The past two years have taught us that predicting any NBA matter beneath “Warriors win the championship” is a fool’s errand.
But predictions are fun! So here we go — our last annual preview column: 37 random, crazy, and not-so-crazy predictions for the next 12 months.
There are at least a half-dozen candidates. LeBron James is the best player, and sentimental favorite. The Lakers will probably finish in the bottom half of the playoff race, but Russell Westbrook recalibrated MVP criteria by winning it with a No. 6 seed. (I didn’t vote for Westbrook, but I’m kinda glad he won for that reason. It should be possible to win MVP on a mid-tier playoff team.) Antetokounmpo would be one of the 10 youngest MVPs in league history.
But when dossiers are close, some voters default to team record. If you’re bullish on the Bucks, that bodes well for Antetokounmpo. The Bucks should finish higher in the East than the Lakers and Pelicans (Anthony Davis) in the varsity conference.
A James Harden repeat seems weirdly improbable. Why is he not the overwhelming favorite? He finished second, ninth, second and first in the past four seasons. What changed? But last year’s win felt like a collective shoulder shrug from voters: “Fine, fine. Maybe you should have won the year before. Your team won 65 games. We don’t like watching you play, so please take the trophy and let’s agree not to revisit this.”
Kawhi Leonard is the undisputed best player on a team that could win 60 games. He’s new and exciting in Toronto! But some voters will feel queasy choosing him after whatever the hell happened last season.
Westbrook’s win looks more and more like a one-time-only confluence of stats, narrative, and insane clutch shooting. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, the second- and third-best players in the league, cancel each other out — kind of unfairly. Irving isn’t far enough above Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. It might be a year early for Joel Embiid.
I keep coming back to Antetokounmpo. The numbers will be there. He was one of the league’s 10 best defenders last season. That leaves the team record thing, and…
Milwaukee finishes third in the East, ahead of Philly
Mostly covered in last week’s Tiers column. Milwaukee’s bench beyond Ersan Ilyasova will decide this prediction. Mike Budenholzer is making the right call starting Malcolm Brogdon over Tony Snell: Play your five best players together as much as possible. There is no such thing as too many ball handlers. Brogdon can switch across two and sometimes three positions.
But Snell makes more theoretical sense as a standstill fifth option. He can play that role as a backup; the Bucks will always keep one of Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton on the floor. But Snell often is paralyzed by fretful indecision. He has to let it fly.
Milwaukee needs at least one among Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, and Donte DiVincenzo to emerge as a reliable rotation guy. They get really dangerous if the Thon Maker who alters playoff series once coaches dust him off in Game 3 actually shows up in the regular season.
Bledsoe and Middleton are in contract years. If Milwaukee gets peak play from both, they have enough talent around Antetokounmpo to win a lot of games.
PS: Philly has the chops — especially on defense — to win the East. I just don’t see it this season.
Kevin Durant signs with the Knicks
I don’t think Durant or the people closest to him know what he’s going to do. The Warriors don’t. They will pitch him on his comfort in the Bay Area; business connections there; and their sparking new arena — the one for which Durant broke ceremonial ground.
I spent last season’s Finals talking to everyone I could about Durant, trying to figure him out. The sense I got from the Warriors was that they found Durant unknowable — and were afraid even much of last season he would leave. Surviving Houston in the conference finals cleared the atmosphere. On the flight home after Game 7, Durant plopped into the seat next to Bob Myers, Golden State’s general manager, and declared, “I have never felt more a part of the team,” Myers told me.
A two-year stint in Golden State would have seemed short given the melodrama surrounding Durant’s exit from Oklahoma City. Three approaches LeBron-in-Miami territory. Win another ring, and Durant might feel he has accomplished what he set out to do. He’s 30, at the height of his powers, free to choose his destination.
He’s not going back to Oklahoma City. I’d be dumbfounded if he joined LeBron. He must know the Warriors will always be Curry’s team. The social media slights will never stop as long as Durant is there. People who know Durant say part of him must crave the challenge of being the undisputed alpha dog and lead ball handler — of putting up a 32-10-8 stat line. Some of those same people wonder if he is a little scared of that challenge.
