Doesn’t it seem as if we were just here? If it feels that way, you’re not imagining things. The Lakers concluded their 2019-20 championship quest on Oct. 11; 71 days later, the Lakers start their title defense against their intra-arena rivals, the LA Clippers.
But if you are under the impression, because of the shortest offseason in NBA history, not much happened, well, here’s where we have your back. (And why don’t you check in on the latest James Harden trade rumors.)
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Lakers preview: LeBron vs. Father Time
LeBron James continues to resist the laws of aging. He was the MVP of the Finals and finished second to Giannis Antetokounmpo in the voting for the regular-season award. He’s kept himself in peak physical condition, and statistically, his performance level is virtually indistinguishable from what it was five years ago.
He also will be 36 years old when the next postseason begins, after coming off a short offseason and playing a compressed 72-game schedule. Normally you could probably laugh away any concerns; even if he drops off in the regular season, he’s always been able to dial it back up in the playoffs. Davis’ presence also provides a margin of error, a second star to take on the scoring and shot-creating load on nights James doesn’t have it.
Celtics preview: The tempting exception
Boston sent two second-round picks to generate a $28.5 million trade exception when Hayward left, and the Celtics have to figure out the best way to weaponize it. Astute observers fantasizing about a Celtics dream team will note that a certain Washington Wizards All-Star has a salary that can be accommodated within the exception; alas, it’s unlikely Boston has the asset collection to match what other suitors can put on the table in a Bradley Beal transaction.
A more realistic endgame is that it becomes a multi-pronged asset that Boston uses once at the trade deadline and again after the season. Boston can take on mid-sized salaries from teams looking to cut money, or the Celtics can add their 2021 first (they don’t really need another young player at this point) to up the ante and take in a bigger talent — especially one with multiple years left on his deal.
Mike Vorkunov: Who are the NBA’s best and worst team owners? League insiders vote
There is a lot that goes into winning in the NBA. The players are the stars, deservedly so, and the front-facing part of any organization. The head coach is a genius when his team succeeds and a putz when it loses. The lead basketball ops executives, who goes by many names now, puts it all together.
Then there is the team owner, who lifts the trophy when their franchise wins the title and fires the whole lot when they fail. Amidst the regular churn of the roster, the sidelines, and the front office, the spotlight often avoids them, even if they truly are the loudest voice in the organization.
Every year, the media that covers the NBA brings out its list of the league’s best players, its best coaches, or its top executives. They all matter. So does the owner, who makes the final decision on everything of note and is the only constant in even the most ever-changing team. There are perceptions, of course, of who is bad and who is good. Win-loss records are sometimes just a catch-all, though that’s not all that matters into separating the good from the bad in ownership.
Eric Nehm: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mike Budenholzer dream of big things for Bucks
There is no handbook that shows exactly how to handle your star player signing a supermax extension to remain with your team for the next five years. So, on Tuesday, the Bucks exhaled after holding their breath from the nervousness of a longer-than-expected wait and embraced the celebratory tone set by their coach.
On Wednesday, with those positive vibes still oozing out of the practice facility as Budenholzer and Antetokounmpo spoke to reporters for the first time since the star’s announcement, the organization’s on-court leaders decided to move past celebration and instead contemplate what might seem like an impossible dream in the modern NBA.
“I know there’s probably more attention and more media when guys move and change, but I reflect on the guys who have stayed,” Budenholzer said. “For me, a guy like Tim Duncan, a Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, guys like that, that have stayed in one place and have made it kind of their legacy to win and win championships and win at a high level, wherever it is that they were drafted, whether it be a big market, a small market.”
• Tier 1 | Tier 2 | Tier 3| Tier 4 | Series intro and Tier 5
While a lot of focus has and will continue to be on the “rankings” aspect of the Tiers, the process of going through and winnowing players down to the best of the best is as much the point as is the list itself. It is easy to say in casual conversation, “Oh, Player X is a top 15 player so …” Actually diving in and doing the compare and contrast through the lens of what one thinks wins in the modern NBA and how to best go about constructing a championship-level roster sharpens not just the opinions on each player, but also on the state of the game itself.
