Lakers hiring JJ Redick as head coach is just aimless activity disguised as forward progress

Let’s start with some math: Five teams have won an NBA championship since 2020, the Los Angeles Lakers are one of them, yet they are now on their third coach over that time span with the hiring of JJ Redick.

Frank Vogel won a title, then got fired. Darvin Ham made the conference finals, then got fired. Now Redick parachutes in as the hot-shot hire as we hear ridiculous comparisons to Pat Riley and Steve Kerr and Eric Spoelstra. It’s almost too absurd to even laugh.

Yeah, we get it. Redick is a smart guy. He looks and sounds sharp. The Riley comp, if you really want to be this lazy, lands in your lap from a headshot standpoint, as does Kerr because of their similar player profiles and broadcasting backgrounds.

This isn’t to say Redick won’t be a successful coach. Or hell, even an all-time great one. But if he is, like those names above, he’ll be the exception. Not the rule. The rule is that almost all NBA coaches are tied almost directly to their rosters. They might get a little more or less out of the group they’ve been granted, but not much. The Lakers, who have hired and fired seven coaches since Phil Jackson left in 2012, aren’t alone in always thinking they’ve managed to identify the exception.

To run down the list of coaches that were supposed to make a significant difference only to fare, barring a roster improvement, much the same as their predecessor would take forever, but let’s look at a few recent examples.

The Hawks hired Quin Snyder to replace Nate McMillan — who, it’s worth noting, was largely the beneficiary of circumstance himself as Atlanta got healthy in 2021 just as he was replacing Lloyd Pierce and then went on to make a fluky, matchup-friendly playoff run — when it turned out that McMillan, with a few more years of evidence, wasn’t actually able to lift a Hawks roster that can’t defend and is too reliant on the individual creation of an otherwise stagnant Trae Young.

Snyder came in with a modernized plan to play faster and shoot more 3s and everyone bought into the time-honored illusion that a glitzy big-name coach could achieve a different result with the same team. Wrong. Atlanta got worse.

In Milwaukee, Doc Rivers was brought in to replace Adrian Griffin, who was brought in to replace Mike Budenholzer, who won a championship two years before his dismissal. Griffin was 30-13 when he got canned and the Bucks finished the regular season 17-19 under Rivers.

One stop on the coaching carousel earlier. Rivers was also tabbed as the guy to improve on what the Sixers were able to do under Brett Brown, who never made it past the second round. Two coaches later, the Sixers still haven’t made a conference final.

Chauncey Billups supposedly spoke the same point guard language as Damian Lillard, who now plays for Rivers. Steve Nash had the same former-player clout and quickly became something of a joke.

Monty Williams was the guy to lead Detroit into the future, and he lasted all of one year. The Pistons are now paying him $65 million NOT to coach the team anymore. Funny how Williams was a great coach in Phoenix and a terrible one in Detroit.

It’s almost all circumstantial. Look at Jason Kidd, who was as mocked as any recent coach for some of his tactics in previous stops, but now, in principle, just got the same extension that McMillan did in Atlanta as a coach who just happened to be on the sideline when the stars aligned. Kidd is not a better coach than Rick Carlisle, who also isn’t as valuable as this conference-finals run the Pacers just made would indicate.

Carlisle’s Pacers got the Bucks without the services of Giannis Anteokounmpo and, for two of the final three games, Damian Lillard in the first round, and then a ravaged Knicks team that was one step from pulling people out of the stands to play in the second round.

Meanwhile, Kidd got Kyrie Irving as a model citizen, something Nash never enjoyed, and massive additions at the trade deadline. When Kidd makes the Finals with largely the same Dallas team that Carlisle was never able to lead that far, we can talk.

Until then, if the team changes for the better, and the coach, in turn, magically gets better, do the math. At this time last year, Joe Mazzulla was supposedly a bad coach. Did he suddenly become a championship one because he figured out when to call timeouts or because he got Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis?

Was Nick Nurse that much better than Dwane Casey, who literally won Coach of the Year the summer he got fired, or did he just stumble into Kawhi Leonard?

Is Chris Finch, the guy who put Rudy Gobert on the court in an obvious switch situation vs. Luka Doncic to lose a conference-final game, some kind of savior or did he happen to be in the seat when Gobert came in to guarantee a top-flight defense and Anthony Edwards evolved into a superstar?