A normal human would feel both of those things. But whoever revives the Knicks will become legend. They have a young co-star in Kristaps Porzingis who could take on more of the scoring burden as Durant ages.
Durant doesn’t have to do this now. He can sign another one-year deal, chase a ring in the Chase Center, and hit free agency again. On the flip side, if he moves to a downtrodden franchise, he might have to ink a longer-term deal as a display of commitment to other stars who might join. Is he OK with that?
Another wild card: What if Golden State signals it doesn’t want to pay full freight for one of Klay Thompson (a free agent this summer) and Draymond Green (a free agent in the summer of 2020, potentially up for a massive designated player extension after this season)? Thompson has no plans to take a discount, and the Warriors don’t expect him to, league sources say. Green already is dealing with small injuries; the league is curious about how his game will age.
If Durant feels newly essential, he might be more inclined to stick around. (In that way, failing to three-peat might help Golden State’s case in keeping Durant — just as losing the 2016 Finals helped their case in signing him.)
As an aside, the Durant noise underscores one of the biggest unasked questions about the Jimmy Butler public art installation: Is Butler sure there is a better situation over the next half-decade than playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns?
Maybe Towns and Andrew Wiggins are intolerable personalities. Towns has to show he cares about defense and grunt work. Wiggins has to show he cares about anything.
Maybe Butler doesn’t want to live in Minnesota. He seems angry the Wolves didn’t salary-dump Wiggins last summer (perhaps attaching a pick as sweetener), duck under the cap, and offer him a maximum extension that would have kicked in this season. There’s an argument that Minnesota should have tried. Wiggins has disappointed; Butler is a two-way force. Butler is underpaid. He entered free agency one summer before the cap mega-spike. Bad luck.
He also re-signed in Chicago for four guaranteed seasons. He didn’t have to do that. LeBron and Chris Bosh didn’t, and they got to pick a new team a year earlier than some of their superstar peers.
Butler has the right to search out ways to rectify this. The Wolves have the right to say it is a little ridiculous to ask them to dump Wiggins (and possibly more).
Meanwhile, Butler was somehow both transparent and laughably disingenuous talking around the issue with Rachel Nichols:
That is gobbledygook. It is code. If you’re going to pop off about honesty, then be honest and say: “It is actually about money — that extension I wanted.”
This isn’t to say Minnesota is blameless. Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden, and Glen Taylor watched their team culture erode and did nothing, assuming it would repair itself. Taylor and the front office have sent contradictory messages to Butler suitors, sometimes within minutes of each other, league sources have said.
But the Warriors won’t have four in-their-prime stars forever. Chris Paul is 33. Towns has a chance to be the most versatile scoring big man in history. You’re gonna leave that dude to go to Miami and play with … who? You’re gonna move to Brooklyn, even though Irving scuttled the dream of teaming up there? Philly would be a different story, and Butler has eyes for them, sources familiar with the matter say. The Sixers have expressed almost no interest in trading for him, sources say. There is some theoretical road map to a Clippers team-up with Leonard.
Something about Minnesota must be unbearable for Butler to turn his nose up at a long-term partnership with Towns.
Kristaps Porzingis plays in 20 or fewer games
I might even take the under at 15.5. The Knicks are going to be bad, snare another high pick, and bank on free agents — i.e., Durant — assuming Porzingis recovers to full strength.
Four teams win 60 games
This has only happened once before — in 1997-98, when expansion warped competitive balance. The Lakers, Jazz, Bulls, and Sonics all hit 60. There have been seven seasons with three 60-win teams. Two — 1995-96 and 1996-97 — came in that same expansion era.
Kevin Pelton pegs another 4-by-60 season as a 50-1 shot; the league is light on blatant tankers. Other analytics folks consider it a bit more likely than that.
