Landing spots for top NBA free agents

Just 24 hours. That’s all that remains between now and the start of NBA free agency. It seems that every year now serves up a bunch of all stars hitting the open market. Part of that is just how the NBA is structured. Here is where a number of this year’s top players should end up when free agency is all said and done.

Some thoughts before I begin. I really like Boston landing Tobias Harris. He would be a great young piece for the Celtics to include as they continue to rebuild. Paul Millsap, Kawhi Leonard and Enes Kanter should all stay with their current teams. As should DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler. Now to the really big names.

Kevin_Love_CavsKevin Love
2014 team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2015 team: Indiana Pacers
I have talked about this before. Love did not f    it into the Cleveland offense. He struggled as he became solely a jump shooter. He still performed decently well given the circumstances. He opted out of his deal to give the Cavs some financial flexibility and I think he will return to Cleveland. However, I think he should head to Indiana. David West just opted out of his contract and the Pacers are looking to unload Roy Hibbert. Sounds like they are going to need a lot more rebounding going forward. Love provides that plus tons of scoring potential for a team that finished 24th in points per game a year ago. I like Love playing with a great setup man in George Hill and a guy who can thrive off the ball in Paul George. This could be a good step in Indiana returning to the playoffs.

Jimmy Butler
2014 team: Chicago BullsBulls during_a_timeout
2015 team: Dallas Mavericks
Butler is going to demand a max deal from whoever signs him, which makes a return to the Bulls difficult due to their financial constraints. He could go to Indiana if they don’t land Love and continue to thrive in a defensive system. The best place for him though would be Dallas. Butler would land with a contender out west in desperate need of a defensive injection. You can bet that Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis are not coming back next season so that should provide the financial flexibility needed to sign him. Butler would add a lockdown defender to a team that allowed the sixth most point per game a season ago. The 25-year old would be a much needed piece to help Dallas push toward another title with Nowitzki still in town.

Dwyane_WadeDwyane Wade
2014 team: Miami Heat
2015 team: Anyone but Miami (Atlanta Hawks)
Team basketball has been what Dwayne has been about for the last dozen years and what Atlanta put into practice last season. Miami isn’t willing to pay Wade for his services but you can bet Atlanta would love to nab the aging superstar. Paying Wade shouldn’t be too much of a problem with Demarre Carroll and Elton Brand likely not coming back. The Hawks have a ton of depth meaning Wade could play only 28 minutes a game and the team would not tank. Keeping Wade healthy will be easy and Atlanta would have a proven scorer to turn to when at clutch time in the playoffs. The whole Cleveland series seemed to be the Hawks looking for someone to step up. Wade has no problem doing that and could make Atlanta the favorite in the east next season.

LaMarcus_AldridgeLaMarcus Aldridge
2014 team: Portland Trailblazers
2015 team: Portland Trailblazers
At 29-years old, Aldridge isn’t getting any younger. Obviously, he still has some good years left in him but the clock is ticking. That would make you think he would try to bolt to another team poised for a title run. The best thing though would be to stay in Portland. Damian Lillard is still improving and if Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews return on similar deals to last year this team could be in a good position to compete again in the west. Obviously, this isn’t as fun as seeing Aldridge go to the Lakers, the Knicks or even the Spurs but it makes a lot of sense for Aldridge and the Trailblazers. They just brought in some really good depth in Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton. Give this core a year or two and they could one of the top teams in the rugged west.

Marc GasolMarc_Gasol
2014 team: Memphis Grizzlies
2015 team: Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Carter-Williams, O.J. Mayo, Giannis Antetokoumpo, Jabari Parker and Marc Gasol. That would be quite the starting lineup. Gasol is one of, if not the best passing big in the game right now. He averages almost four assists per night and should ignite Milwaukee’s offense. This team made the playoffs as the sixth seed without Parker last season. Bring in Gasol to play with a healthy Parker and suddenly the frontcourt for the Bucks looks drastically better. This move makes a lot of sense too with Larry Sanders leaving in the middle of last season. Zaza Pachulia is nothing special, Gasol is. With a ton of depth on the roster already, the Bucks could become a contender in the east within a year or two with Gasol as the centerpiece.

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NBA All Star snubs

The NBA All Star rosters took another step towards being finalized yesterday. The coaches decided on who the reserve players for each team should be. The East roster now features Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving and Dwayne Wade. The West includes Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. At least two players, Wade and Bryant, will likely not be participating due to injury. There are some notable names missing from this list and I am going to break down who among them should have made it.

The first name to jump out at me absolutely has to be Derrick Rose. The Bulls’ point guard has had an injury-ridden season but when he has played, he has looked like one of the best players in the league. He has struggled though, especially shooting the ball. However, he is still scoring at a great rate and he is tied for 16th in points per 48 minutes played. He is also scoring more than Teague or Wall, who made the team over him. Rose is averaging fewer assists and shooting at a much worse rate per game though so I can understand why he was not picked. That being said, I think he is the next logical add if it turns out that Wade cannot go.