Did the Knicks become a No. 2 seed because they’re “A Thibs team!” or because they got Jalen Brunson? Before you answer, everyone realizes that Tom Thibodeau is a good coach. That’s not the point. The point is he went 78-76 over two seasons before he got Brunson and Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein and Donte DiVincenzo and finally OG Anunoby.

This isn’t meant to take anything away from Mazzulla or Nurse or Finch or Thibodeau or any other NBA coach who isn’t Kerr or Spoesltra or Gregg Popovic. It goes without saying that they’re all incredibly smart, accomplished and capable basketball people. It’s just an indisputable fact that most of them, certainly over time, will not deliver a bottom-line result that deviates an appreciable distance from the realistic standard of the roster with which they are working.

Result, by the way, is the operative term there. Coaches impact players and teams in all sorts of ways. It’s about relationships and communication behind closed doors. In fact, Redick told Taylor Rooks in 2022 that he looks at coaching “as a way to help” as he alluded to the interpersonal opportunities such a position can afford.

“I had so many people help me in my career,” Redick said. “And not just head coaches; assistant coaches, player development people, and they have such a valuable place in my heart and in my life. And I’d love to be one of those people someday.”

What Redick is talking about, the relationships that are cultivated through coaching, the impact one person can have on another, which is a very rewarding and fulfilling thing, is great and all, but that’s not what gets head coaches hired or fired. This isn’t high school where the job description includes the molding of young men. Redick isn’t getting a $1,500 coaching stipend while also teaching third-period science.

No, he’s reportedly getting north of $30 million over four years to do one thing: deliver results. Wins and losses. That’s it. So let’s keep it right there: The Lakers won 47 games last year and lost in the first round. You can point to Kerr, who almost miraculously took the Warriors from 51 wins and a first-round defeat in their final season under Mark Jackson to 67 wins and a championship in his first season at the helm (with largely the same roster), but again, that is a once-in-a-lifetime exception.

That Warriors team was being egregiously under-coached by Jackson. One could argue there has never been a more ripe basketball situation for a new coach to walk in and become an immediate hero with an entire offensive overhaul begging to be made.

Tell me, on a macro level, what is Redick going to do so differently than Ham? And we’re not talking about Taurean Prince minutes. We’re talking about things that will truly change the fortunes of the team. Redick says LeBron is going to play off the ball more and Anthony Davis will be utilized in a featured way?

Wow. Stop traffic. We’ve got some revolutionary ideas here! The Lakers have been trying to play LeBron off the ball for years. It’s why they brought in Russell Westbrook for crying out loud. You know what the key to playing LeBron off the ball more is? Finding someone better than D’Angelo Russell to play on the ball. Not hiring JJ Redick.

Indeed, coaches aren’t hired and fired at such an absurd frequency because there’s really much difference from one to the next. The press releases will talk about commanding respect of the locker room and all that jazz, but in truth, coaches are just the easiest variable to change when things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped.

You can’t just up and change players. There are contracts. And a salary cap. But coaches can always be swapped in and out, and as long as that’s the case, teams like the Lakers will continue to package their “activity” on the bench and try to sell it as actual progress on the court.

It’s the front-office equivalent of that guy who stands at half court dribbling the air out of the ball, wowing the less discerning fan with an array of fancy maneuvers meant to distract you from the fact that in all this circle spinning, he hasn’t actually moved any closer to the goal.

In all likelihood, the Lakers are not any closer to their goal of winning a championship with Redick than they were with Ham. And they certainly weren’t any closer with Ham than they were with Vogel, who actually won the whole thing because he had a two-way roster with multiple playmakers and size and defensive versatility (and because Anthony Davis got to shoot midrange jumpers in a high-school gym, but that’s beside the point).

So here’s what’s going to happen: The Lakers are either going to change their roster significantly enough to actually change their on-court fortunes, in which case Redick, and the oh-so-smart people who hired him, will be showered with praise, or they won’t improve the roster, and LeBron and Davis won’t be as durable as they were last year, and Redick suddenly won’t look so shiny.

At which point, we’ll all start talking about who’s going to replace him.

Looking for more NBA coverage? John Gonzalez, Bill Reiter, Ashley Nicole Moss and special guests dive deep into the league’s biggest storylines daily on the Beyond the Arc podcast.