What the hell, let’s have some fun and say Toronto, Boston, Houston, and Golden State all pull it off. Toronto and Boston are awesome, and they play in the East. Done. Last season’s disinterested Warriors went 41-10 with Curry — a 66-win pace. Houston won 65, but they might be our shakiest bet this time. If the Rockets fall short, it’s possible that a wild-card team — Philly or Utah — goes berserk.
Charlotte is hell-bent on making the playoffs. Provided they are in the race at the trade deadline, it would be shocking if they dealt Walker. (They had better be snug in the No. 6, 7, or 8 spot in February; their last 20 games are brutal.)
Walker might not carry as much trade value as Charlotte hopes. Some teams in dire need of a point guard will prefer to take their chances in free agency.
Walker is really good. Parts of the game that used to be hard for him — pull-up 3s — look easy now. He is cool, controlled, fully aware of the power he exerts over every possession.
He’s also 5-foot-11, and he’ll be 29 by the end of the season. He’s not quite worth upending your franchise unless you are one player away from a shot at Golden State. (The Cavs, for instance, would have flipped the No. 8 pick for Walker had LeBron committed to re-signing, league sources say.)
Rebuilding teams might blanch at flipping future assets (or cap space in July) for Walker. Those teams should bend a little. Twenty-nine is not ancient. Shooting is age-proof. Walker takes care of himself. He barely misses games — six combined the past three seasons — and hasn’t yet hit 20,000 career minutes. Walker will drop off a bit by age 33, but I’m not sure we should assume any major decline kicks in before then.
He’s a great culture guy. Other stars would be happy to play with him.
But the bet here is that Charlotte keeps Walker through the season, offers the most money and years, and coaxes him back.
Khris Middleton gets almost $30 million per year
I had $25 million at first, but that’s not bold enough.
Middleton is the ideal second banana on a good team, and third banana on a great one. Every team that strikes out on the biggest names will come calling. The Bucks want to retain Middleton, and if he has a good year, they will have to pay up. Keep an eye on Philadelphia and Indiana.
Nikola Jokic makes his first All-Star team
The West’s 12-man roster will include either six, seven, or eight “frontcourt” players. LeBron, Durant, and Davis are three automatics. DeMarcus Cousins‘ injury removes a fourth. That leaves Jokic fighting for between three and five slots with Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Towns, maybe Butler (depending on where he is, and how much positional flexibility the NBA allows), Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, and a few others.
Given how he finished last season, I like Jokic’s chances.
Denver declines its team option on Paul Millsap and re-signs him for less
Thirty million — the amount of Denver’s option on Millsap for 2019-20 — will be too much for him at age 34. Picking that up would make it hard for Denver to re-sign Trey Lyles (or use the midlevel exception) and stay under the luxury tax.
But if the Nuggets are good — and they should be — both sides will have interest in continuing their relationship. If Lyles really pops, Denver might consider Millsap expendable. That seems far-fetched.
Al Horford does his version of the same thing
Horford has a $30 million player option for next season. That might be too much to turn down. But Horford is at the age — 32 — when some players trade short-term maximization for security. Horford wants to see this through in Boston, and he surely knows even a slight dip in his per-year salary would ease the Celtics’ impending tax issues.
A bunch of guys could leverage player options this way if their incumbent teams need cap room or tax relief: Offer to take less in 2019-20 in exchange for a long-term deal. Goran Dragic and Jeff Teague come to mind. If the Mavs need wiggle room, would Harrison Barnes think about declining his $25 million option to sign a five-year, $100 million deal?
Marc Gasol opts out and leaves Memphis
This goes out the window if Gasol’s decline accelerates; in that case, he could not turn down a guaranteed $25.5 million. But Gasol is almost 34. If he can secure something like a three-year, $65 million deal, he might lock it in before the downslope steepens. He could do that in Memphis, of course. But Gasol is running out of time to win big. If he doesn’t see a pathway with the Grizz, he could look elsewhere.
