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Category → Free Agent Focus

Free Agent Focus: Lance Stephenson

Info

  • 2013-14 Team and All Previous Teams: Indiana Pacers

  • Key Stats 2013/14: 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 49.1 FG%, 35.2 3PT%,

  • Estimated contract: 4 year for $48-52 million

Matters to No One But Me …

There was once a second round pick who in his early years in the league was evolving into a star well ahead of schedule. His averages were exploding across the board. He was desperate for more shot attempts as he wasn’t the leading scorer on the team. He missed the all-star game despite being deserving of the distinction and responded with erratic behavior. The year was 2003 and that player was Gilbert Arenas.

Lance Stephenson and Arenas were both second round picks that experienced unrestricted free agency very early in their careers. Their exuberant and unconventional personalities were obvious despite the small on-court sample size. Arenas blossomed into the most exciting player in the league with the Wizards and Stephenson possesses that same potential if he can remove himself from the shackles that is the Pacers organization.

There was a moment in the second to last regular season game this season versus the Heat when Stephenson wasn’t sitting on the bench. Instead he stood in the tunnel beside the seated Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard like a child being forced to do his work at the teacher’s desk because he couldn’t handle being with his peers.

Apparently, Stephenson needs this structure, support and culture in order to harness his behavior, at least that’s the narrative on him that sports columnists would have us believe. But is this what Stephenson really wants?

Structure is suffocating and it’s possible that Stephenson could thrive in the exact opposite environment where his antics are acknowledged but not scolded. Freedom to express himself transformed Arenas to Agent Zero and resulted in three of the most memorable seasons from a single performer. Rasheed Wallace was a keystone on an NBA Championship team only when his behavior was ignored as “Sheed being Sheed” rather than altered to fit some corporate structure. In the same way, Stephenson has another level in him that we have yet to witness but will certainly see in the next five years in the right situation.

Stephenson succeeded this season despite Indiana’s rudimentary and stagnant style of play. He tried to hasten the game by his lonesome versus the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals but his team wouldn’t cooperate. He tried to intimidate the Heat with mockery and ridiculousness but that only vilified him further. Stephenson became the enemy and not the rest of the Pacers team that failed to even show up to the dance. Get outta here.

The more Stephenson was antagonized during the playoffs, the more he accepted the role of the villain. He embraced his public image and was stubbornly defensive about his actions. He was being bullied by the media for not fitting some abstract athlete norm in the same way that he was accused of being a bully on the court. It was the very definition of hypocrisy blanketed by the blandly vague “sportsmanship.” It’s okay though. Stephenson will be the bad guy if that’s what America needs him to be. He can accept that role if it enhances the image of our  heroes.

After all, there’s an old saying about bad guys …

 

 

Fits with the Pistons because …

What if an erratic Stephenson is the cultural shift the Pistons need? Far from unpredictability, the team has lacked a pulse in the past five years. Detroit is never going to be a place that lures the big names but it can attract underrated and maligned misfits like Stephenson.

The organization was once known for acquiring the underdogs – the players that nobody else would accept. Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups  and yes, even taking a chance on Allen Iverson late in his career. Overcoming odds and working hard was once an identity on the court and not just a brand they paid lip service to on billboards and promotional videos on the jumbotron. Show me, don’t tweet me.

Stephenson is undoubtedly relentless on both ends of the floor. You can question his decision-making but not his talent and hustle. The former can be taught via study but the latter is innate and special. Stephenson can be a franchise-altering talent with his play on the court and can establish a new identity and mentality with his antics off of it. While some may call it “immaturity,” I prefer “spontaneity.” Spontaneity is the antithesis of being in the NBA Draft Lottery year after year.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

He fits. A ball-handling combo guard that has gotten better in every statistical category in each of the past four seasons. He’s still working on how to best utilize bigs in pick-and-roll situations as he tends to call for screens that only enhance his own opportunity to score. He has a bad habit of icing his teammates when the ball in his hands by over-dribbling and dancing around the perimeter with wasted action but his teammates in Indiana didn’t help much with off-ball movement. Defensively, Stephenson is a ball-hawk but has a tendency to be complacent and lackadaisical when the action goes away from his man.

These are all habits that can be fixed. Mister Gores, please give Stephenson all your money. In exchange, he will save your franchise.