Warriors have not offered Klay Thompson a contract and he has no traction with Magic either, per report

Klay Thompson has watched his Golden State Warriors pay Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins over the past few offseasons. Jordan Poole also got a hefty contract extension before ultimately getting dealt to the Washington Wizards. All four of those players signed deals worth at least $100 million. Thompson, to date, is not known to have been offered even half of that. Last offseason, reports indicated that the Warriors were prepared to pay Thompson $48 million over two years. He said no.

And apparently, the Warriors haven’t come closer since. According to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater, there is no offer of any kind on the table for Thompson to remain with Golden State. There have been “no productive discussions” between the two sides and “talks are essentially frozen.” Further complicating matters, according to Slater, is the potential loss of Thompson’s best source of leverage. While there was reportedly mutual interest between Thompson and the Orlando Magic early in the process, there is currently no traction between them either.

The Warriors are reportedly still interested in bringing Thompson back. However, they are juggling several other priorities at the moment as well. Owner Joe Lacob has publicly talked about wanting to duck the luxury tax entirely after paying more than $600 million in taxes over the past four seasons. Golden State is also exploring opportunities for significant improvements through trade, with Chris Paul’s non-guaranteed $30 million contract serving as an asset they could use to get a high-level veteran. According to Slater, the Warriors have considered the possibility that Thompson finds a tepid free-agent market and eventually returns on a bargain.

That is a possibility, but free agency is unpredictable. It’s entirely possible that Orlando could circle back to Thompson if it misses out on another target. Inevitably, at least one of the cap space teams will, and there are a few, including Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, that want to win now. Thompson, for all of the concerns over his age, injuries and declining defense, still averaged nearly 18 points on just under 39% shooting from deep last season. He is a valuable player even if he’s not quite the star he once was.

The Warriors, for the time being, appear to be treating Thompson’s negotiations like they would any other player. That’s a dangerous game to play on several levels. Think back to the Lakers paying Kobe Bryant star money even after he tore his Achilles tendon. That helped the Lakers solidify their reputation among other players as a team that takes care of its stars. Years later, they landed LeBron James. Did that help? It’s hard to say. It certainly didn’t hurt. The reverse certainly can. Once you play hardball with someone like Thompson, you implicitly send a message to every other player in the league not named Stephen Curry: we’re willing to do this to a legend, so we’re willing to do it to you too.

Golden State might be willing to live with that. Maybe the savings are worth it. Maybe they make a splashy enough move to justify losing Thompson. But these negotiations are going to reverberate for years to come. Thompson is the caliber of player that should never leave the team that drafted him. It’s looking more and more likely that he’s going to in the near future.

Why Hawks need to cut their losses, hit reset with No. 1 draft pick in the bank

Trae Young was the toast of Atlanta only three years ago. In his third season, he took the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals, and were it not for an untimely injury, he may well have taken them to the top of the mountain. At that point, it looked as though the Hawks had found a franchise player for the next decade. But Atlanta hasn’t won a playoff series.

The 2021 team regressed in the following season. The front office tried to shake things up with a mega trade for Dejounte Murray, but that didn’t help. Both the front office and coaching staff have changed, but it hasn’t mattered. Three years later, the 2021 run looks like an anomaly. The Hawks have spent those seasons hovering around .500 and accomplishing little.

Now, Young’s status as the franchise player is in doubt. He’s become one of the most common players in the rumor mill, and now that the Hawks have the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, virtually anything is on the table. So why might the Hawks move Young? What could they get for him? And where is this all going?

Why he’s in trade rumors
The Hawks are six games under .500 over the past three regular seasons. Lineups featuring Young and Murray got outscored by 169 points in nearly 1,200 minutes last season. That was the worst two-man combination on the Hawks and the 49th-worst in the entire NBA last season. The Hawks are 17-18 in games Murray has played without Young over the last two seasons, but only 60-69 with both in that span. This fit, beyond a shadow of a doubt, does not work.

The Hawks could trade Murray instead of Young, but they tried to do so at the trade deadline and couldn’t find a decent offer. Perhaps things have changed in the offseason. If nothing else, suitors have more picks to work with once the calendar turns over to the 2024-25 league year. But coach Quin Snyder reportedly made it known that he wanted the Hawks to keep Murray in February.

Building a functional NBA defense around Young seems borderline impossible at this point, at least with the resources the Hawks have. Atlanta has never ranked higher than 18th during his career. He’s small, his effort is inconsistent and he comes with barely any schematic versatility. With the No. 1 pick in the draft coming, the Hawks have a real opportunity to hit the reset button and take a fresh start without such limitations.