The Tiers themselves represent a snapshot in time. Even as I was completing the write-ups for the players in Tier 1, I was thinking about edge cases up and down the list and where I might have over- or underrated certain players as well as what players need to show in this coming season to improve or maintain their current positions.
Evaluating player talent and production in the NBA is constant and never-ending, and the main thing I hope this project has provided is a framework for those discussions using a common set of terms. Let’s do it again in a few months when we have the new information a new season provides.
Are you ready for some rankings?!?
The columns in this cheatsheet are sortable, with the default setting being for 8-cat Roto leagues (8/ROTO). If you play in 9-cat Roto, I suggest making very minor adjustments for the players with low or high turnovers, rather than extreme changes.
The second column is for 9-cat H2H leagues (9/H2H), where you’ll see players like Giannis and Zion move up the rankings, albeit not as much as some might expect.
Danny Leroux’s salary cap analysis
How does the NBA hard cap work? Triggers, headaches, and what’s next
If a team takes any of the actions that triggers the hard cap (which are listed below), they cannot go over that limit for any reason for any amount of time for that entire league year. In normal years, the league year turns over July 1. There are no workarounds and no exceptions, even for historically bad injury luck or temporarily going over the hard cap as part of a sequence of moves that eventually leaves a team under.
While it would make more sense thematically for the hard cap to be at the luxury tax line itself, as the basic idea is to prevent taxpaying teams from adding talent more easily, the CBA gives front offices a little extra wiggle room by having a slightly higher limit for the hard cap, which is called the apron. The apron used to be exactly $6 million above the luxury tax line but now it moves up and down a little with the cap, so it is $6.3 million higher right now.
Here are the numbers for the 2020-21 season:
Salary Cap: $109.14 million
Luxury Tax: $132.627 million
Hard Cap: $138.928 million
NBA Salary Cap: Preliminary team-by-team cap projections summer of 2021
While a lot will change between now and next summer, these team-by-team projections broadly assume their front offices not signing multi-season contracts this offseason unless specifically noted but they work as a rough estimate of what will be out there in the wild Summer of 2021.
Here is how all 30 teams’ books look, grouped by their projected 2021 spending power.
Ball, Fultz, Kuzma and more: Projecting rookie-scale negotiation outcomes
The NBA preseason is an important time for teams to evaluate new additions and see how players look after the offseason, but it is also a pivotal window for extensions. Over the next week, we’ll explore the different extension negotiations going on around the league, broken down by the type of negotiation and the timeline to get deals done.
While some agreements can come during the season, there are a few situations in which players and teams can only agree to terms before the regular season begins. The first group with immediate time pressure is those eligible for rookie-scale extensions, players who are former first-round picks. As these come before their fourth NBA season, the 2017 class is up for negotiation right now. Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox have already agreed to designated rookie extensions, but there has been nothing for the rest of the class.
This college basketball season is weird and unlike any other. We’re in the middle of a pandemic that is ravaging the United States, and it’s led to little eccentricities in the process that teams are still trying to navigate. Chief among those evaluation difficulties? How to actually evaluate the freshmen who have played thus far.
Because of the stop-start nature of the season due to COVID-19 pauses, and the abbreviated preseason and summer players got with their new collegiate programs, it’s hard to get a handle on what is and isn’t fair to say regarding the freshman class across college basketball. Remember: The 2020 recruiting class is regarded as one of the better ones to come across college hoops in the last decade. It’s deep at the top, and it’s strong throughout in terms of depth. And frankly, as scouts, we just haven’t seen quite the level of production we anticipated from those players coming into the year. Is that because they’re just not very good and were overrated at lower levels? Or is it because they haven’t been placed into a high-level situation to succeed? After all, freshmen have gotten less practice time to assimilate with their teammates and less developmental time in the summer than they typically get with coaching staffs or trainers.
(Illustration: Wes McCabe/The Athletic)
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