Free Agent is …

… looking to get paid. As a second round pick and despite his immense talent and unlimited potential, Lance has yet to comfortably become a millionaire. Tomorrow is his first opportunity at guaranteed money and we should expect him to take the highest offer.

Best known for …

Torching the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year with pull-up threes, attacks off the pick-and-roll, backdoor cuts and anything else he wanted.

 

Free Agent Focus: Shaun Livingston

Info

  • 2013-14 Team and All Previous Teams: Brooklyn Nets and 26.7% of the teams in the league.

  • Key Stats 2013/14: 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 48.3 FG% in 26 minutes/game.

  • Estimated contract: 3 years, $9-12 million

Matters to No One But Me …

Watching Shaun Livingston play basketball this year was joyful experience. It’s the same joy that I got from watching Draymond Green, Ricky Rubio and Manu Ginobili – all guys who consume, process and play the game three seconds ahead of everyone else. They don’t just anticipate the future, they dictate it, create the future of their desires by directing teammates to their preferred positions. Livingston has the vision and ability to instigate a chain of events that puts nine other individuals on a string that only he controls.

He does this with his creativity, control, quick decisions, recognition of defenses, ball movement and genuine mastery of the game. Watching Livingston makes me question everything I think I know about hoop, disregards the lens with which I watch the game and destroys the little knowledge that I may have acquired. These are all good things. Conventionality is boring, monotonous and repetitive (all tokens of Pistons basketball in the past half decade). I appreciate my reality being distorted and re-shaped by a new passing angle or cut to the rim.

Livingston possesses a spirit of hoop that challenges our perceptions about the game on a nightly basis. He plays with calculated control (“old man game” as some call it) yet his decisions appear daring. He truly sees the game paranormally or experiences it with a sixth sense that most do not possess. The only thing we can do is admire and appreciate the goodness in it.

 

Fits with the Pistons because …

Livingston is a pass-first rim-attacking playmaker that engages his teammates on every possession – all desperate needs in Detroit. His court awareness allowed him to play off-ball and alongside ball dominant guards in Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce in Brooklyn. He has the ability to make himself available in open space and finish plays when given the opportunity.

Livingston’s post-up game ranks ahead of Dwight Howard but behind Zach Randolph. He’s exclusively a post-up option on the offensive end (see shot chart) and possesses a deadly mid-range turnaround that he can get over just about anybody in the league. It’s difficult to describe his arsenal of uncharacteristic yet fascinating one-handed hooks, floaters and pull-up jumpers when in close proximity to the rim but they are present and true.

Shaun Livingston shot chart

It’s not a stretch to say Livingston would be the best post-up option on the Pistons next season just like he was on Brooklyn last year. He doesn’t often look for his own shot but has a tendency to call his own number at halfcourt for transition isolation post-up opportunities where he sprints to either the left or right block, usually on a smaller guard, and backs down the defender before the defense can set (my second favorite play in transition after the pull-up three).

Livingston is a long versatile defender that can guard positions 1-to-3 effectively and has even played spot minutes on LeBron James and Kevin Durant this season. His uncanny length bothers opposing point guards and his explosiveness can alter shots when trailing a defender on the way to the rim. He lives in passing lanes and his offensive smarts apply to the defensive end when it comes to helping and making the right rotation.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

The Raptors were up 3-2 on the Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs this year before Livingston turned the series in favor of Brooklyn … by playing less. After falling behind 1-0 in the series, Toronto won three of the next four by ignoring Livingston’s outside jumper and doubling off him to bother Joe Johnson post-ups and help on Paul Pierce drives on either Patrick Patterson or Amir Johnson. Livingston started the first five games in the series but played only 28 minutes combined in the last two games of the series.Alan Anderson started Games 6 and 7 to stretch the Raptors defense, penalize them for doubling and Brooklyn was able put together enough successful offensive possessions to win the series.

Livingston cannot even be categorized as a bad outside shooter because he doesn’t even take those shots. He was 1-of-6 from three and 6-of-24 a step inside the three-point line this season. He’s not even thinking about shooting from outside. That’s not an issue during the lazy up-tempo regular season but is a weakness that will be exploited in the possession-by-possession struggle that is the playoffs.