Denver hosts a first-round playoff series
I detailed my Nuggets optimism here. Most projection systems have them No. 5 or 6 in the West, depending on Butler’s endgame. To hit this, they’ll have to leapfrog one of Houston, Utah and Oklahoma City. With Andre Roberson out, the Thunder are vulnerable. (Keep an eye on Terrance Ferguson. He has tools and a decent feel.)
(And, yes, Isaiah Thomas‘ continued health issues make me a little queasy.)
Anthony Davis wins Defensive Player of the Year
This going to be a barnburner between Davis, Gobert, Embiid, Green (winning guarantees him supermax eligibility), Leonard, Horford, Antetokounmpo, and a few others. Gobert enters as the favorite — the one-man force field for a defense just about guaranteed to rank in the top three.
New Orleans finished 14th in points allowed per possession last season. Davis can’t win from there. But if the Pelicans ascend, the perception of improvement might create narrative momentum. He’s more versatile and switchable than Gobert and Embiid.
Davis reached a new level on defense in the middle of last season. The Pelicans were downright stingy when he played alongside Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic, per NBA.com. He has played 75 games in each of the past two seasons, quieting concerns about durability. The foundation of Davis’ strongest candidacy yet is here.
They’ve been trying, sources say. With Lee on the books, the Knicks can carve out about $30 million in room depending on where they draft — that’s about $8 million short of Durant’s max, and $3 million below the max for a player with between seven and nine years of experience.
They would prefer not to sacrifice a second-round pick in shedding Lee’s $12.7 million salary for 2019-20. That is going to be harder than you’d think, and maybe harder than it should be. New York needs to find a playoff team that values Lee’s on-court contributions more than the cap space it would sacrifice to get him.
Example: Lee to Utah for Alec Burks, on an $11 million expiring deal. The Jazz have hoarded potential space for this summer, but what are their odds of luring anyone better than Lee? They might stay over the cap to re-sign their own free agents, anyway. But they are so deep in wings, it might not be worth the trouble.
Lee to New Orleans for Alexis Ajinca and Darius Miller worked until New Orleans dealt Ajinca to the Clippers. Lee wouldn’t close the Pellies’ hole at small forward, but he’s better than Miller (and Wesley Johnson.)
The more radical move for New York: shopping Tim Hardaway Jr. Good luck.
Sacramento does not receive a first-round pick for renting its space
For the first time in recent memory, only one team starts the season with cap space it can rent out as a dumping ground: the Kings, carrying about $11 million. They should have leverage to wrench a first-rounder from someone in tax trouble.
But $11 million isn’t enough to swallow an albatross. The Kings are wary of taking on multiple years of bad money, sources say — limiting their pool of renters. They might even want a veteran over yet another first-round pick. Also: Should we trust the Kings to exploit an advantage?
The bet here: They net multiple second-rounders and/or a ho-hum veteran.
Boston receives two of three possible extra first-round picks
They’ll get extras from Sacramento (top-1 protected, via the Jayson Tatum/Markelle Fultz deal) and Memphis (top-8 protected) — but not the lottery-protected sucker the Clippers owe them. (That pick converts into a second-rounder if the Clips don’t send it in 2019 or 2020, putting the Celtics in the odd position of rooting for a team that owes it a pick to make the playoffs.)
This scenario could give Boston something like the second, ninth and 28th (their own) picks in the 2019 draft. Sheesh.
Portland and Washington implode
The implosions would come after the season; I have both these teams in the playoffs, though Portland’s spot (see below) is contingent on the Wolves trading Butler.
At some point, expensive 45- to 50-win teams that bump against the same second-round ceiling tend to break up. The results don’t justify the salary outlay. Relationships fray, or grow stale. People get bored.
Implosion here doesn’t necessarily mean dismantling. It means that at least one central figure — player, coach, general manager — won’t be around when the next season starts.
The Wizards would have reached this point if not for their geographic location. The East: Delaying tough decisions since the late 1990s! Will another first-round loss put Ernie Grunfeld at risk?
Rejiggering the roster is tougher. John Wall‘s supermax kicks in next season, with a Year 1 salary of (avert your eyes) $38 million. Given his injury history, no smart team should trade for him. There are still a couple of dumb teams left.