Why the Hawks would keep him
Young may drag down Atlanta’s defense, but he carries the offense. The Hawks have consistently outperformed their talent offensively because of the shots Young creates. His size carries offensive limitations as well, but even amid all of last season’s turmoil, Dunks & Threes ranked Young as the 18th-best offensive player in the NBA by their EPM metric. He’s ranked as high as fourth on their board over a full season. For all of his weaknesses, Young is among the best pick-and-roll operators in basketball.

That’s the primary difference between Young and Murray. One is a very good player best suited for a supporting role. The other is a flawed face of the franchise. It’s easier to find players in Murray’s class than players like Young even if Murray has the more complete skill set. Without Young, the Hawks would need a new cornerstone.

It’s also worth pointing out here that Young will only be 26 on opening night. Any notions that he is a finished product are likely shortsighted. His physical dimensions are always going to create shortcomings. Fine. But, even within the limited upside world that he occupies, he probably just had his best defensive season. He may never have embraced the off-ball duties the Hawks had hoped, but that’s a fixable mindset, not a physical limit. Giving up a player this young and this talented carries an inherent risk that the Hawks might not want to take.

What destinations make sense?
Young is a hard player to trade because the Murray situation proved that he really can’t function next to another high-usage guard. His value is maxed out only when his offense runs entirely through him. There are teams that just can’t offer him that degree of control and, therefore, make no sense as fits. Here are three teams that might.

Los Angeles Lakers: Yes, yes, we just said Young needs to run the offense. How would he work next to a control freak like LeBron James? Well, he probably wouldn’t, which is an idea that I’ve explained in more depth here. But James is about to turn 40, and the Lakers need a new centerpiece after he retires or leaves. Young and Anthony Davis make plenty of sense together. They’d be a stellar pick-and-roll duo, and Davis could cover for Young’s defensive weaknesses. This would be a move geared more towards life after James even if they overlap in Los Angeles.

Orlando Magic: The Magic have two forwards who run their offense in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, but their guards are relatively low-usage. Now, if Wagner continues to shoot 3’s as poorly as he did last season, taking him off of the ball in a Young-centric offense would go poorly. But if the Magic could find some shooting elsewhere without sacrificing the defense that made them special last year? Young would go a long way offensively. Still, this team’s entire identity has been size and defense. Young would be an enormous deviation.

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs would be Atlanta’s preferred trading partner because San Antonio has control of Atlanta’s next three first-round picks after 2024. If the Hawks get those back, they can tank and rebuild properly. If there’s any player that can protect Young defensively, it’s Victor Wembanyama, and we saw last year just how badly the Spurs need a point guard to create shots for him. Their skill sets align perfectly if the Spurs are ready to take a major step.

What is the latest reporting?
Virtually all of the reporting has indicated that the Hawks will try to move at least one of their guards. Yahoo’s Jake Fischer reported in May that there was a growing belief around the league that Young would be the one on the block. The Lakers are the one team that has been definitively linked to Young, albeit earlier in the offseason. Reports have suggested that the Spurs may not be interested, though that might be a matter of price. One of these Hawks guards is getting traded. The only question now is whether it will be Young or Murray.

Bucks are reportedly exploring Brook Lopez trades in search of a reinvention that may not even be possible

The Milwaukee Bucks have spent the past year or so doing everything in their power to stop being the Milwaukee Bucks. Mike Budenholzer, the architect of the four-out offense and drop-coverage defense that took them from .500 to a championship, was fired after a first-round loss to the Miami Heat and replaced by Adrian Griffin, who was determined to reinvent the Bucks as a faster, more versatile team. The defense took another hit when Jrue Holiday was swapped out for Damian Lillard, theoretically fixing the half-court offensive woes that had plagued Milwaukee through previous playoff runs at the expense of the identity Milwaukee had spent years cultivating.

And now, according to Yahoo’s Jake Fischer, they are “gauging the trade value for Brook Lopez.” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor hinted at why when he wrote that “there are rumblings that the Bucks would like to play a more versatile style of defense next season.” Budenholzer built the system. Holiday supercharged it. But Lopez, perhaps more than any other Buck besides Giannis Antetokounmpo, made it possible.