The other thing that bothers me in the East is leaving out the Pistons’ frontcourt. Both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are in the top ten for rebounding this season with Drummond ranking second and Monroe tying for ninth. Drummond is averaging almost thirteen points per game as well with Monroe accounting for more than 15 per night. Drummond also has the most board per 48 minutes played and is an excellent shot blocker ranking ninth in the league. The issue for these two guys is that it is hard to argue whose spot they should take. I think Millsap and Horford were deserving of their selections. Both of these Pistons’ big men have played well though this season and certainly should have been considered.

Flipping to the West now, there is no bigger omission than DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” has been a force in Sacramento this season. Cousins has missed some time due to injury this year but he has put on a show out in California. He cleans up the board with 12.3 rebounds a game, good for third in the NBA. That is also two more rebounds per game than Duncan, who did make the team. The Kings’ big man has also made his presence felt defensively, with roughly 1.5 blocks and steals each per matchup. Duncan is logging about 2 blocks but only 1 steal per game. The biggest difference though is the gap in scoring. Duncan is scoring a solid 14.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Cousins is tallying 23.8 per night, which ranks fifth best in the NBA. I understand that Duncan is a great veteran player but I would definitely have selected Cousins over him.

Damian Lillard was another man forgotten in the All Star selection process. He has been a much better scorer than Chris Paul has this season but Paul has registered a lot more assists. The Blazers’ floor general shot much more effectively than Bryant did this season but Kobe, even despite his age, has been the better defender. The reality is that Lillard has played extremely well but it hasn’t been enough to push his name into being an All Star. There is a good chance that had Lillard been playing the East he would have been selected this season. He has outperformed the majority of the guards in the East but that does not matter with voting being conducted by conference.

It is hard to argue with the lineups being assembled to play in New York this season (well, outside of Kobe of course). There were some guys who were probably qualified to make these teams but unfortunately come up short based on how tough it is to make the 12-man roster. Only 24 players are named All Stars meaning that there are plenty of others who are left out. Let me know if you think there were some other players who should have made it.

NBA Cornerstones: Shooting Guard

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I will have a couple of parameters for this selection though I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think it should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope that you guys agree.

The selection: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Honorable mentions: Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Victor Oladipo

This pick was a lot more clear-cut than my previous selection turned out to be. Not to say that there aren’t many good shooting guards, there is just one that stands out above the rest. James Harden is one of the best players in the league and he is having an MVP caliber season in Houston. He is only 25 years old and likely has another 8 or so years left in the tank where he can play at an elite level. While he is already an excellent player he is still improving, evident by his overhauled defensive play this year. The other thing that Harden brings to the table that very few others do is playoff experience. In his first five seasons, Harden played in 55 postseason games. He was part of the Thunder team that made it to the 2012 Finals after playing in the Conference Finals the year before. Harden actually hasn’t played a year in the association where his team did not make the playoffs.

All of that aside, Harden would still win for best two guard purely on his superior stat line. He is leading the league in scoring this year. Not just shooting guards, all players. He also has the most assists per game and the third most rebounds per game by a shooting guard. Defensively, he ranks fourth in blocks and first in steals among shooting guards as well. This decision is an absolute no brainer. He is clearly the best shooting guard in the league right now and that likely won’t change any time soon.

He can basically score at will with his 27.6 points per contest. Since becoming a starter when he moved to the Rockets in 2012, Harden has averaged 26.3 points per game. He also scores them fairly efficiently. Harden has turned himself into a much more consistent shooter over the last two seasons, hitting on roughly 45.5 percent of his shots. He has also been an above average three-point shooter, converting 37 percent of his attempts. The man who’s beard takes on a legend of its own has also improved his free throw shooting every year that he has been in the league and is now making almost 89 percent of his attempts from the line.

I mentioned his defensive stats this season being impressive and they are even more so because of his historical weakness on that end of the court. He is not an elite defender quite yet but the recent improvements provide some hope that there is potential for Harden on defense. This better defensive play also has Harden’s player efficiency rating higher than it has ever been previously. He ranks third behind only Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant among starters for the highest rating in the league. In the past, Harden’s overall efficiency was held back by his below average defensive play. Offense might still be where he excels but he has turned himself into a much more complete player.

Another knock against “The Beard” is his high number of turnovers, which sits at four per game this season. However, Harden has the seventh highest usage percentage in the NBA this year. He fits in right about where all of the six players in front of him do for turnovers per game. The reality is, when you handle the ball a lot in the NBA, you are going to have a much higher number of turnovers.

You can make the argument that Thompson is a better shooter, or that Butler is a better defender or that Wiggins has more potential but for the combined mix of talents James Harden brings to the table, it does not matter. Harden is probably one of the best all-around players in the league right now and could push himself into the conversation of being the best if his defense continues to improve. When he plays, he is involved in just about every facet of what happens on the court.
Despite how good of a supporting cast Harden has, featuring Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Terrance Jones most notably, Harden is still making the largest impact on the game. He leads the NBA in a stat called Win Shares, which calculates how much a player contributes to his team winning. The fact that Harden is tops in the league for that and has the highest value over replacement value of any player this season speaks volumes. Harden is a proven winner and while he may not have an NBA title to his name yet, he is definitely the shooting guard I want on my team to help me pursue one.

For previous Cornerstones selections, click here.