Livingston will amplify the Piston’s spacing issues. Teams will go way under him on the pick-and-roll to impede Andre Drummond dives  to the rim and make Livingston earn his bucket by getting all the way to the basket. This all changes if Livingston returns next season with extended range.

Free Agent is …

… Looking for a long-term deal and a home. Since returning from his injury, Livingston has played on seven different teams in six years plus two separate stints with Oklahoma City and Washington which brings his total up to nine different call-ups. He started 54 of the 76 games in which he appeared this season – both career highs – and was a large part of Brooklyn’s resurgence after a miserable start. He’s done enough to avoid being an after thought at the onset of training camp next October like he has been for the past bunch of years.

Best known for …

As emphasized on every national television broadcast since his return, Livingston is still known for his tragic injury. Below is a recap of the injury and recovery  Warning: I don’t have the stomach to watch it. Click at your own risk. It’s a great story once you get past the gore.

 

Free Agent Focus: Vince Carter

Info

  • 2013-14 Team and All Previous Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors

  • Key Stats 2013/14: 11.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 40.7 FG%, 39.4 3PT%,

  • Estimated contract: 2 years, $5-6 million

Matters to No One But Me …

“2001. May 20. Game 7. Yeah. I remember.” – Vince Carter

Those were Vince Carter’s spontaneous words after hitting the game-winning shot in Game 3 of Dallas’ first round series with the San Antonio Spurs this season. I’ve waited 13 years to hear those words expressed with such genuineness and remorse. He still thinks about that date and not because it’s the day he received his diploma. He still remembers the date as regretfully as I do, unveiling a humanity that I’ve never seen from Vince or any other athlete before. Athletes love to tell us that they are “taking it one day at a time” or “only focused on the next game” but in the moment of celebration, Vince revealed vulnerability and reflection far removed from cliches.

“To be honest with you, I thought about that [2001 miss] as we were coming out of the timeout. If i can get the ball, hey, you know, let’s make this one. So, in my my mind, I was ready for it,” said Vince, during the Game 3 post-game press conference.

Vince had thought about the 2001 miss for 13 years and probably mapped out multiple alternate realities where the shot falls, the Raptors play the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals and then possibly a showdown with Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals.  In his mind, he played the “what if” game like all fans and by doing so, he became an enigma among athletes who claim to focus solely on the game ahead and not the one 13 years ago that still consumes Raptors fans to this day. Now, it’s comforting to know that Vince has been living in the same time warp as the rest of us.

The game-winning shot versus the Spurs was nearly identical to the one he missed 13 years earlier in the conference semi-finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers. He catches the ball off the inbound on the left wing behind the three-point line, pump fakes to let the defender swing by him in the air, takes off on both feet, fades (as is habit), and launches with a clear vision of the hoop. The result in 2001 broke my heart but the 2014 outcome rekindled my belief in Vinsanity.

Vince’s departure from Toronto during the 2004-05 season was an ugly affair. Like any bad relationship, I can barely recall the details anymore but there persists a cloud of bitterness and angst. Sorry, I’m lying. I remember everything – Vince refusing to dunk, giving away the Raptors plays to the opposing team, the injuries that earned him the nickname Wince Carter, Momma Carter playing armchair general manager and much more – it’s all still fresh. The bitter finish made the positive memories fade, until they all came rushing back this year.

Vince is the reason I fell in love with basketball. I liked the Raptors but didn’t love the game until Vince showed an entire city and country how it’s supposed to be played – aggressively and above the rim. For over a decade, I’ve pretended to hate Vince for the heartbreak that he caused in Toronto but the truth is that I always still loved him. He possesses every trait that I admire in a basketball player and person: moody, grumpy, at times disinterested, supremely talented but only selectively engaged, capable of being one of the greatest of all-time but content with much less. He is still “Half Man, Half Amazing,” “Air Canada” and the greatest dunker of all-time. He’s all those things to a franchise and entire country but it took a game-winner this year for me to see, experience and accept it again. Vinsanity was a global phenomenon that I distanced myself from for years but it all came full circle this year when Vince hit the game-winner versus the Spurs and completed the alternate narrative from 2001. The war is over. There were no winners or losers. Not Vince, not the Raptors and certainly not the fans. Only a haunting common question remains as the lone product of a bitter conflict: what if?