Milwaukee needed a center who could shoot 3-pointers to properly space the floor for Antetokounmpo. Lopez was slowly growing into that sort of big man before arriving in Milwaukee, and he got there fully once he joined the Bucks. His defense was the major surprise. After years as a defensive liability, Lopez became a nearly stationary rim-protector in Budenholzer’s system. He thrived in that role thanks to his sturdy frame, long wingspan and under-appreciated basketball IQ, which combined made the rim all but impenetrable. Antetokounmpo could then function as a weak-side help defender and wreak havoc everywhere else. The Bucks perpetually ranked among the NBA’s best defenses. Throw in Lopez’s ability to function as an offensive hub in the post when Antetokounmpo rested or got hurt and he was effectively the perfect Bucks center.

The Bucks might find another big man who can shoot. They might find another big man who can protect the rim like he can. The odds of finding one who can do both are slim. The odds of finding one who can do both without Budenholzer scheming it up get slimmer. The odds of finding one without Budenholzer who can do all of these things and carry an offense for stretches or even games are nonexistent because there just aren’t many other versions of that player in all of basketball. Do the Bucks have a path to trading for Joel Embiid? Of course not, so any Lopez move means conceding at least one and probably multiple key traits that have made the Bucks who they are over the past half-decade.

And hey, sometimes drastic identity changes are necessary and even successful. How many times did we hear people call Marcus Smart the “heart and soul” of the Boston Celtics? Trading him proved to be a necessary step in Boston’s quest for a title. Milwaukee’s identity may already have been irrevocably shifted by the Holiday trade anyway. The Bucks had the worst collection of perimeter defenders in the NBA last season. Lopez and Antetokounmpo did what they could at the rim, and Doc Rivers even shifted the scheme back in Budenholzer’s direction after he replaced Griffin, but they ultimately ranked 19th in defense because none of the guards could stay in front of anyone. The Bucks have traded away most of their draft picks and don’t have much matching salary for trade purposes. It was just hard to imagine them fixing their point-of-attack problems without sacrificing a core piece somewhere, and no level of rim-protection is enough to offset olé defense on the perimeter. Go ask Rudy Gobert why Utah’s defense always got so much worse in the playoffs.

The Bucks might not be wrong to seek major changes to their playing style. This is an offense-first team now built around Lillard and Antetokounmpo. Perhaps the rest of the roster should reflect that. Maybe Giannis, nearing his 30th birthday, is best served playing center moving forward. Even if he isn’t, the Bucks just aren’t asset-rich enough to find perimeter help and a center stylistically suited to playing alongside Antetokounmpo, so unless Bobby Portis is stepping in at center, it might be a compromise the team has to make. Maybe a bit more athleticism would serve Milwaukee on offense as much as it would on defense. That’s not a crazy concept. The problem here probably lies in execution. It might not even be possible for the Bucks to make the changes they’re seeking here.

Lopez is 36 with a history of back injuries. There are a bunch of teams that could probably use him, but like the Bucks, they’re all in win-now mode and probably won’t be too eager to give Milwaukee the perimeter pieces it is looking for in such a swap. A deal centered around draft capital probably doesn’t do Milwaukee any good unless they could redirect it a third party for veteran help. It’s just hard to imagine the Bucks finding a player good enough to justify giving away perhaps the single best possible front-court partner for Antetokounmpo in the entire league.

The Grizzlies need a Steven Adams replacement, and getting one who can shoot like Lopez does would make Ja Morant an even more lethal driver. But Memphis is young and has a long runway ahead. Why trade for Lopez when it could just use the No. 9 pick to either trade up for Donovan Clingan or seek a more permanent solution like Walker Kessler? The Bucks would probably love Marcus Smart in such a swap. The Grizzlies don’t have the perimeter defense to make that swap worthwhile. Maybe the No. 9 pick could go to a third party? Dorian Finney-Smith and Jerami Grant are definitely gettable at that price point, but Memphis would have to miss on all of its younger targets before seriously considering trading a top-10 pick for a 36-year-old player.

Is Lu Dort at all on the table now that the Thunder have Alex Caruso? Lopez would address Oklahoma City’s interior issues on a short-term basis, which is the goal given the two-year window the Thunder have before Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams get expensive. Lopez would allow the Thunder to continue playing five-out without forcing Holmgren to defend bigger opposing centers, and by the time Lopez ages out, Holmgren might have bulked up enough to handle that role. If Oklahoma City uses Dort to address the center hole, it can then redirect its cap space to other pursuits.