Washington won’t want to move Bradley Beal just for the sake of shaking things up. He’s an All-Star on a fair contract. That leaves Otto Porter Jr., a fine player who might be a hair overpaid thanks to hitting free agency amid the cap spike. He’d be easy to move; he can fit any lineup, on any team.
If the Wizards sputter, smart teams will sniff around Beal. Is he unhappy? Would he ever flex his muscle, even with two-plus years left on his deal?
Washington has been one the league’s angstiest teams for years. This is the year the angst boils over.
Portland has a more stable internal dynamic thanks to no-frills on-court leadership from Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Terry Stotts. Neil Olshey, their GM, has fought to maintain a competitive homegrown nucleus in a market with zero history of drawing free agents. They will be reeling for a long time, on both a personal and professional level, from the tragic death Monday of longtime owner Paul Allen. They remain a youngish team. If Durant leaves, why wouldn’t they keep it together and dream big?
They might! But last season’s first-round humiliation rattled Portland. It’s hard to imagine every main character sticks around if this season ends in the first round — or sooner.
The most enticing mega-trade on the board not involving Anthony Davis: Lillard to the Lakers for a package centered around Lonzo Ball. Lillard is a perfect fit next to LeBron, and LeBron respects Lillard’s game, per sources familiar with the matter. The Lakers could absorb Lillard into cap space this summer without sending out giant matching salaries — salaries they don’t have on the books.
That feels like a reach now. Lillard loves Portland. The Lakers are optimistic about how their young players will mesh with LeBron, and they should be. Unless a deal for Davis falls into their lap during the season, I’d expect (bonus prediction!) the Lakers to hold their cards into the summer.
But that is just one fake Portland-centric trade — one endgame. This could be a pivotal season for the Blazers.
Terry Rozier wins Sixth Man of the Year (and stays the season)
Minutes are an obstacle, but Rozier looks like the league’s best two-way reserve. He’s flying around with simmering self-assurance, confident he can force Brad Stevens to find him 25 minutes per game. That threshold should be enough. Why do we punish reserves who don’t log 30 minutes per game because their teams are too good? How did Andre Iguodala never win this?
It’s hard to see Lou Williams duplicating last season’s magic. Will Fred VanVleet give off the same Cinderella story buzz? Will Barton starts now. Eric Gordon might too. Kyle Kuzma, Marcus Smart, Pascal Siakam, Austin Rivers, Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, JJ Redick, Dennis Schroder, Jonas Valanciunas, and a few others loom.
Perhaps the biggest threat: Tyreke Evans as a multipositional closer in Indiana. But we’ll go with Rozier, and add a bonus prediction: Boston does not trade Rozier during the season. A home run offer could change that. But if the Celtics think they have championship equity — and they do — they will not make a trade that harms this season’s roster when they can figure things out later.
Another bonus mini-prediction: Trading Marcus Morris seems like a fait accompli. The Celtics are one Morris salary dump from getting under the tax — something they’d like to do, given the endless tax bills they’re staring at. But Morris is an important bench cog — their only experienced small-ball power forward. I’d lean toward Boston keeping Morris, and either eating a small tax bill — or finding another way to duck it.
Malcolm Brogdon turns down the Josh Richardson extension
Brogdon is one of the league’s sneakiest extension candidates, eligible for a first-year salary of up to 120 percent of the league’s average — about $10.5 million. The full boat: a four-year, $47.5 million deal that would kick in for 2019-20.
Big long-term deals for role players usually end badly. Brogdon is almost 26; he might not have upside left.
But Brogdon’s player type is ideal in an evolving NBA: a 40 percent 3-point shooter who toggles between guard positions on both ends.
The Bucks should think hard about laying out that full offer. I bet they get there. The silver lining of Brogdon’s age is that a four-year deal extends through his prime; the next contract decision will be easier.
Brogdon is represented by the legendary agent David Falk. Check Falk’s track record on extensions, and there is no conclusion other than he would happily take Brogdon into restricted free agency.
