With deadline past, next year starts now; scouting Kansas' Furphy and Rockets' Whitmore: Hollinger
Welcome to “Next Year.” Yes, there is still a season to play out and a wide-open title race, and several teams used the trade deadline to address needs that may come up between now and June.
But even more, the trade deadline has become the de facto start of the 2024-25 season. Most of last week’s trades were made with at least one eye (if not both) on the roster-building challenges that teams will face in the year ahead, especially those teams who are over the luxury-tax apron.
Already, one of the key themes has become expiring money, and making sure it’s lined up for next winter. One of the low-key reasons the Lakers were shut out of the trade market, for instance, was that they didn’t have a large expiring contact to put into a deal, with the second-year player option on D’Angelo Russell reportedly scaring off some suitors. (Although it’s amazing how quickly we’ve gone from “Can’t take that toxic second year” to “Wait, what if he opts out and somebody offers him a big deal?” Suffice it to say DLo has been on quite a heater these last few weeks).
L.A.’s only expiring money was Taurean Prince’s $4.5 million deal, which wasn’t nearly enough salary match to net anyone important. Extending Jarred Vanderbilt before the season took his deal out of the game as well; quibble about the value proposition, but it was a flexibility-reducer. One can argue sitting out the deadline might not have been a bad thing, of course, since the Lakers can hunt for bigger game with three tradeable firsts this offseason instead of the one they had at the deadline. However, expiring money looms as an issue again for 2024-25 if Russell doesn’t opt into his $18.7 million deal. The only other expiring deals would be the too-small minimums of Jaxson Hayes, Christian Wood and Cam Reddish (if each picks up their player option), and the item-not-for-sale contract of LeBron James.
We saw this need for flexibility come up in a couple of other places, notably Toronto and Memphis.
For instance, I said last week there was no chance Bruce Brown’s $23 million team option for next year get picked up, and thus that it was surprising the Raptors didn’t get something for him before the deadline. Upon further review, I may have spoken out of turn. There is, actually, one really good reason to pick up it up, which is to use it as a de facto trade exception later in the year. While the Raptors seem angled more toward being a cap room team this summer by declining Brown’s option, they can easily pivot to using only some of the room and then having Brown’s expiring contract soak up the rest.
Memphis played the same card, hanging onto Luke Kennard instead of dealing him last week despite the fact that Kennard’s $14.7 million player option for next season potentially puts them over the luxury-tax apron and takes away both their nontaxpayer midlevel exception and some of their trading options. Memphis has $13 million in other expiring salary between Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama and Yuta Watanabe (assuming he picks up his player option), meaning the Grizzlies can get to a high salary match with expiring money if need be without touching their core players.
With the Grizzlies looking at a high pick in the upcoming draft but trying to max out the current window with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson, Jr., Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart, it would shock nobody if they try to parlay that selection and their expiring contracts into another starter-level piece on draft night. Only failing that are they likely to make the hard decision on whether the luxury-tax complications (including limits on aggregation) make it worth taking a Kennard expiring into the season.
The Knicks were in a similar situation, which may have informed at least some of their logic in the Bojan Bogdanović acquisition. New York was looking at going fishing for stars with their draft assets in 2024, but they only had $6 million in expiring contracts between Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims. While they could have added a bit to that number by either using their nontaxpayer midlevel exception or re-signing Precious Achiuwa to a one-year deal, matching salary for a star-caliber player with a salary in the $40 million range still presented a problem.
That’s much less of an issue now with Bogdanović’s $19 million on the books. Technically, it’s only a partial guarantee, but it would take a calamity for the Knicks not to pick it up, given that they can’t really fill his salary with another player in their current cap position.
You saw that trend repeat itself in other deals too. Part of the reason Steven Adams was attractive for Houston was that it solved two problems rather than one. Yes, he’s a capable player who filled a weakness on the Rockets’ 2024-25 roster, but he also carries a large enough expiring number into next season to provide salary-matching ballast in their next deal.
If the deals weren’t about 2025 expiring contracts, they were about Bird rights for 2024 expiring contracts … ones that might be converted into tradeable salary this summer. Phoenix and Boston both project to be shut out of the free-agent market because each is so far over the tax apron, and they both will be prevented from aggregating salary by trade rules after this season. But what they can do is re-sign their own Bird rights free agents, and they may end up signing them at bloated numbers on short-term deals just to have the trade flexibility later — even if it cost them millions in luxury-tax penalties. (Given each team’s financial approach, I would say the Suns are more likely to take this route than the Celtics; Boston can also burrow down the tax hit for next season by having Jrue Holiday opt out and then re-sign a longer deal at a lower number.)
Of course, building a roster at any price is part of the challenge as well, which is also why the Suns and Celtics made their moves for O’Neale and Tillman, respectively, and the Wolves grabbed Monte Morris – they were likely blocked from signing those players this summer. It’s also why the Pistons overpaid to lock in a low cap hold on Simone Fontecchio, and Boston gave up a second to get Jaden Springer’s manageable $4 million for next summer on their books.
Only two teams took the opposite tack, as Philadelphia and Oklahoma City positioned themselves for enough cap room to make a free-agency splash, albeit in a rather weak market if (as expected) Paul George and Pascal Siakam stay put. The Thunder dropped off three unwanted contracts in Charlotte in return for Gordon Hayward, who may help immediately but also has a giant expiring deal that leaves them with roughly $30 million in room this summer, depending on where potential draft picks from Utah and Houston land. (One nerdy option: Trading for a player on the last season of a four-year deal, whose contract they could then renegotiate and extend to put a balloon payment in 2024-25 and lower money in the future cap years when extensions for Chet Holmgren and Jalen William while make the Thunder more expensive).
Philly, meanwhile, is shedding any and all salary that didn’t make the All-Star team — only Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey’s cap holds are sure to be on their books on July 1. The moves to deal Springer means the Sixers will be sitting on about $56 million in cap room this summer, a number which likely hit $63 million eventually. (It does so if they fail to make the second round of the playoffs, which keeps Paul Reed’s contract non-guaranteed and presumably positioning the Sixers to waive it for yet more cap room; otherwise they would likely try to trade Reed to generate the room). One option in Philly could be to re-sign either Tobias Harris or the newly acquired Buddy Hield to a large one-year deal to keep the money alive for trade possibilities, and then use the rest for free-agency splashes.
Finally, next year looms large in Utah as well, where the trades of Fontecchio, Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbai makes it seem the Jazz might be trying to moonwalk their way to the league’s 10th-worst record before making a more serious charge forward next year. While these deals had a practical side – the returns were good! – the other factor here is that Utah owes a top-10 protected pick to the Thunder. If the Jazz think they’ll be a lot better a year from now, it makes sense to try keeping the pick this year (as well as getting some spins on the lottery wheel) and conveying a pick around 20 or so in 2025.
We saw this same movie a year ago, of course, as the Jazz made a dramatic backslide after the trade deadline. This year doesn’t require such dramatic gymnastics; they’re only two games ahead of Atlanta for the 10th-worst record and still have to play the Hawks twice. Those could be 40-minute nights for Ömer Yurtseven. More seriously, the Hawks (and Bulls, who also are behind Utah as of Sunday’s games) will likely have a lot more to play for the final two weeks of the season and thus could make a late charge past the Jazz.
Utah will have about $35 million in cap room, but a big chunk of it is surely targeted for a renegotiate-and-extend deal with Lauri Markkanen, who enters the final year of his screaming bargain of a contract ($18 million, only partially guaranteed). Completing the circle from the top, don’t be shocked if the rest of it goes to a Bruce Brown-type contract that gives them a large expiring deal to maximize their trade flexibility, especially with the Jazz sitting on a raft of draft picks to dangle in any trade for a star.
That’s how it goes in the trade market cycle. With one deadline gone, we’re already looking ahead to the next one … and teams are already arming themselves for whomever the next unhappy star might be who wants a new home.
Cap Geekery: Recycling trade exceptions and other nerdy treats
Recycling isn’t just for bottles and cans. You can do it with trade exceptions too! The trade deadline’s action featured two huge exceptions, due to expire, that were effectively reincarnated as a result of trades made by the teams that owned them. (As a reminder: Trade exceptions are basically salary cap IOUs that allow a team to complete a previous trade by taking in salary without sending any money back. They typically expire one year from their birth).
Brooklyn was the big winner here, keeping alive a $20 million trade exception from the Kevin Durant trade by flipping Spencer Dinwiddie for Dennis Schröder and Thaddeus Young. With Young fitting into the exception they created in the Royce O’Neale trade with Phoenix, and Schröder fitting into Durant’s exception that was about to expire, the Nets created a new exception worth $20.3 million for Dinwiddie.
Thus, while the Nets don’t have cap room, they can play in the trade market for players who make well north of the nontaxpayer midlevel exception, possibly positioning themselves to grab another starter-caliber player.
Memphis did something similar when it turned Ja Morant’s $12.5 million disabled player exception (that variety of exception expires in March of the season it is granted, regardless of when it was obtained, and can only be used to acquire an expiring contract) to take in Victor Oladipo from Houston, and then generated a more durable and useful exception for $12.6 million via sending Steven Adams back to the Rockets. While exceptions of this size may be less useful this offseason under the new CBA, when the nontaxpayer midlevel exception of roughly $12.5 million can also be used as a trade exception, it adds to the weaponry available in Memphis … and could potentially be recycled again, into a $14.7 million exception for Luke Kennard, if the Grizzlies end up dealing him and taking back money that fits into the Adams exception.
My other favorite cap nerd things about the trade deadline, in no particular order:
- Cameron Payne and Patrick Beverley were traded for each other and make the same exact salary … but the deal created a $2 million trade exception for both teams. How? The minimum contract exception basically counts those contracts as zero incoming salary for trade purposes, even if swapped for another minimum deal. Thus, the identical $2,019,706 cap numbers for both Payne and Beverley went into a minimum exception (these are unlimited in number, by the way) for Philadelphia and Milwaukee, respectively, creating an exception for their outgoing salary. (Brooklyn, incidentally, used a similar mechanism to get an exception for O’Neale, taking in a minimum contract from Phoenix in Keita Bates-Diop and a small one that fit into a different exception in Jordan Goodwin).
- Memphis once again made trade with Phoenix that involved a pick swap on a draft choice that is already committed to a different pick swap. This time, it’s actually a swap that’s in three other deals, as they got dibs on the least valuable of Phoenix’s, Washington’s or Orlando’s 2026 first-round pick if they win more games than all three and thus can advantageously swap their own pick. It’s long odds to move up in the first round, but it’s also a heck of a payoff to unload a fungible back-end rotation player. Cap nerds will note that Phoenix took in Roddy with an expiring exception from the Dario Sarić trade of a year ago, and that the Suns were desperate enough to do this because they’ve largely run out of mechanisms to bring in players once the full force of the new CBA hits this offseason.
- Dinwiddie lost out on a potential $1.5 million bonus for playing 50 games because he had only played 48 when Toronto acquired him and waived him .. which stings more because he had missed two games, and because several other teams had played 52 games as of the trade deadline rather than the 50 Brooklyn completed. He also lost the league’s best incentive detail: A bonus of just $1 for winning the championship. The happy ending is that his $1.5 million deal with the Lakers makes him whole on the money he lost in Toronto … and that, because the Lakers signed him with the small leftover chuck of their midlevel exception, they were able to include the $1 bonus for winning the title in his new contract. (Hat tip to ESPN’s Bobby Marks for that detail).
- Hield has a new cap number! Because a $565,255 bonus for making the second round of the playoffs went from “unlikely” to “likely” when he was traded from Indiana to Philly, he is now on the books at $19,845,098. Cap accountants, adjust accordingly.
- Did you know there was a trade involving no NBA players? The Clippers sent $2.8 million in cash to Denver for the rights to French big man Ismael Kamagate. Why would they do that? Because this is the last year that teams over the tax apron can use cash in a trade. The Clippers figure to remain over that line for roughly eternity, so they swapped the cash while they could for a different asset that is eligible to be used in trades going forward.
- Minnesota’s acquisition of Monte Morris will likely keep the Wolves below the luxury-tax line … unless Minnesota wins the championship, that is. In that case, a $1.5 million bonus to Mike Conley pays out that would take the T’wolves into the tax; between the payout, the tax penalty and losing out on their share of the estimated $9 million incoming from tax teams, it would cost Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez a cool $11 million. Surely they’re okay with that if it means hanging a banner, but the other issue — looking at Minnesota’s expensive payroll over the next half decade — is that starts the clock on the repeater penalty.
Prospect of the Week – Johnny Furphy, 6-9 Fr. SF, Kansas
(Note: This section won’t necessarily profile the best prospect of the week. Just the one I’ve been watching.)
Welcome to peak draft season in NBA front offices. While scouts have been on the road tracking players all year, for front office executives, things don’t really pick up until the trade deadline passes. The day after the deadline is time to hit the road and begin a month-long cram session on players the scouting department has identified as must-sees.
This past weekend, that sent a whole lot of decision-makers to the Baylor-Kansas showdown, to get eyes on four potential first-rounders from the two sides. While Baylor’s Ja’Kobe Walter and Yves Missi will both get lottery attention, the one who stood out on Saturday was Furphy, an Australian who hardly played in the first half of the season but has come on like gangbusters in conference play.