The Thunder usually don’t make young-for-old trades, so Milwaukee would have to find a way to bridge the value gap. Oklahoma City would probably love to get its hands on Milwaukee’s unprotected 2031 first-round pick, for instance. That might be a bit too much for the Bucks, but the seven-year rule more or less demands that the pick be unprotected because it cannot roll over into future years. Maybe unprotected swap rights in 2031 would be a fair compromise? The only other first-round pick the Bucks have access to is No. 23 this year.

Dort is on a fair contract for the next three years. That coincides with the eventual rookie extension for Cason Wallace. Oklahoma City really only considers this if the plan is for Wallace to occupy Dort’s salary slot after that, with Caruso in place in the interim. Even then, it would be pretty out of character for the Thunder, not just because of his youth and fit, but because this just isn’t a team that wants or needs an identity shift as badly as the Bucks do. Outside of schematic misfits like Josh Giddey, they tend to take care of their own. They want to continue growing as a group. Dort, one of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s closest friends, is important to that locker room.

Moves like these represent the sort of upgrades it would take for a Lopez trade to be worthwhile, because even moving Antetokounmpo to center (or slotting Bobby Portis into that role) doesn’t inject enough athleticism defensively to succeed playing another way. They need a high-end perimeter player to survive defensively without Lopez, and there just isn’t much of a track record in recent NBA history of teams giving that kind of player up for a 36-year-old.

The closest analogues would probably be the Charles Oakley trade in 1999, which sent the then-35-year-old Knicks icon to Toronto for the much younger Marcus Camby, or Brooklyn’s ill-fated 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, which gave the Celtics the draft picks that would one day become Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. More often, trades of big men at that age tend to look like the 2009 deal Cleveland made for Shaquille O’Neal: matching salary, a bit of cash and a second-round pick.

There are cleaner ways of upgrading the Bucks that aren’t as drastic, but don’t carry as much upside, either. Maybe there are deals that send out Portis and/or Pat Connaughton as matching salary along with No. 23 or that 2031 pick for a cheaper perimeter defender, someone who would allow the Bucks to at least play decent enough defense in their Lopez-centric drop-scheme to win games on offense. It may be narrow, but this is the “keep playing like the Bucks” path. The difficulty they will probably have in extracting fair value for the 36-year-old Lopez means it’s the likeliest one for Milwaukee.

But the Bucks have spent the past year or so veering away from the “keep playing like the Bucks” path, and Lopez is the player that ties them to that style. It makes sense that they’d explore moving him. It just might be too late to do so for what they would consider fair value.

Grizzlies star says he’ll be medically cleared in about two weeks

Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, who had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in January, expects to be medically cleared in about two weeks, he told reporters at his annual basketball camp in Memphis, via Action News 5 and the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“I hate being around basketball and not being able to play, man,” Morant said. “I don’t got too much longer, I can wait to make sure I’m able to play and be cleared when the season comes.”

UPDATE: Ja Morant said his shoulder is feeling good and that he hopes to be cleared in around 2 weeks.

And for the first time in months we are starting to see some right handed shots again…. good to see. @WMCActionNews5

— Griffin S. DeMarrais (@GDeMarraisTV) June 22, 2024
Morant barely played during the 2023-24 season. After serving a 25-game suspension for multiple instances of brandishing a gun on Instagram Live, he returned to play nine games, in which he averaged 25.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists. He then tore his labrum in practice, and that was it.

The Grizzlies went 6-3 with their franchise player in the lineup, but injuries — to Morant, Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart — doomed them to a 27-55 record. Between Morant’s suspension and the October announcement that the since-traded Steven Adams would be out for the year, Memphis’ season was derailed before it even started.

This Wednesday, the Grizzlies will pick ninth in the NBA Draft, and Morant told reporters that he’s “excited to see what happens.” After a down season, Memphis expects to be back in the playoff mix in the West in 2024-25, with some roster tweaks and Morant back to run the show.

How second apron changes the game for roster-building

NBA teams have a rich history of misinterpreting new rules. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement scared the Oklahoma City Thunder into trading away James Harden before he could become James Harden. They were afraid that the new luxury tax rules would make retaining him, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka unsustainable. Five years later, when a new television deal led to a historic 34% cap spike, teams spent like there was no tomorrow under the assumption that the cap would keep growing forever. It didn’t, and players like Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, Chandler Parsons and Ian Mahinmi clogged cap sheets for years.

The summer of 2024 is set to be a somewhat rare convergence of these two phenomena. We’re one year into a new CBA that has introduced an entirely new slate of rules into the equation. We’re one year away from a new television contract kicking in that will reportedly pay the NBA $76 billion over 11 years and change the league’s financial outlook for more than a decade to come. Teams typically struggle to appropriate handle one change of this magnitude. Now the league is dealing with both.