He becomes extension eligible Dec. 8. The Nets by then will have some idea of whether they should stake any of their future on D’Angelo Russell. If they are pessimistic about Russell, they could try to entice Dinwiddie into a deal — something like three years, $21 million — that doesn’t cannibalize much cap space. He will say no.
Kawhi Leonard (maybe) signs with the (maybe) Clippers
I have no inside information — I am not on the Leonard camp text list — but you can’t write a predictions column without going out on a limb about him. The Paul George and Irving precedents bring optimism in Toronto. The Raptors are first-class. Toronto is an amazing city. The team has a real chance to make the Finals. If the young core takes another step, Leonard could see Toronto as a place to chase titles for the rest of his career.
But he might also need to see a long-term co-star. Is that Kyle Lowry at age 33?
If Leonard didn’t care about the supermax in San Antonio, the fifth year only Toronto can offer him might not be much of an advantage. One injury changes that. That fifth year is massively important to some players in Leonard’s age range. (Look at Butler.) A lot of them worry they won’t make the same money in Year 5 as free agents in their early 30s. Others prioritize re-entering free agency after their 10th season — that’s July 2022 for Leonard — when they become eligible for the largest possible contract.
That West Coast buzz was strong in June and July. If Toronto makes the Finals, let’s give them a 60-40 shot at keeping Leonard. If they don’t, the field gets a huge edge. If he bolts for L.A., the wager here is that he sets his own path instead of following LeBron. In the aggregate, that makes the official prediction Leonard is a Clipper next season.
The Cavs signed Love to that fat four-year, $120 million extension because he is a very good basketball player. They also did it to increase his trade value. If the Cavs are too far behind the No. 8 spot around the trade deadline, it would be natural to pivot into tank mode and investigate Love’s market. (Remember: Cleveland owes Atlanta a top-10 protected pick.) If no deal emerges, they could revisit things in the offseason.
They should not expect great return. Love just turned 30. That salary is huge, even if it drops by $2.5 million in 2022-23 (provided Earth has not melted by then). But there will always be some desperate team willing to give up an interesting rotation guy and middling first-round pick for an All-Star. How about Bismack Biyombo, Jeremy Lamb, and an unprotected Charlotte first-rounder? That doesn’t sound great, but there won’t be a Love motherlode.
Love would fit the Wizards, only there is no way they can pay $123 million combined to Love, Porter, Beal, and Wall next season. (Oof.) Other suitors will emerge.
A Korver trade should happen even if Cleveland exceeds expectations. Give him a shot at a ring! The $3.4 million Korver is guaranteed next season could be an obstacle, but that can be negotiated. How about Korver to Philly for Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick? A reunion with Budenholzer in Milwaukee might require a buyout; the Bucks have little to deal.
Bonus Cavs thing that is kind of a prediction and kind of something they should explore if they punt the season: George Hill and JR Smith are guaranteed only $4.87 million combined in 2019-20, but will earn $33.7 million this season. Why not peddle those deals in exchange for dead contracts that run longer than those attached to Hill and Smith — plus a first-round pick?
Plenty of teams need long-term salary relief. Rebuilding teams — i.e., Cleveland — need draft picks. The return in draft picks might not be as valuable as the forfeited cap space, but it’s worth at least investigating.
And thus marks at least the third time I’ve predicted a Vucevic trade. I might be wrong again! Vooch is a good player. His ability to facilitate from the elbow — something he improves every season — compensates at least a bit for Orlando’s point guard sinkhole. His jumper makes it feasible for Steve Clifford to play Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Vucevic at the same time. He can mentor Mo Bamba.
But Vucevic’s contract is finally expiring. If you are going to lose a good player for nothing, you have to at least try to get something back for him. Orlando doesn’t want long-term salary, so they might not be able to find a suitable return. Vucevic would be amazing with the Lakers, but it’s hard to find a workable trade. (Vucevic also makes some sense as an extension candidate, but the Magic will likely choose cap flexibility over more Vooch.)