 

Fits with the Pistons because …

If the Pistons are going to acquire and draft young guards and forwards this off season, they need to fill the roster with veterans who are unassuming about minutes, roles and shot attempts. Vincer can attempt to guide this team in the same way that Chauncey Billups did this past season. It might take Vince, Billups and Stan Van Gundy to get this team right.

Vince played for Van Gundy in Orlando for just over a season from 2009-11. He was brought in to replace Hedo Turkoglu who departed in free agency after the Magic made the NBA Finals in 2009. Vince was on the back end of his career when he arrived in Orlando. Vince used his years in Orlando and Phoenix to transition into the role player that he’s been the past three years in Dallas. He’s improved his three-point shooting and relies more on his strength in the post than the explosiveness that has escaped him.

Most importantly for the Pistons, Vince is a grown up who can contribute on a roster currently filled with youth and immaturity.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

Vince has only missed two regular season games in the last two years but he will be 38 years old in January. The Pistons held a roster spot for Billups this season but might want to consider giving that spot to a younger project moving forward. Also, if Billups returns next season, there’s little need for two veterans with overlapping roles to take a roster spot and potentially minutes from younger players.

Free Agent is …

… coming home to Toronto. It’s time. The Raptors need a big guard/forward off the bench that can allow them to go small against Miami, Brooklyn and even the New York Knicks. They need versatility but more importantly they need to continue building the team’s winning culture with a familiar face and fallen hero. Come home, Vince. There’s no more time left for hate. It’s ova …

its ova

Best known for …

My first heartbreak:

It took me 13 years to fall in love again …

 

Free Agent Focus: Evan Turner

Info

  • 2013-14 Team and All Previous Teams: Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers

  • Key Stats 2013/14 (76ers only): 17.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 42.8 FG%, 28.8 3PT% (on 2.4 attempts/games), 82.9 FT% (on 4.2 attempts/game)

  • Estimated contract: One year for $3-5 million

Matters to No One But Me …

Are there forces at play beyond our control that have prophesied Evan Turner’s career trajectory? Let’s take a look at the last 14 second overall picks:

2000 – Stromile Swift
2001 – Tyson Chandler
2002 – Jay Williams
2003 – Darko Milicic
2004- Emeka Okafor
2005 – Marvin Williams
2006 – LaMarcus Aldridge
2007 – Kevin Durant
2008 – Michael Beasley
2009 – Hasheem Thabeet
2010 – Evan Turner
2011 – Derrick Williams
2012 – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2013 – Victor Oladipo
Is the second overall pick cursed? Do you believe in curses? What if Joel Embiid is the second overall pick this year?  Then will you believe me?

Despite being cursed by fate, Turner has improved his scoring average in each of his four seasons while his shooting percentage mildly fluctuates in the low 40s. Unfortunately, the 76ers win total consecutively declined over the last four seasons as well. Turner has developed bad offensive habits (spinning in the lane, playing for the foul, forcing bad shots, not passing) at Ohio State and in Philadelphia. These habits became glaring errors under the scope of the playoffs in Indiana.

Defensively, Turner was once the  Derrick Rose stoppa according to Evan Turner:

“I was better than Rose,” Turner said. “With me guarding him he didn’t do much. He knows that, and I know that.”

He hasn’t lived up to his self-proclamation but he can be an effective post defender against opposing guards and small forwards.

I considered Turner an intelligent player until we learned about his altercation with Lance Stephenson. My bad. It takes a team of Frank Vogel, Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Kevin Pritchard to contain, harness and unleash Stephenson’s potential (more on Stephenson later in this series) and Turner attempted to go solo at him? In the words of Stone Cold Steve Austin: “eh-EH.”

Fits with the Stan Van Gundys because …

In honor of Stan Van Gundy first off-season in Detroit, I would like to confess that I really don’t know what Detroit’s new coach and savior is considering when putting this team together. We remember his style in Orlando  (one big surrounded by shooters) but he’s also had winning seasons with some odd Miami teams in 2003-04 (Dwyane Wade, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Rafer Alston) and 2004-05 (Wade, Eddie Jones, Shaq, Udonis Haslem, Damon Jones). Van Gundy has coached to the strengths of his roster so we can’t assume what’s next for this team.

