This week's mailbag features your questions on this week's blockbuster trade and more.
"Your rating of the Jimmy Butler trade made me think of the following question: Can you rank the best and worst returns for a player with All-Star credentials traded in their "prime" (second contract)?"
-- Alejandro Yegros
I initially answered this question back in June but figured it would be interesting to run it back with the addition of this week's Kyrie Irving trade, as well as the Paul George trade that happened shortly after I compiled my rankings. Of course, if the trade is adjusted (or voided) because of Isaiah Thomas' hip injury, we'll have to revisit this question.
To me, the Utah Jazz's return from the New Jersey Nets for Deron Williams (Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, the Nets' 2011 first-round pick that ended up No. 3 overall and a 2013 first-round pick) is the only challenger to what the Cleveland Cavaliers got for Irving as the best haul for such a player in recent memory.
To some extent, comparing those two packages comes down to team need. For a rebuilding team, getting a pair of top-five picks (Favors had been drafted No. 3 overall the year before) is an incredible starting point. Favors was more valuable at the time than Brooklyn's 2018 first-round pick is now, and the two Nets picks were relatively similar in value. At the time of the trade, New Jersey was 17-40, though the team could have reasonably been expected to improve with Williams in the lineup before he missed 13 of the remaining 25 games because of injury.
Still, I think I'd go with the return for Irving as the best for any star player traded in recent memory. Thomas is a current All-Star making just $6.3 million in the final season of his contract, though the health of his injured hip is an open question. Amazingly, he's ninth on the Cleveland roster in salary, behind Channing Frye, Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert. And while the Cavaliers will get a bargain on Thomas for only one year, that's an important factor for a team deep in the luxury tax. Cleveland probably will save more than $30 million in taxes with this move.
The better long-term contract belongs to Jae Crowder, who will make less over the next three seasons (about $21 million total) than the aging Korver. On the open market, Crowder probably would double his salary if not more, so in terms of the production he provides as compared to his salary, Crowder has one of the NBA's very best contracts.
On top of that, the Cavaliers got an unprotected draft pick that appears to be a likely high lottery pick and a useful prospect in Ante Zizic -- more on him in a minute. This was truly an incredible return and a rejection of the defense of the Butler and George trades that perhaps nobody was willing to pay heavily for superstars in trades anymore.
Conversely, I'd put the George trade at the bottom of the list. Victor Oladipo's production should be about in line with his salary during his four-year, $84 million extension. That gives him essentially no positive trade value. I'm also not sure Domantas Sabonis has positive trade value after his sub-replacement rookie season. While there's certainly a chance Sabonis recovers to become a useful player, it's also possible even his modest rookie salaries prove an overpay.
As a player on an expiring contract who has made no secret of his intention to explore free agency, George had less trade value than any of the other stars I included in the original list. Still, the return for the Indiana Pacers was far and away the worst of the group.
"What can Cleveland expect out of Zizic? Is he a solid prospect or just a throw-in?"
-- Alex Barcham
After seeing Zizic play for the Boston Celtics this summer both in the Utah Jazz Summer League and the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, I'm not quite as high on his potential as when I ranked him fifth in a re-draft of the 2016 NBA draft late in the season. (Zizic was actually taken 23rd overall.)
Particularly in Utah, Zizic struggled with NBA-caliber athleticism. He looked slow and mechanical by comparison. Zizic was more effective in Las Vegas, averaging 9.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game while shooting 60 percent from the field. Based on his performance overseas, I suspect Zizic will find a way to be productive and efficient, but the fact that he's largely groundbound limits his ceiling as a finisher and a rim protector.
My expectation for a median outcome for Zizic's career is him averaging about 20 minutes per game, either as a starter or a reserve, and putting up good per-minute numbers. There's value in that but certainly not as much as I previously thought in a league that's suddenly saturated with solid but unspectacular centers.
Has any team as good as the Celtics turned over so much of their roster, while intending to stay good? #peltonmailbag
— Kevin Garrity (@kg_cagey) August 25, 2017
Not in modern NBA history, no. That is, not since at least 1977-78, a year after the ABA-NBA merger.
On average, teams that won at least 50 games the previous season have returned 77.9 percent of their minutes, and only four others have brought back fewer than 40 percent: the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls (32.9 percent), the 2014-15 Portland Trail Blazers (34.7 percent), the 2000-01 Miami Heat (37.9 percent) and the 1997-98 Charlotte Hornets (39 percent).
The post-Jordan Bulls obviously don't qualify for the "intending to stay good" caveat. Nor do the 2014-15 Blazers, despite the fact that they made the playoffs after replacing four starters. The 2000-01 Heat and 1997-98 Hornets come closer, but the returning minutes percentage understates the continuity for Miami because Alonzo Mourning played just 306 minutes in 2000-01 because of a kidney condition. (Even with Mourning's return, the 2001-02 Heat dropped to 36 wins.)
Something similar is true with Charlotte, which didn't make its big move until midway through the post-lockout season. Glen Rice doesn't count as a returning player from 1997-98 because he had yet to play for the Hornets in 1998-99 before he was traded to the L.A. Lakers in a deal that brought back Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell. So we've never seen an offseason makeover for a good team trying to get better quite like the one the Celtics have made.
My take away from live was the NBA should consider adopting Big3 FT rules. Adds excitement to FTs. Good topic for a #peltonmailbag too.
— Frankie Rodriguez (@doncisco1979) August 21, 2017
I got my first chance to watch the BIG 3 in person last Sunday, when the first round of the league's playoffs came to KeyArena in Seattle, and I enjoyed the fast-paced game play -- including the unique way the league shoots free throws.
Whenever a player goes to the foul line in the BIG 3, they shoot only one shot worth the value of the foul (one point for an and-one, two points for the penalty or a shooting foul on a 2-point shot, three points for a 3-point foul and four points if the player is fouled shooting the BIG 3's 4-point shot). Naturally, this takes less time than shooting two or more free throws.
The idea of shooting a single free throw isn't completely novel. As Kevin Arnovitz wrote in 2014, the NBA once considered adopting a similar rule in the G League before rejecting the change. More recently, the Washington Mystics of the WNBA held a so-called "analytics scrimmage" against the Minnesota Lynx during the 2015 preseason that featured only one foul shot per trip to the free throw line. (Only one point was at stake there; the rest were automatically given to the shooter as if she'd made the other shots.) At the time, Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus (since hired by the Milwaukee Bucks as their director of basketball research) estimated the change might save 8-10 minutes per game.
I think I'm in favor, with a couple of tweaks. First, I don't think it makes sense to shoot a 3-pointer for the three-shot foul. I suspect over time that an unguarded shot from the 3-point line yields fewer points than two shots from the free throw line, let alone three. In practice, this season BIG 3 players have gone 4-of-15 (26.7 percent) on 3-point foul shots by my count, a rate that's unsustainably low but supports my suspicion.
Second, I think I'd go back to the traditional rules within the final two minutes of a game. I'd personally prefer not to have so much riding on one shot late in the game; your mileage may vary.