Predictions, as Howard Beck writes in his Bleacher Report story on free agency, are flimsy, filtered through a bit of fan wimsy. And speculation is just that. It’s not knowledge. It’s a poor man’s analysis.
So Beck did some reporting, talking with 10 NBA executives about the chances of the four big franchises: the Lakers and Clippers in L.A.; the Knicks and Nets in New York. All have a lot of chips on the table this summer, with the Lakers and Knicks more in need of the biggest hit. The clock is ticking on LeBron James, who will be 35 in December, and the Knicks who have sold the future ... hard, as their present looks worse and worse, no matter what prism you use.
Beck runs through all the recurrent rumors —Kevin Durant to New York, to be joined there perhaps by Kyrie Irving; Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers; Jimmy Butler to the Lakers ... or the Nets. Etc.
Then, he takes a deep dive into what the professionals think. He had the ten executives rank the four clubs and with the aid for colleague Eric Pincus and others, looked at the limits of each club’s salary cap.
In talking to his anonymous panel about which of the four seem to have sustainable futures, Beck found big disparities. As he writes...
• Rivals universally praised the Nets and Clippers as well-run and well-coached, with soundly built rosters and the flexibility to keep adding talent.
• The Lakers were viewed with considerable skepticism, based on their poor roster, the shaky status of coach Luke Walton and a general lack of faith in the front-office tandem of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Those who picked the Lakers as the top “win-now” option pointed to a single, overriding factor: LeBron.
• The Knicks drew consistently low marks because of a lack of proven talent, doubts about their young prospects and the generally poor reputation of owner James L. Dolan. The front office leadership also draws skepticism from rivals. Coach David Fizdale is viewed as promising, but unproven. The Knicks (15-62) are on pace for the worst record in franchise history.
Of the Nets, he quotes one veteran GM this way, “Brooklyn and the Clippers have a decided advantage over the two marquee names because they’ve done far more in the last few years to position themselves to be sustainable than either New York or the Lakers.”
Said another, “Brooklyn is well-managed, That’s a fact. Sean (Marks) has done an unbelievable job. We thought it looked like doomsday.”
Doomsday or not, those days are done under Marks and Kenny Atkinson who also gets praise from Beck’s panel.
Beck also notes that even if the Nets (and Clippers) don’t get there this summer, they have a cushion.
If the Clippers or Nets strike out on the marquee names, they can simply shrug and continue on their merry way, confident they are already competitive and on the right path.
There’s a LOT more there, including about doubts executives have about David Fizdale, the complete paucity of talent on the Knicks and the fear that Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. may not be that good. He also notes that the vaunted Lakers are “behind the curve” on a lot of franchise building blocks like analytics, sports science and player development. Plus the downside of playing with LeBron: if the Lakers win, he gets the credit and if they lose, everyone else gets the blame.
One thing Beck doesn’t mention (but we’ve harped on as a Nets secret weapon) is the increasing presence of minority owner Joe Tsai and how he, as co-founder of China’s greatest marketing operation, can help free agents get endorsement money in a country where 640 million people annually are exposed to the NBA. Nor does he opine on the value of the Knicks (or Lakers) walking away with Zion Williamson on Draft Night.
No worries. It’s a juicy read.
- A BIG-MARKET CINDERELLA STORY - Howard Beck - Bleacher Report