Turner could mold himself over time as a large ball-handling guard like Hedo Turkoglu on the Magic or an off the bench scorer and rebounder like Antoine Walker in his later years with the Heat. Both are stretches based on his performance in those roles with the Pacers but the Indiana sample size is also small.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

Turner’s value was minimal at the trade deadline and his disastrous stint with Indiana further diminished his status as he’s now the tag team champion of culture killing along with Andrew Bynum. It’s unfair to grade him in Indiana because the fit was so poor.  He was asked to come off the bench, play without the ball and inside-out with David West and Roy Hibbert – all difficult adaptations that weren’t part of his game in Philadelphia.

The team chemistry issues are less of a concern in Detroit because this is Stan Van Gundy’s culture now and nobody will usurp that. However, Turner won’t stretch the floor for Van Gundy and he will take valuable developmental minutes away from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and which ever rookie shooting guard/small forward the Pistons take in the draft.

Turner does a lot of things on the floor at an average rate. He’s definitely an NBA player but is also baffling. Four years into the league, he’s still a project in search of a defined role where he can specify and hone his skills.

Free Agent is …

…  looking for a job. He can’t be picky. Ideally, Rick Carlisle takes a liking to him and offers to fix him like he did OJ Mayo and Monta Ellis the last two years. I would also love to attend Carlisle University to rid myself of all my poor habits and mental lapses in judgement so I too can maximize my severely limited life potential.

Best known for …

Almost ending Feldman’s life:

 

 

Free Agent Focus: Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay reportedly opted-in to his player option for next year. Ooooooppps. If he changes his mind between now and June 30, here’s how he would potentially fit with the Pistons. Until then, COME ON, Feldman. Get with it. 

Info

  • 2013-14 Team and All Previous Teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings

  • Key Stats 2013/14 (Sacramento only): 20.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 48.2 FG%, 31.2 3PT% (on 2.5 attempts/game), 83.6 FT% (on 5.4 attempts/game)

  • Estimated contract (if he opts out): 4 years, $48-56 million

Matters to No One But Me …

On November 11, 2013, Rudy Gay attempted 37 shots (made 11 of them) in a single basketball game and simultaneously almost ended my relationship with hoop. I was mad at Coach Dwane Casey for idly observing the crime scene without acting to prevent it, mad at myself for caring and appreciative for LeBron’s sister abigal “green light” kiss of death when he said he would score 60 points if he took 37 shots.

Watching Gay play basketball for about five weeks this year with the Raptors is easily the most frustrating sports experience of my life. He took horrible shots, refused to move the ball around the perimeter, looked off Jonas Valanciunas in the post and held the ball too low on drives to the basket causing him to get stripped multiple times a game. He posted up, he took threes, he handled the ball – Gay did all these things poorly and voluminously. It was miserable. Trust me when I say this, it was worse than watching Josh Smith this year. Gay was so bad that the Raptors became better just by trading him and distributing his shots to players already on the roster.

But then Gay started playing well in Sacramento and I became genuinely happy for him, mostly because I was happier with the direction of the Raptors. By all accounts, Gay is a great teammate and person so I didn’t resent his success despite deeply rooted hurt and horrid memories.

Why did Gay get better in Sacramento? I have no idea. I don’t even care to find out. I’m just happy he’s gone and that his success or failure is no longer my concern.

Fits with the Stan Van Gundys because …

Gay is only 27 years old, as athletic as anybody in the league and has averaged 17 or more points-per-game for seven consecutive years in the league. He should be able to play power forward in small lineups and even post-up on either the left or right block with decent success. He likes to bring the ball up the court even though he shouldn’t be trusted with such responsibilities with any sort of regularity. He can do a lot of things but he can’t do any single one of them exceptionally well. Gay is a seven year veteran without an identity or specific skillset that can be leveraged to win games. He’s still a project.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

Here’s the list of players that averaged more than 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 free-throw attempts during the 2013-14 season:

Kevin Durant
LeBron James
Kevin Love
Blake Griffin
Paul George
Carmelo Anthony
Russell Westbrook

 And … Gay during his 55-game stretch with the Kings. But Gay is not at the caliber of the others on the list. Not even close. He’s not an explosive or consistent scorer like Durant and Westbrook, plays more iso-ball than Anthony, not the defender that George is and not a world-class distributor like LeBron. The only thing he has in common with all those players? He looks the part of a star basketball player. He’s tall, long, chiseled and nobody looks better grabbing a one-handed rebound than Gay.

The Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals in 2013 after replacing Gay with Tayshaun Prince, the Raptors were 6-12 with Gay and 42-22 without him this year and Sacramento didn’t get any closer to the playoffs after trading for him in early December. Is there any reason to expect different results with the Pistons or any other team next year?

 

Free Agent is …

… seeking a long-term contract. Gay can opt-out of his one year, $19 million player option this year in hopes of earning a long-term deal in free agency. Gay is the perfect early 2000s players that would get overpaid by Isiah Thomas, Billy King, Mark Cuban, Bryan Colangelo or Otis Smith. He looks so good when he plays basketball. Who can resist? Unfortunately for Gay, those general managers are gone or in the case of Cuban, changed their player acquisition philosophies. Oh wait, King is still around and has infinite resources. Never mind whatever I was about to say.

 

Best known for …

Pushing Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the verge of tears during the most riveting segment of “Open Gym” this year. As Gray says at the 13:00 minute mark: “You have to laugh so you don’t cry.”

Free Agent Focus: Luol Deng

Info

  • 2013-14 Team: Cleveland Cavaliers/Chicago Bulls

  • Key Stats 2013/14 w/ Cleveland (40 games): 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 41.7 FG%, 31.5 3pt% (on 3.2 attempts/game), 77.1 FT% (on 3.6 attempts/game) and 1.0 steals

  • Estimated contract: 4 years for $36-44 million

Matters to No One But Me …

Luol Deng was having the best year of his career 23 games into the season before the Bulls voluntarily provoked their head coach and franchise player by trading him for cap relief. Through the first quarter of the season, Deng was averaging career-highs in points (19.0), assists (3.7) and free throw attempts (5.4) to go along with 6.9 rebounds on 45.2 percent shooting from the field. He was the aggressive slash-and-kick scorer and distributor who didn’t venture beyond his skillset.

Then he went to the basketball abyss that is Cleveland. Three-point attempts went up, free throw attempts went down and the rest of his stat line crashed as well.

We’ve grown accustomed to men of Deng’s size being more than your prototypical throwback small forward. LeBron, Durant, Melo, Nicolas Batum, Andre Igoudala, Paul George (sometimes, when he isn’t fumbling the ball) and occasionally Kawhi Leonard are capable of bringing the ball up court, running the point and leading the fast break off of defensive rebounds or turnovers. We’ve come to expect this even though it’s supernatural. Deng is not that guy.

Deng is a versatile defender who gets in the passing lanes for deflections, creates his own offense from hard cuts, putbacks in the paint  and any other form of ugly/dirty baskets. He is this offseason’s Igoudala minus the handles and savvy to run the point.

It’s easy to harp on his faults (lack of shooting, ball handling) and ignore the unselfishness and versatility of Deng’s game. He will help keep the ball moving, create passing lanes for guards and always take the toughest defensive assignment of the evening.  Considering the emphasis on three-point shooting, it’s possible that Deng will be an undervalued asset this offseason and one that could be acquired at a bargain rate.

 

Fits with the Pistons because …

Defensively, Deng is an essential piece in an Eastern Conference that features LeBron, Melo, an emerging Paul George, Joe Johnson and likely Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in the near future. Currently, the Pistons don’t have anybody to matchup with opposing team’s stars other than Kyle Singer and a disinterested Josh Smith.

Deng’s contributions on the defensive end are complemented by his unselfish offensive game. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to contribute which is a luxury on a Pistons team littered with iso players in Brandon Jennings, Smith and Greg Monroe. Deng will also attack the offensive glass from the corners to complement an already strong rebounding team.

Deng precisely fits with the Pistons because he’s adaptable and has always modified his game to accommodate his surroundings. Deng survived multiple general managers, head coaches and star players in Chicago because he makes himself valuable based on his situation and not his personal ambitions. He fits because he makes an effort to conform and not secede.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

I’ve scoured Deng’s shot chart(s) for hope and failed to find anything meaningful that will complement the current roster. Deng is a three-point shooter by name only as there’s little reason to respect his shot outside the paint. The Pistons desperately need to stretch the floor and Deng will provide no such luxury. Deng duplicates Josh Smith’s role as a three in traditional lineups and a four in smaller lineups while being an  inferior paint and post-up scorer to Joe Dumars’ prize acquisition last year.