Despite missing all six of his 3-point attempts, Furphy made an impact in other ways, with six steals, five boards and a 7-for-7 mark from the line. More generally, Furphy has a 23.2 PER on 67.0 True Shooting in 11 Big 12 games, and that’s in an absolute meat-grinder of a conference.
Despite standing 6-foot-9, Furphy is a pure wing (and that looks like it might be a legit height, though I’ve yet to see him in person) who can move his feet on the perimeter, make open shots and handle the ball. Here he is driving past Walter for an and-1 when the Baylor phenom tried to crowd him on Saturday.
Another great play by Johnny Furphy of Kansas. Can’t wait to see him first in the Big 12 tournament then in the big one where Kansas should be a one seed. pic.twitter.com/KOCGP1vtJD
— Davinci23 (@Davinci23638919) February 10, 2024
There’s a reason Walter was playing that close – Furphy is tall for a wing and has a high release that he gets away quickly; he averages 10.1 3-point attempts per 100 possessions but probably could weaponize it further. However, Furphy also has the size and athleticism to finish closer to the rim.
the Aussie really just did that 😱 pic.twitter.com/jGInxYTF76
— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) February 3, 2024
Overall, he’s gone from a “maybe next year’ guy to a “maybe lottery” guy in a matter of weeks because of his eruption in conference play. Scouts will be watching him in the coming weeks for more signs of on-ball creation and evaluating his overall positional fit, but the fact that he was matched up against Walter all game and held up so well was a great sign for his draft hopes. In a draft class light on sure things, he could make a late charge up draft boards with a strong closing run.
Rookie of the Week – Cam Whitmore, 6-7 SF, Houston
(Note: This section won’t necessarily profile the best prospect of the week. Just the one I’ve been watching.)
Whitmore barely played at all for Houston’s first 30 games. Even since joining the rotation, he has only been averaging about 20 minutes a game, which doesn’t lend itself to grabbing a lot of attention. Nonetheless, Whitmore’s statistical output on a per-minute basis has been eye-opening: His 18.3 PER is the best of any non-center in this year’s rookie class by a wide margin, and the 19-year-old has done it in ways that are fairly believable for his long-term production.
First, the bad news: Concerns about Whitmore’s dribble blindness haven’t exactly gone away. He has 255 field-goal attempt this season and … 13 assists. Yikes. In fairness, he’s showed a few more flashes in his most recent games — a four-game assist streak! — but there is no question he is frequently is guilty of tunnel vision. When it goes badly, it looks like this, with a wide-open Jeff Green watching Whitmore try to throw in a slop floater over two defenders:
Fortunately, he’s so effective putting it up himself that he still is a valuable offensive player. Whitmore is scoring an eye-popping 34.0 points per 100 possessions — a figure which leaves Victor Wembanyama (33.8) a mere second among rookies with at least 400 minutes and also outranks half the players who made this year’s All-Star Game – and he’s done it with relatively efficiency (59.2 True Shooting) and a paucity of turnovers.
Whitmore is shooting 40.3 percent from 3 on high volume and 54.4 percent inside the arc with a healthy free-throw rate. When he gets a step downhill, he’s capable of vicious throwdowns, though he’s mostly a two-handed dunker, with 22 dunks in 28 games. Jordan Hawkins has no chance here:
CAM REALLY DID THAT pic.twitter.com/VhzdbO7Syi
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) February 1, 2024
Whitmore is not just a 1-on-1 guy either; he’s a very effective cutter who gets a lot of his buckets playing off Alperen Şengün and others; 54 percent of his 2s are assisted. Even the ones that aren’t are the result of zippy moves; he’s not pounding the ball into the ground. Watch here, for instance, as he absolutely roasts Pascal Siakam with a quick catch-and-go:
Here, Whitmore curls off a screen and is just inevitable once he gets a head of steam, overwhelming Ben Sheppard:
Additionally, Whitmore’s athleticism lets him provide value in other areas and makes him more than just an empty-calories scorer. Whitmore rebounds like a power forward (11.6 percent), especially on the defensive glass, and his size and footwork on the perimeter make him a tough obstacle for scorers. However, he also zones out periodically and can get too hung up on his scoring.
Like, what are we doing here? He just checks out once his shot missed:
With all that said, Whitmore is clearly one of the most talented players in this draft crop and isn’t getting nearly enough attention. His draft-night slip to 18th was bizarre, especially given how underwhelming several players taken ahead of him have looked. He’s already an effective player at age 19 with obvious potential for more. If he can develop a bit more as a passer and lock in every play on defense, he has All-Star upside.
(Photo of D’Angelo Russell: Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images)