Insiders see a Gordon trade as inevitable. Isaac and Bamba are the frontcourt of the future; Gordon is not a wing. The Magic designed Gordon’s declining contract to be a trade asset. Flip him for perimeter guys and be done with it.
But Gordon just turned 23. He has played much of his career out of position. Clifford is his fifth head coach in five seasons. Once Gordon figures out what he is, and what he isn’t, he could be an All-Star. The Magic need good players, regardless of position. They are scarred from watching Victor Oladipo blossom elsewhere. If Gordon surges, he becomes both more tradable and more valuable to the Magic. Orlando wants to be competent. Isaac and Bamba are NBA babies.
These predictions cover only the next calendar year. The Magic don’t have to rush.
The never-ending decline in offensive rebounding continues
The league’s collective offensive rebounding rate dropped a full percentage point last season, accelerating a long and consistent decline. I wanted to predict a teensy reversal. A few teams are talking about amping up their crashing. At some point, offensive rebounding will sink below some optimal level.
With Andre Drummond, John Henson, Jusuf Nurkic, and Ian freaking Mahinmi jacking 3s in preseason — taking themselves out of rebounding position — it doesn’t seem like the league has reached that point yet.
The Clippers want to collect future assets and hang in the playoff race, and they have enough movable veterans to straddle both paths. Cashing in on Williams’ cheapo extension should be a no-brainer if they fall into the 10th or 11th spot.
The other three are dicier cases. They are on expiring or semi-expiring deals, and the Clippers want to maintain cap space for two big fish; they will not absorb 2019-20 salary in return for the Beverley/Harris/Bradley crew unless it is attached to a star. But those guys are good. Deals will emerge.
The Clips’ reported reluctance to include Harris in any Butler deal is curious. Both are on expiring deals. Butler’s cap hold is larger, meaning he would eat into their cap space this summer, but the Clippers would still have easy access to a second max slot.
Maybe the reports are wrong. (I doubt that.) Maybe they don’t want Butler, or have intel that another free-agent stud doesn’t want to play with him. Maybe they want to hold onto Harris so they can re-sign him if that second star doesn’t come.
They could hold extension talks with Rubio now, but the Jazz appear to be hoarding cap space. Utah loves Rubio, and he loves it there. He is still, somehow, just approaching his 28th birthday. If he has another good year, Utah could bring Rubio back at a salary not much more than he makes now. The league is flush with cap room, but it’s also flush with point guards. A half-dozen super-duper stars will soak up a lot of that room. I’m not sure any point guard outside of Walker can count on a frothy market.
Golden State becomes the first team with two 50/40/90 players
Both Curry and Durant have done it. Both barely missed last season. Curry shot 49.5 percent overall, and Durant hasn’t cracked 90 percent from the line since 2012-13 — his only 50/40/90 campaign. Come on, you slacker! Focus!
The 50/40/90 conceit has become outdated as players jack more 3s; it’s hard to make half your shots when a huge portion of them have a 40 percent hit rate in good seasons. That Curry has sniffed this so many times is ridiculous. Almost 60 percent of his attempts were 3s last season! You hear it from rival executives and media here and there: “Has Curry become underrated?”
I think there is truth to that, as absurd as it sounds. Golden State’s offense has never functioned all that well without him — even in the Durant era. Curry is a revolution. LeBron is the league’s best all-around player. Curry is closer to LeBron than to the jumble of guys below Durant with whom he is often lumped.
Makes too much sense.
For at least one long stretch, anyway.
The eight East playoff teams are
Boston, Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Indiana, Miami, Washington, Detroit.
The eight West playoff teams if Minnesota trades Butler
Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Utah, Denver, Lakers, New Orleans, Portland.
The eight West playoff teams if Minnesota keeps Butler/everyone doesn’t murder each other
Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Utah, Denver, Lakers, New Orleans, Minnesota.
Do I feel good about predicting the end of San Antonio’s playoff streak? No. No, I do not.
And the winner is …
Golden State over Boston in 6.