A Deng/Smith/Drummond lineup sounds intriguing, long, active and troublesome on paper but it’s likely to result in the three running into each other on the offensive end due to the lack of space.

Deng is a nice player who will flourish as the third scorer and defensive stopper on a playoff team. He’s a huge upgrade over Matt Barnes/Danny Granger/Hedo Turkoglu/Darren Collison combo that the Clippers are rolling out in the playoffs. He’s also an improvement over Thabo Sefolosha/Caron Butler in Oklahoma City. If a team is close, I’m convinced that Deng can put them over the top. But like we observed in Cleveland, if a team is far removed from sustained success like Detroit is, Deng’s positive attributes are likely to get lost in the bigger questions.

Free Agent is …

… seeking a long-term contract in a stable environment with a touch of loyalty. Deng’s name has surfaced in trade rumors since 2007 and It took seven years for the Bulls to actually trade him. By all accounts, Deng has never complained and has transitioned from the Eddy Curry, Ben Wallace and Joakim Noah eras in Chicago. He’s been a stabilizing force for the organization and was rewarded by being sent to a dismal situation in Cleveland where too much was expected of him. Now it’s Deng’s turn to do what’s best for him which is also best for business.

Best known for …

1) Being one of the few likeable ex-Duke players (Corey Maggette is the other)
2) Almost getting traded for Kobe Bryant
3) Coach Tom Thibodeau playing him to death, almost literally.

4) Oh and he had his own Nike commercial with eerie sirens:

 

Previously:

Kyle Lowry

Free Agent Focus: Kyle Lowry

Info

  • 2013-14 Team: Toronto Raptors

  • Previous Teams: Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies

  • Key Stats 2013-14: 17.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists,1.5 steals, 42.3% FG, 38.0% 3FG, 81.3% FT on 4.9 attempts/game

  • Estimated contract: 4 years, $48-52 million

Matters to No One But Me …

Kyle Lowry is the reason sports cliches exist. The undersized city kid with an awkward build, who bounces around ungratefully with a metaphoric “chip on his shoulder” until something “clicks” and his undeniable talent finally intersects with team success. Lowry’s “chip” was his own stubbornness and the “clicking” was a season’s worth of verbal massaging and challenges from head coach Dwane Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri in Toronto. It’s a true Hollywood script with an unwritten ending that will play out in July as Lowry hits the open market as one of the most attractive unrestricted free agents this summer.

There’s a jagged rhythm to Lowry’s game that was seen nationally (well, NBA TV) for the first time in Game 5 of Toronto’s first round series with the Brooklyn Nets. Lowry had 36 points and six assists including five straight points after the game was tied 106-106 with 1:04 to play. Lowry “willed his team to victory” with obsessive attention to details that became habit over the course of a season. Details like lunging backwards on every layup attempt to create space and draw a foul, never missing a two-for-one opportunity to end a quarter, rushing referees to approve the inbounds pass in hopes of catching the defense in transition, drawing charges and taking opportune pull-up threes. Lowry’s game is jagged because it’s improvised and not dogmatic. Its rhythm is sustained by relentless effort and its beauty is in its effectiveness, not style.

Lowry was the best player on a superb defensive team that won 48 games this season. He was the voice, spiritual leader and captain of the Raptors by every measurable and immeasurable metric. He’s the soldier on the frontlines who also doubles as the infantry Chaplain. Maybe this is all cliche but maybe it’s a rare example of cliches being undeniably true.

Fits with the Pistons because …

It took tough love from Ujiri, Casey and Chauncey Billups and the departure of Rudy Gay for Lowry to have a breakout season this year. In Detroit, he will have Billups as a mentor and Josh Smith, a player with similar, ummmm, attributes (mainly taking a ton of isolation jumpers) as Gay. So he will lose 75 percent of what propelled him this season if he joins the Pistons. It’s unclear whether Lowry’s success is the product of the culture that Ujiri and Casey created or part of the natural career arc for a seven-year veteran. Lowry’s relationship with Billups is well documented and should be a plus should the Pistons pursue him in free agency. Whether or not he can duplicate the success he had in Toronto without the appropriate management and structure is uncertain.