Teams have predictably approached this chaos with caution. That’s putting it mildly. Everybody except for Mat Ishbia seems terrified of the new second apron. And, well, that stance is justified. The second apron is the single most restrictive roster-building rule that the NBA has instituted since the invention of the salary cap. Here is a list of ways it limits teams that cross that line:

No access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. These teams can only sign players for the minimum.
No access to buyout players. If a player’s salary at the beginning of a league year is above the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, he cannot sign with a second-apron team if he is waived during that season.
No aggregating salaries in trades. Basically, you can’t trade two $20 million players for a $40 million player, or a $40 million player and a $10 million player for two $25 million players.
No flexibility in matching salaries through trades. Second-apron teams must send out as much or more money than they are taking back in any trade.
No giving away cash in trades.
No sign-and-trading your own players in exchange for other players.
No trading first-round picks that are seven years away. These picks become “frozen,” meaning they cannot be traded, and if a team spends more than two consecutive years above the second apron, those picks automatically move to the end of the first round.
While this isn’t specifically an apron rule, it’s worth noting that the league’s luxury tax rate model is changing in the 2025-26 season. In short, it will be cheaper to pay the tax if you’re only slightly over the line, but far more expensive to pay it if you’re far enough above the line to be considered a second-apron team. This is especially true if you are also a repeater tax team.
If all of that is too complicated, here’s the short explanation: once you’ve crossed the second apron, you’re probably stuck with the roster you have short of minor changes, and it’s hard to imagine any team spending more than two straight years above the line and knocking their own future picks to the end of the first round.

There have been reports of teams essentially treating the second apron as an informal hard cap. Everyone appears horrified by the idea of adding long-term money and risking incurring the second apron’s wrath. The Athletic’s Anthony Slater noted that the word around the league is that veterans who are about to become free agents should mostly expect to receive short-term offers. That would explain why Malik Monk chose to re-sign with the Sacramento Kings for $78 million over four years when earlier reports hinted that he would likely get bigger offers elsewhere.

This is even impacting players at the All-Star level. Brandon Ingram was once the centerpiece of the Anthony Davis trade and a cornerstone for the New Orleans Pelicans. Now they reportedly do not want to give him a max extension. Players like Trae Young and Karl-Anthony Towns have been in the rumor mill in part because of max extensions they’ve already signed. Teams are acting as though one bad contract is a one-way ticket to second-apron hell.

And this is where the new TV deal has been sorely under appreciated. Yes, the rules now punish teams for giving out bad contracts more than ever … but they also reward teams more than ever for handing out good ones. Why? Because of a rule that came as a direct response to the 2016 cap spike and the disaster that followed.

The cap rose 34% between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. It rose a total of 8% combined in the next two years, and then only another 10% or so in the next three years combined because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is this a problem? Because NBA contracts allow for annual raises. Those raises can be up to 8% for players who re-sign with their own teams and 5% for players who sign with new teams. These raises are locked in when contracts are signed, and virtually every free agent in the summer of 2016 had the leverage to demand them because there was so much available cap space that summer that if one team wasn’t offering them, they’d simply move on to another. These raises are fine when the cap rises with them, but as we covered, it wasn’t doing so. The NBA injected all of that shiny new TV money into the cap at once. Free agents made out like bandits. And then, with each passing year, those contracts grew more and more toxic because they were rising more than the cap was, effectively making them even more expensive on a relative basis.

That’s not happening this time around. The NBA has instituted cap smoothing, meaning that the salary cap can no longer rise by more than 10% in any given year. The new TV deal is so enormous that the widespread expectation is that it will rise by that 10% every year moving forward. Remember, that 10% compounds whereas contractual raises do not. Why is that so important? Because 10 is a bigger number than eight or five. The cap is going to rise faster than contracts can grow with it. In other words, the longer you sign a player now, the more relative value you can squeeze out of those deals at the end of them. They are worth a smaller and smaller percentage of the cap each year.

Here’s an example. Say, hypothetically, Paul George were to sign a four-year max contract with the 76ers this offseason. That contract would obviously be expensive, and it would obviously carry meaningful risk given his age and injury history. On paper, he would be earning more money each season. In practice, he would be earning a lower percentage of the projected cap each year. Here’s how the numbers look: