positive connotations intended. Now, he’s closer than ever to functioning as a dreaded “tweener,” possessing neither the speed to keep up with small forwards nor the physicality to bang around with bigger power forwards. Is this going to get any better as he moves into his 30s?
The Clippers better hope so, considering they’re on the hook for just over $ 44.2 million over the next two seasons.
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The Los Angeles Lakers have done most things correctly in the last year.
Avoid passing judgment on Lonzo Ball quite yet and instead recognize his impressive defensive chops. Congratulate them for landing one of the steals of the draft in Kyle Kuzma. Give them credit for taking a one-year flier on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, getting more assets for D’Angelo Russell (even if they sold low on him) and preserving cap space for the all-important 2018 free-agency period.
Their only regret has to be losing out on David Nwaba, who has been an impressive defensive presence for the Chicago Bulls, asserted himself as a premier rebounding backcourt member and revealed a slightly improved offensive acumen.
The Purple and Gold originally unearthed Nwaba, bringing him up from the Los Angeles D-Fenders for a shot with the big league club. But they waived him this summer, then watched as the Bulls snatched him up only two days later, eager to give a high-energy player another shot as a sophomore contributor.
Nwaba might not be a key part of either team’s future, but the Lakers could’ve benefited from having another high-upside presence on their roster for such a cheap salary.
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In reality, the decision to fire former head coach David Fizdale was likely more complicated. But considering what we know about a fractured relationship and the timing of the axe after a fourth-quarter benching, let’s pretend it was as simple as the Memphis Grizzlies choosing between Marc Gasol and the clipboard-holder.
They chose wrong.
Gasol hasn’t been nearly the same player during the 2017-18 campaign, struggling on the offensive end of the court and no longer submitting All-Defensive performances. As David Aldridge wrote for NBA.com, anonymous scouts are coming to similar conclusions:
“‘He’s gone from Defensive Player of the Year level to starter level,’ said one veteran pro scout, who thinks Gasol is a good team defender who can protect the paint, but who was helped by the slower pace of play favored by former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, and who was aided by having an elite wing defender in Tony Allen on the floor with him.
“‘As [Gasol] has gotten older, he is slower and has to guard quicker players out on the floor as [the] game has become more perimeter based, [and] he has to go out on the floor away from the rim,’ the scout said.”
The Spanish center is also almost 33 years old and might represent the Grizzlies’ best chance of acquiring young talent, considering they’re down a high-end draft choice in 2019 and lack free-agency appeal. Picking him over a promising young coach, widely regarded as one of the sport’s brighter minds, was incorrect, no matter how much Gasol means to the city and organization as a whole.
Either gut it out with both men and ask them to be professionals or trade the disgruntled former star. Parting with Fizdale will come back to bite Memphis, especially when he finds his next home as a head coach.
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Oh, the dangers of buying into an outlier performance.
Four-and-a-half seasons should’ve convinced the Miami Heat that Dion Waiters wasn’t a player worth paying $ 52 million over the course of the next four years, but they were instead swayed by what he did during the second half of 2016-17. And even that wasn’t too impressive. Averaging 16.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists while slashing 44.5/41.6/64.2 shouldn’t entirely supersede the prior body of work.
Nevertheless, it did.
Waiters, who may have been plagued by a mysterious ankle injury throughout the entire opening salvo of 2017-18, has been atrocious on both ends of the floor for Miami. He’s shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from downtown. He’s getting torched defensively just about every night. Miami’s net rating dips from 2.9 to minus-4.7 when he’s on the floor.
Perhaps he’ll bounce back once (if?) his ankle fully heals. But bounce back to what?
Lest we forget, this is the player he’d been for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder before a brief hot streak in South Beach.
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The Milwaukee Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose never-ending wingspan and unrelenting athletic abilities could turn him into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Khris Middleton has been an ace defender on the wings in prior seasons, while Thon Maker’s length has made him intriguing on the preventing end.
Throw in Eric Bledsoe for a significant amount of time and some savvy backups, and they should be at least competent on the stopping side.
Milwaukee is allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions, which leaves it sitting down at No. 22 in the league-wide hierarchy. Worse still, precious few combinations of players have yielded prolonged success, as the top on-court defensive rating among players who have logged at least 200 minutes belongs to Antetokounmpo—105.0. That would still rank No. 15 overall.
This is a scheme problem. Head coach Jason Kidd has been entirely overmatched as a strategist, whether he’s compelling his players to trap every pick-and-roll and exposing the interior or failing to properly maximize the talents of his tutees by placing them in uncomfortable situations. Even as he makes changes, which Andrew Sharp described for Sports Illustrated, the schemes don’t make sense:
“While Milwaukee’s defensive scheme—aggressive trapping that’s supposed to create turnovers but also creates lots of open threes—has been tempered in recent weeks, that transition remains a work in progress. They are giving up fewer threes than last year, but this year Bucks opponents are hitting 39% of the threes they do take (league-worst), while the Bucks are also surrendering the sixth-most attempts at the rim. At its worst, Kidd’s defense almost looks like anti-Moreyball, a scheme that will concede all your threes and lay-ups in exchange for turnovers.”
Someone get the Bucks a defensive coordinator.
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Head coach Tom Thibodeau is at least trending in the right direction.
He’s expanded the rotation in recent outings and hasn’t forced the starters to play nearly as many minutes. But the Minnesota Timberwolves are still an outlier, as you can see by looking at the most time per game allocated to the opening quintet among all NBA squads:
- Minnesota Timberwolves, 35.3 minutes
- Oklahoma City Thunder, 32.7 minutes
- New Orleans Pelicans, 32.5 minutes
- Philadelphia 76ers, 32.4 minutes
- Houston Rockets, 31.9 minutes
Unsurprisingly, a decent correlation exists between this stat and net rating in the fourth quarter, as NBA Math broke down in mid-December.
Thibodeau might be learning, but this has already done damage. The ‘Wolves have lost a few games they could’ve won with better late-game execution, and the key players have already shouldered enormous burdens that could come back to hurt them later in the season.
Imagine how different the rotation might look if Minnesota had a specialist on the sidelines with the authority to tell the head coach when he was disadvantaging his team and its players with his unwillingness to vary up the rotation.
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According to 82games.com, the New Orleans Pelicans have net player efficiency ratings (team PER minus opponent PER) of 3.1 and 5.0, respectively, from their power forwards and centers. But they’re in the red at each of the three smallest positions: minus-4.0 for point guards, minus-2.8 for shooting guards and minus-2.1 for small forwards.
Don’t be fooled by the point guards producing the worst mark. That’s out of sheer necessity since the Pelicans have been forced into playing natural point guard Jrue Holiday—ostensibly their third-best basketballer—at the 2 for double the time he’s spent at the lineup’s smallest slot.
Tony Allen wasn’t playing much when healthy, and he’s out of the lineup rehabbing a fibula fracture. Solomon Hill, whom the Pelicans signed to a four-year, $ 48 million deal in the 2016 offseason, hasn’t yet played while he recovers from a torn hamstring. A back injury is currently plaguing Dante Cunningham.
That leaves only Darius Miller (who’s playing surprisingly well), E’Twaun Moore (ditto) and…well, that’s it.
The Pelicans have been forced into shuffling the lineup far too frequently and playing contributors away from their natural positions. They couldn’t have known they’d suffer so many injuries, but they have to regret not focusing more resources on acquiring mid-tier wings who could help Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins out on a nightly basis.
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Tim Hardaway Jr. could be playing like an MVP candidate and the New York Knicks would still have reason to regret this contract. His production is ultimately irrelevant since this is about the massive and unnecessary expenditures—made all the more unpalatable by the way the franchise originally dealt him to the Atlanta Hawks and then went out of its way to re-acquire him.
So how bad is that four-year contract worth $ 71 million? We’ll let Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale take over the rest of the analysis with a thorough evisceration of this move, which doesn’t even mention that Hardaway admitted the Knicks needed him to improve on both ends:
“The Knicks are the only party worth crucifying here. Close to 17 percent of their cap is going to a player who didn’t crack the top 75 in any kitchen-sink metrics last season, and who has never been a plus-defender.
“Justin Holiday received a two-year, $ 9 million deal from the Chicago Bulls. Andre Roberson grabbed a three-year, $ 30 million contract from Oklahoma City. Tony Snell got $ 46 million over four years from the Bucks. The Utah Jazz made the biggest leap with Joe Ingles, and he’s only on a four-year, $ 52 million pact. Hardaway was not worth $ 71 million in this summer’s market.
“Excuses to the contrary are invalid. [Kent] Bazemore, [Allen] Crabbe and [Evan] Fournier earned their money when it was raining hundy sticks in 2016. The Knicks paid Hardaway long after that illusion came crashing down.
“Restricted free agents must be overpaid for outside suitors to have a chance, but the Hawks didn’t want to fork over more than $ 48 million, according to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe. There isn’t a shill job in the world that can justify the Knicks going $ 23 million higher.”
Again, this was a bizarre overpay. He’s had a decent season when healthy, but that doesn’t even matter.
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Carmelo Anthony is averaging 17.5 points per game.
Good, right? Not exactly.
Those points are coming while he shoots 40.8 percent from the floor and 36.2 percent from three. He’s been less aggressive attacking the basket than ever before, has failed to contribute in any non-scoring areas, is playing horrific defense and has hindered the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offensive efforts with his ball-stopping habits. A recent shift to more of a catch-and-shoot role has helped, but it doesn’t change the season-long numbers.
NBA Math’s total points added has Anthony as a distinct negative, and by this metric, only Jonathon Simmons, Dion Waiters, De’Aaron Fox, Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ulis and Josh Jackson have subtracted more value during the 2017-18 campaign. ESPN.com’s real plus/minus is significantly more generous, somehow giving the veteran forward a positive defensive score. But he still ranks No. 32 among all power forwards, sandwiched neatly between Julius Randle and Pascal Siakam.
This isn’t what the Thunder were hoping for, especially with Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott both breaking out for the New York Knicks. The latter has become a legitimate offensive piece in Madison Square Garden, while the former has a 30/20 game to his credit and is playing the best basketball of his career.
Acquiring star power just for the sake of star power is rarely worth it.
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During Shelvin Mack’s meager 18.0 minutes per game, he’s averaging just 4.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 34.9 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from three-point territory and 66.7 percent from the stripe. He’s getting tormented by quicker guards on the defensive end, and his overall box plus/minus is rather easily at the worst level of his seven-year NBA career.
This probably isn’t what the Orlando Magic wanted.
When they signed him to a two-year pact worth $ 12 million, they already had access to a pair of similar players. Neither D.J. Augustin nor C.J. Watson has impressed while playing backup to Elfrid Payton, but they were on reasonable contracts at about the same monetary level.
Watson is gone now, but Mack’s inefficient shooting hasn’t allowed him to beat out Augustin for the primary spot with the second unit. And that’s why Orlando gets to regret this move, since it was so desperately trying to improve its floor-spacing ability and hasn’t been able to squeeze any deep production out of its new acquisition.
The never-ending rebuild drags on, despite the misleading mirage of successful outings at the start of the year.
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I’d like to believe the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been so cautious with injuries in previous years, would never have let Markelle Fultz step foot on the hardwood if he had any chance of worsening his shoulder injury. But we’ll never know because the organization’s utter lack of transparency with regards to this malady prevents any certainty.
Ultimately, the sequence of events is clear.
Fultz attempted to play through a shoulder injury at the start of his rookie season, and he struggled accordingly. Hesitant to shoot any jumpers, he was forced into playing a limited game and seemed to emerge as an early bust candidate.
Then his agent told ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “Markelle had a shoulder injury and fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder. He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball. He decided to try and fight through the pain to help the team. He has a great attitude. We are committed to finding a solution to get Markelle back to 100 percent.”
The Sixers, perhaps compelled by the terrible optics surrounding this situation, subsequently shut down their No. 1 pick. He has not played in a single game since Oct. 23.
But he shouldn’t have played in any. Had they kept him benched and rehabbing that balky shoulder, which had noticeably changed his shooting form throughout the offseason, perception about his game might currently be quite a bit different.
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The handling of the Eric Bledsoe situation could earn some “love” here, but nothing was worse than overvaluing Josh Jackson.
Granted, he has plenty of time left to prove he was worth the No. 4 pick of the 2017 NBA draft. Judging a rookie before the All-Star break of his first professional campaign is a terrible idea, and the Kansas product could experience a full-fledged breakout at any moment.
But thus far, he’s been overmatched on both ends of the floor. NBA Math’s total points added has him as the front-runner for the unofficial LVP award, while ESPN.com’s real plus/minus places him ahead of only De’Aaron Fox and Emmanuel Mudiay. He’s a liability in just about every area for the time being (which, again, could change going forward).
Now, remember that the Phoenix Suns could’ve landed Kyrie Irving.
Jackson was the sticking point. The organization reportedly refused to include the rookie in any discussions centered around the then-Cleveland Cavaliers point guard, which looks rather unfortunate in retrospect. Superstars are the one commodity every franchise wants to acquire, and they’re the hardest to find.
Instead of landing the centerpiece of a rebuild, the Suns now serve as a classic example of a team overvaluing a player who hasn’t done anything but show off potential at the collegiate level.
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The Portland Trail Blazers can be excused for consolidating multiple first-round draft picks into a single selection, since they already had a nearly complete roster and were sure to have trouble clearing up spots for unpolished rookies.
But packaging together Nos. 15 and 20 to move up and select Zach Collins at No. 10 overall doesn’t seem to be working out…yet.
Collins was always viewed as a raw prospect who shot up draft boards thanks to the all-around potential he flashed at Gonzaga. But he played only 17.3 minutes per game during his freshman season with the Bulldogs before declaring for the pros, averaging just 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds while calling Spokane home.
Maybe the upside was enough to justify a lottery selection. But on this team? For a version of the Blazers that was looking to win now while still featuring Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum? On a roster that already had Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu competing for minutes at power forward and center?
Not all the logic makes sense, even if consolidation was the right course of action.
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Special shoutout to handing George Hill a three-year deal worth $ 57 million during the same offseason they spent a lottery pick on De’Aaron Fox, but the choice for the Sacramento Kings has to be the DeMarcus Cousins trade.
It was bad in the moment. It was bad in the immediate aftermath. It’s bad now.
To recap, the Kings finally pulled the trigger on a deal that moved Cousins away from the only NBA team he’d ever known, shipping him off to the New Orleans Pelicans along with Omri Casspi for Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Buddy Hield, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick. Now, let’s see what that’s turned into nearly a year later.
Evans signed an offseason deal with the Memphis Grizzlies and is having one of the best seasons of his career. Galloway wound up with the Detroit Pistons, bringing nothing back to the Kings because he was a free agent. The first-rounder was sent to the Portland Trail Blazers as Zach Collins in return for Harry Giles and Justin Jackson, neither of whom have done anything of note as rookies. The second-rounder turned into Frank Mason, who has quietly served as a deadly three-point sniper.
And that leaves Hield, who’s playing only 22.9 minutes per game but functioning as a solid offensive weapon. Shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from three-point land, the Oklahoma product is at least offering hope that he can one day be a leading 2-guard on the scoring end.
But that’s all the Kings got for one of the game’s 15 best players. General manager Vlade Divac even admitted he turned down a better offer two days prior to pulling the trigger.
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The San Antonio Spurs aren’t a team that peddles in mortal flaws like regrets. Still serving as the NBA’s model organization, it rarely misfires on any personnel decisions and milks maximum talent out of just about everyone populating the roster.
Every. Single. Year.
The 2017 calendar was no different.
They didn’t make any trades we can complain about. The free-agent signings were sensible and have paid dividends. It’s too soon to pass judgment on rookies taken well outside the lottery portion of the 2017 NBA draft. They even handled the LaMarcus Aldridge situation perfectly, meeting with him to allow for the airing out of concerns and then making him a focal point during Kawhi Leonard’s absence and facilitating a potential All-Star season from the veteran big.
The only real regret? Allowing Leonard to play deep into Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
When he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot and ended his postseason, the Spurs already had a 21-point lead with just under 20 minutes remaining. They’d blow that advantage while he nursed the season-ending injury and go on to get swept out of the competition. But how differently might things have gone if head coach Gregg Popovich had been more cautious with his star’s minutes in a blowout taking place just three nights after Leonard was inactive for the closeout game against the Houston Rockets?
Alas, we’ll never know.
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These are not the same Toronto Raptors who have consistently been excellent in the regular season before flopping during the more important games. They’re less reliant on the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan battering ram, changing up their style of play while strengthening the second unit to ensure more reliable production.
As a result, they’re pretty damn good. Like, better than most people realize so far.
They’re outscoring opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions, which leaves them well clear of the Boston Celtics (4.6) for third place, trailing only the Houston Rockets (9.5) and Golden State Warriors (11.4). Regrets about the construction of this roster should be virtually nonexistent, considering they’ve made all the right moves to surround the star-studded backcourt with feasible second-stringers and complementary running mates.
But one contract may come back to bite them.
Thus far, the idea of Norman Powell has been better than Powell himself. The facilitating strides he showcased during exhibition season haven’t appeared in games that count, and his three-point stroke remains woefully inept (career-worst 31.5 percent on career-high 3.2 deep attempts per game).
This isn’t what the Raptors wanted after extending him for four years and $ 42 million. And while he’s still playing on his rookie-scale figure, that changes next season. His production needs to follow suit, or regret will take over.
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It’s troubling enough that the Utah Jazz have been worse defensively with Ricky Rubio on the floor. But it’s downright disturbing that he’s had such a negative effect on the offense, since that’s what he was supposed to help with when they shipped off a 2018 first-round pick for his services.
When the Jazz acquired the Spanish point guard, he was either going to team up with Gordon Hayward to form an even more potent punch in the starting five, or he was going to help mitigate the impact of the small forward’s departure. Surely, his passing wizardry would help jump-start the offensive games of his teammates, none of whom had served in go-to roles at the NBA level.
So much for that.
Utah is scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions with Rubio on the pine. When he plays, that offensive rating plummets to an even 100. For reference, the first number would give the Jazz an elite score that lags behind only the season-long marks produced by the Cleveland Cavaliers (111.6), Golden State Warriors (112.2) and Houston Rockets (113.6). The latter would beat out only the Chicago Bulls (99.6) and Sacramento Kings (98.9).
“It’s been a different type of game,” the point guard said in mid-December, per Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s something I have to get used to, and it’s taken more time than we thought. But at some point, it’s all going to click, and we’re going to get the chemistry down. It has to be a balance between individual and team work.”
Since that quote, the Jazz are posting 87.2 points per 100 possessions with Rubio playing.
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The Washington Wizards have long searched for a viable backup to John Wall, who can’t be asked to play 48 minutes per game night in and night out. They’ve struggled to squeeze production out of their bench for years, and many of the troubles stem from a lack of production at the 1.
Seeking to remedy that this offseason, Washington sent a 2017 second-round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for Tim Frazier.
The move hasn’t worked.
A 27-year-old career backup, Frazier has played only 16.0 minutes per game (a number boosted by Wall’s extended absence) and struggled to make much of an impact. He’s shooting just 30.6 percent from downtown, has fouled incessantly in an attempt to hold his own defensively and has stopped attacking the basket off the dribble. When he’s on the floor, Washington has mustered a team-worst minus-5.9 net rating.
Fortunately for the Wizards, growth from Tomas Satoransky has largely negated these concerns. But they’d surely like to have a do-over here, either using the second-round pick on a youngster with upside or taking a different route to acquire a better backup floor general.
Just as is the case for all other squads, hindsight truly is 20/20.