As documented by Dan Feldman, Lowry can succeed playing off-ball with another point guard and did so in the fourth quarter of all seven playoff games versus Brooklyn. Greivis Vasquez was the primary ball-handler for the Raptors for long stretches which allowed Lowry to curl off screens for open jumpers or drives in the lane. Lowry makes great cuts off-ball and to the basket and is a bruiser when he gets in the paint, which puts immense pressure on the opposing defense. It’s feasible for Lowry to play alongside Brandon Jennings for short stretches but not ideal considering their lack of size and duplication of skillsets. Lowry can complement Jennings but it’s doubtful, based on past history in Milwaukee, that the relationship will be reciprocal.

Lowry will stretch the floor for the Pistons to create more space for Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to work in the paint. Detroit’s perimeter and team defense will also improve as long as players are receptive to getting yelled at by Lowry with the understanding that it comes from a place of passion and not disdain.

Lowry will be the best player on the floor for Detroit and will infuse an on-court ethic and direction that the team has lacked since trading Billups in 2008.

 

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

Lost in the madness of Toronto’s heartbreaking (seriously, my heart was shredded) Game 7 loss to Brooklyn on the final possession of the game is how many open shooters Lowry missed in the fourth quarter. Lowry has a tendency to go exclusively into attack mode rather than reacting to how the defense is collapsing on him in the paint. This tenacity is his greatest strength but also a weakness – a minor annoyance considering the enchanting harmony of his game.

Lowry also struggled to find his bigs versus Brooklyn’s trapping pick-and-roll defense. He was too small to throw it over the trap but the bigs were also at fault for not slipping, lingering around the three-point line or holding the screen too long rather than diving to the rim to force the defense to rotate.

When faced with more traditional pick-and-roll defense, Lowry also has a tendency to look off bigs and attack the rim (see: tenacity above) more often than anticipating a dive or an easy alley-oop/lay-up opportunity. This could be troublesome on a team constructed with bigs who can finish at the rim.

Free Agent is …

… seeking a lucrative long-term contract. Lowry is 28 years old and this is likely his only opportunity to cash in on the prime of his career. He has emphatically expressed his love and passion for his teammates and the City of Toronto. However, it’s fair to assume that he would leave for the right contract despite Celine Dion’s insistence that he stays.

Best known for …

Ending Deron Williams forever … Go home, Deron. You’re done here. See you in another life.

 

 

Up Next: Luol Deng.

 

Free Agent Focus: Introduction

Another offseason of hope, speculation and inevitable misery is upon us as the Pistons prepare for the draft lottery, draft and free agency this summer. Detroit’s needs are many – a general manager, head coach, new arena, good players, new “Motor City” jersey designs and I’m sure many other things.

To help with the players part, let me introduce to you … “Free Agent Focus.” A new series examining available free agents this summer who the Pistons should or should not consider and the reasons for each. It’s “Draft Dreams” for adults.

Some parameters:

1) This is a realistic perspective on who the Pistons can sign this offseason considering their cap space, current roster and projected plans moving forward. Key word: realistic. Feel free to go beyond realism in the comments. That’s what you do anyways.

2) We are disregarding the Super Friends – LeBron, Wade and Christopher Bosh. They exist on their own plane and are not relevant to Detroit unless they are crushing the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs at some point.

3) I’m going to institute a strict “No Carmelo Anthony” policy. It’s sad because I used to love Melo in Denver. I loved “Bully Season” and his ability to make Kenyon Martin gyrate uncontrollably. But I’m tired of him. I’m suffering from Melo-fatigue and Phil Jackson is only making it worse through his public ploy to devalue his star. The only thing that intrigues me about this situation is what book Jackson will give Melo during his annual regular season book club. My guess.

4) We are focusing on unrestricted free agents, but the right restricted free agents will be considered.

5) Salary or “value (however you define it) is considered but not a priority. Let’s get some good players and hoop. Let the statisticians and cap-heads deal with how much someone is worth. I just want to see the ball go SWISH!

6) Feel free to share player suggestions in the comments. All suggestions will be considered except the clique mentioned in #2 and the gentleman in #3.

Up next on Thursday, May 8 –  Kyle Lowry.