2019 NBA Free Agency Tracker

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2019 NBA Free Agency Tracker

Editor's note: You can find all of Tom Haberstroh's thoughts and analysis on all the big news and notes from 2019 NBA free agency right here. Bookmark this and come back throughout what's sure to be a crazy two weeks.

DeMarcus Cousins reunites with AD in Hollywood | Kawhi picks the Clippers, and Paul George joins him from OKCHassan Whiteside traded to BlazersWarriors ship out Iguodala, bring in RussellRedick heads to Pelicans | Brogdon joins the Pacers | Horford joins Embiid, Philly | Harris re-ups in PhillyButler leaves Philly for Miami | Durant heads to Nets | Kyrie teams up with KD in Brooklyn |Khris Middleton gets paid by the BucksKristaps Porzingis staying in Dallas Nikola Vucevic stays in Orlando | Kemba Walker heads to Celtics | Klay Thompson to re-up with Warriors | Harrison Barnes stays with Kings

Editor's note: You can find all of Tom Haberstroh's thoughts and analysis on all the big news and notes from 2019 NBA free agency right here. This article will be updated as signings, trades and transactions happen.

DeMarcus Cousins reunites with AD in Hollywood

Contract details: One year, $3.5 million

Analysis: Boogie and the Brow have relocated to Los Angeles. A year and a half after DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis were scaring opponents in New Orleans, they’ll reunite in a championship quest for the Lakers under very different circumstances.

Cousins posted solid numbers for the Warriors last season, averaging 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in just 25.7 minutes. Coming back from a ruptured Achilles, Cousins played just 30 games in the regular season and was limited to eight of the Warriors’ 22 playoff games dealing with a torn quad muscle.

Cousins is still trying to prove he can return to All-Star levels, but he has to win a starting job first. He will fight with JaVale McGee for the starting center position in LakerLand next to LeBron James, which is quite a sentence. It’s a good low-risk move for the Lakers, considering it’s just a one-year deal.

Cousins should be motivated to maximize a free agency deal next summer. He needs to stay healthy and show more mobility than he did in the playoffs. Should Cousins struggle to stay on the court, the Lakers can move on without much of a hit. The talent is worth a flier, but Frank Vogel should find some zen while he still can. Next year will be something.

Kawhi picks the Clippers, and Paul George joins him from OKC

Contract details: Four years, $142 million

Analysis: It’s a major coup by Doc Rivers and the Clippers franchise, which has lived in the Lakers’ shadow for decades. Led by president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, general manager Mike Winger and consultant Jerry West, the Clippers have added the best player in the NBA and the best player in franchise history.

Snatching Leonard away from their Staples Center roommates and the defending champion Toronto Raptors is the icing on the cake. Oh, and a runner-up MVP is coming along, too, in the form of George.

If you ranked the Clippers’ top 12 assets heading into free agency, they just tied a bow around nine of them and shipped them over to OKC for a single superstar -- and an injured one at that. They kept Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams on their team-friendly contracts but gave up just about everything else.

To recap: the Clippers will send away their unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami and the rights to swap picks in 2023 and 2025. That’s the most picks the Clippers can legally send under the collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits teams from selling first-round picks in consecutive years.

On top of that, the Clippers are sending their 2018 first-round pick, Gilgeous-Alexander, who was second-team All-Rookie last season. Wait, there’s more! Gallinari, who averaged 19.8 points last season and has a $22.3 million contract that expires next summer, will be going in the deal, as well.

The price is just astounding. I’m surprised OKC general manager Sam Presti didn’t get a share of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s estate as well. Maybe he asked for it.

L.A. isn’t the finished product yet. It can use the room exception to add another player. The Andre Iguodala sweepstakes will bubble to the surface now that he’s on a rebuilding Memphis team. An Iguodala swap for Harkless and a longer-term asset seems fair for both sides.

The Clippers aren’t heavy title favorites at the moment. I’ll put them on the same tier as the Lakers, Milwaukee, Houston and Philadelphia, with Utah, Portland and Denver just on the outside. If they land Iguodala, the Clippers will rise to outright favorites.

Blazers trade Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless to Heat for Hassan Whiteside

Contract details: N/A

Analysis: Portland must really believe in its organizational culture. It makes some sense to take a chance on Whiteside given that Jusuf Nurkic may need some extra time to ease back into the Blazers’ rotation after breaking his leg in March. With a 7-foot-7 wingspan and broad shoulders, Whiteside can bat away shots and pull down rebounds like few on Earth can.

But the Heat know him better than anybody, having groomed him from a Lebanese basketball leaguer to a double-double machine. But one year into Whiteside’s $100 million contract, the Heat drafted center prospect Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall pick. A year later, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided Whiteside would be Adebayo’s backup, following a history of league suspensions and a 2018 fine for conduct detrimental to the team.

Portland sees opportunity in the change of scenery. Whiteside is also an expiring deal who can be flipped at the trade deadline or sooner, if things don’t work out. To me, moving Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard for Whiteside was surprising because of the opportunity cost. If, say, Kevin Love became available, would the Blazers like to have Harkless and Leonard still around to put together a potential package?

It’s unclear how the Blazers view the prospect of adding Love and the remaining four years on his deal. Maybe the Cavs aren’t interested in moving him at all. But I figured the Blazers could fetch better value than Whiteside, who clearly fell out of the Heat’s favor last season in a playoff push. If Whiteside puts it together in a contract year, the Blazers will enjoy a big upgrade in rim protection over Leonard. If not, they always have Zach Collins to lean on as well.

Warriors ship out Iguodala, bring in Russell

Contract details: Four years, $117 million

Analysis: This signals the end of Golden State basketball as we know it. At 23 years old and coming off his first All-Star appearance in Brooklyn, Russell is young and dynamic and an incredibly talented attacker. But he’s also completely alien to what the Warriors like to do under coach Steve Kerr. 

Russell is a pick-and-roll machine of the highest order. According to Synergy Sports, only Kemba Walker logged more pick-and-rolls than Russell last season, which is a categorical shift from Kerr’s pass-heavy offense, which ranked dead-last in pick-and-roll frequency last season. In fact, Russell almost used more pick-and-rolls all by himself (920) than the entire Golden State offense last season (995). 

By moving Andre Iguodala to Memphis, the Warriors just don’t have enough wing defenders to play Curry and Russell regularly together and expect a top-10 defensive outfit. 

They’re going to need about 175 percent of Draymond Green if they want to contend next season. I can’t tell whether Draymond Green should spend the entire summer at SoulCycle to stay in shape or whether to hibernate him in a float spa until training camp. 

Redick heads to Pelicans

Contract details: Two years, $26.5 million

Analysis: The New Orleans Pelicans are making the playoffs next season. How do I know that? Redick has never missed an NBA postseason in his 13-year career. He’s also never won a championship, which is why I found it surprising he decided to leave Philadelphia and sign with a rebuilding team in the Big Easy.

Redick still has plenty of air in those tires. He just turned 35 years old last week and is coming off his career-high in scoring at 18.1 points per game. Philly will surely miss his 3-point shooting and two-man game with Embiid, but the team will pick up some defensive toughness with Josh Richardson in his place.

Redick will provide some much-needed spacing along with 28-year-old Italian sharpshooter Nicolo Melli, who has made 38.7 percent of his 462 career 3-pointers in the EuroLeague before signing with the Pelicans on Sunday. Of note: Redick is now the seventh former Duke player on the roster if you include general manager Trajan Langdon. 

Pacers bring on Brogdon

Contract details: Four years, $86 million

Analysis: It’s a big risk for the Milwaukee Bucks to let Brogdon go, given that Giannis Antetokounmpo can be a free agent in 2021. Is the 2020 first-round pick that the Bucks received in the deal going to improve their championship quest next season? It’s doubtful.

Indiana got itself a really good two-way player to handle the offense until Victor Oladipo returns from his torn ACL. Brogdon became a card-carrying member of the exclusive 50-40-90 shooting club, which has only been done by Steve Nash (four times), Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry this century. 

At 26 years old, Brogdon is older than your typical three-year player and has dealt with foot issues in his past. Maybe the Bucks didn’t feel comfortable committing to Brogdon at that kind of money with his medical history. But if I’m Milwaukee, I’d swallow that risk, knowing Antetokounmpo will be scrutinizing my every move. Brogdon will share backcourt duties with Jeremy Lamb, which makes for an interesting combo with T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner up front. 

Al Horford joins Joel Embiid in Philly

Contract details: Four years, $109 Million

Analysis: That’s one heck of a way to make Joel Embiid’s life easier. By signing Horford, the Sixers didn’t just add a great two-way big man who can help spell Embiid on back-to-backs. They removed one of Embiid’s biggest obstacles from the team’s path to the NBA Finals. 

Horford has been a nightmare matchup for Embiid. Of the 11 players Embiid faced at least 100 times in matchups last regular season, Horford held Embiid to just 25.0 points per 100 possessions, 13.3 points below his normal rate. Only Marc Gasol suppressed Embiid’s scoring numbers more than Horford.

Horford can space the floor, run your offense from the elbow and pass as well as any big in the league. Anytime you sign a 33-year-old big man to a four-year deal, you tug at the shirt collar and hope he doesn’t break down. But Horford has a skillful, cerebral game that should age well alongside Embiid.

Tobias Harris re-ups in Philly

Contract details: Five years, $180 million

Analysis: You might scoff at the notion of a player who has never been an All-Star getting a $180 million contract. But that’s the going rate for a player of Harris’ abilities in today’s NBA. Once Khris Middleton, a similarly skilled star in Milwaukee, got $178 million over five years, Harris’ bar was set.

At 6-foot-9 with handle, Harris is a huge small forward who can do just about anything on the floor. He’s demonstrated that he’s a much better shooter than what he showed in his half-season in Philadelphia and despite the dip in his 3-point shooting percentage, Harris still managed to score 18.2 points per game while juggling possessions in a loaded lineup.

Five years is a formidable commitment for a guy who has bounced around the league, but he’s a 26-year-old with a clean bill of health. That’s hard to find in this league. He’s missed just two regular season games in the past three seasons and doesn’t play the type of bruising game that you worry about going forward. With a full training camp and more breathing room in next year’s offense, he should only get more productive in Philadelphia next season.

Butler leaves Philly for Miami

Contract Details: Fours years, $142 Million

Analysis: Does this mean we get one last, last dance from Dwyane Wade? Putting Wade’s possible unretirement aside, this is a big swing for Miami. Butler will give them an established closer and two-way star that can take the baton and lead the next phase of the organization.

From a personality standpoint, I love the fit with Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. They’ve been hunting for a hard-nosed star like Butler for a long time. He’s one of the best 15 to 20 players in the NBA when he’s healthy. The question is whether he’s the right fit from an organizational trajectory.

Butler makes more sense on a championship contending team, not on a retooling one like Miami. He’ll be 30 years old when training camp comes around and has a lot of miles on his tires. He’s played more than 70 games in a regular season just once in the last seven years. But I get the gamble. The Heat are wagering that he’s the type of talent that will attract free agents in 2020 when Hassan Whiteside’s money comes off the books. At $141 million, that’s quite the bet.

Durant heads to Nets

Contract Details: Four years, $164 Million

There’s a very real chance that Brooklyn never contends for a title. It all hinges on Durant’s recovery from an Achilles tear, which has ended careers before. Irving will be turning 29 years old by the time Durant is likely to be ready in 2020-21. Say it takes Durant another full season to establish himself as an MVP-caliber player. In that scenario, Irving will be 30 years old and Durant will be 33 by the time the 2022 playoffs begin. 
Maybe Durant returns to elite status right away, like Dominique Wilkins did. That’s one data point. So is Isiah Thomas, who retired at the age of 32. Kobe Bryant was a shell of himself after his tear at the age of 34. Though Durant at 30 years old is no spring chicken, the four-time scoring champ has to hope his relative youth leads to a better outcome than Bryant.
As I reported earlier this year with Cousins, the biggest factor in Achilles rehabilitation is weight loss. That shouldn’t be a huge factor with Durant considering he’s already so slender. There’s not much weight to lose on that frame. But as SNY’s Ian Begley noted recently, the Nets have a strong performance and medical staff, which helped Caris LaVert miraculously return to the floor this season after a gruesome ankle injury. Durant should be in good hands.

For more of Tom's analysis on the Durant deal, click here.

Kyrie teams up with KD in Brooklyn

Contract Details: Four years, $141 Million

Analysis: Two of the best players in the league and one of the best free-agent hauls in years might not have much impact on the 2019-20 season. The more impactful transaction would have been if Irving re-joined LeBron James alongside Anthony Davis in L.A., but by joining the Nets, it’s not clear whether Irving is any closer to a championship in Brooklyn than he would be in Boston next season. Instead, for the second time in three summers, Irving has abruptly bolted from a winning situation. With a healthy Durant in 2020-21, the Nets figure to be a championship contender, but a lot can change in Irving’s world. It was only nine months ago that Irving told a crowd of Celtics season ticket holder that he wanted to be in Boston long term. 

“I shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization and everyone else in Boston, if you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing next year,” Irving proclaimed in October.
But after numerous reports of locker room infighting and turmoil, Irving obviously changed his thinking. Now, he’ll try to find what he seeks in Brooklyn.

More of Tom's analysis on KD and Kyrie's move to the Nets can be found here.

Khris Middleton gets paid by Bucks

Contract details: Five years, $178 million

Analysis: What a haul for Middleton, who signs the richest contract ever for a second-round pick. It’s been quite the journey for the former 39th overall pick in 2012. The 6-foot-8 Middleton became an All-Star in his age-27 season, averaging 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while making a career-high 179 3-pointers on the wing. 

Bucks fans should be thrilled he’s back. As a big wing scorer, Middleton has a lot of Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson to his game. By keeping Middleton, the Bucks are also one step closer to keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo over the long haul, signaling to the reigning MVP that the Bucks are operating like a big market in the NBA’s fourth-smallest TV market. That might be the most important angle when it comes to this deal. The Bucks aren’t being stingy when a title is within their grasp and their MVP can be a free agent in two years.

Kristaps Porzingis staying in Dallas

Contract details: Five years, $158 million

Analysis: This was a mere formality. After trading a package involving Dennis Smith Jr. and two valuable first round picks (2021 and 2023 top-10 protected) to the New York Knicks for Porzingis at the deadline, I would have been stunned if the Mavericks failed to bring back Porzingis in restricted free agency.

Signing any player recovering from a torn ACL is a risky proposition [see my writeup on Klay Thompson] but a unicorn like Porzingis is a worthy gamble. We haven’t seen a 7-foot-3 star come back from a torn ACL. You know why? There aren’t any 7-foot-3 stars, period. The guy averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks at 22 years old while playing on a bad knee. If that’s fully healed, he might win a championship one day next with Luka Doncic. They’re that good.

The question for me is whether the long layoff will hurt or help KP. In most cases, the injured player is returning to the same team. That’s not true for Porzingis. I think it was smart for Dallas to wait and give him a full training camp with Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle to ease him back into the flow of things. 

Of all the lottery teams, I’m highest on the Mavs’ future with only two exceptions, New Orleans and Los Angeles Lakers. If they add DeMarcus Cousins like I predicted earlier this week, they instantly become League Pass royalty.

Nikola Vucevic stays in Orlando

Contract details: Four years, $100 million

Analysis: On paper, this looks like a steal for Orlando. We have a stretch All-Star big man in his prime who averaged 20.8 points and 12 rebounds last season along with an impressive 3.8 assists per game. A skilled seven-footer who placed eighth among all players in real plus-minus last season, above names like LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant, this is the profile of someone you’d expect to command multiple max offers from around the league.

Instead, the Magic retained him for considerably less than the max, which, in Vucevic’s case, could have meant five years, $190 million from Orlando and four years, $141 million from other teams. From that perspective, the Magic should be thrilled with the number they landed on.

But I’m not sold that Vucevic is as good as his top-level numbers suggest. For one, this was a contract year for Vucevic, playing on a team that desperately needed a high-volume scorer. A regression might be coming. Secondly, his postseason was dreadful, rubbing the sheen off his glossy regular season.

Draymond Green coined the notion that there are 82-game players and then there are 16-game players, a nod to players who perform better in the playoffs where 16 wins gets you a championship. Vucevic seems like a classic 82-game player. His point totals in five games against the eventual champion Raptors only confirm that: 11, 6, 22, 11, 6. The Magic were outscored by 66 points with Vooch on the floor in the series as the Raptors sliced him up on the defensive end.

Orlando’s commitment also signals that they aren’t sure Mo Bamba, the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft, is ready for primetime yet. Vucevic and Bamba can’t defend fours, so it’s tough to see how Bamba will get the exposure he needs to develop as their center of the future. The bright side is that if Vucevic proves his 2018-19 season wasn’t a fluke, that contract should be movable. If Vucevic struggles to live up to his contract, rival teams should be calling to pry Bamba away.

Orlando will have the full mid-level exception to fill out the roster, which they can use to chase a point guard in the four-year, $40 million range. Terry Rozier could be a play for them, now that Kemba Walker is headed to Boston. Depending on what type of player they envision next to D.J. Augustin (and yes, Markelle Fultz), here are some names to watch for Orlando, in order of my preference: Tyus Jones, Ish Smith and Derrick Rose.

Overall, I’m lukewarm about this deal from Orlando’s side and can see a future of NBA purgatory for Orlando. But after years of aimless basement-dwelling, I understand their desire to lock in the first-time All-Star for four years. This deal could be way worse.

Kemba Walker heads to Celtics

Contract details: Four years, $141 million

Analysis: The Hornets’ offer to Walker must have been so unappealing that he took a four-year, $141 million deal from Boston before the players and teams were even allowed to negotiate. For a guy who said he’d take less than the max to stay, that is a tough pill for Charlotte fans to swallow.

But for Walker, Boston and Charlotte, this is probably for the best for all three parties involved. To illustrate how rotten the situation has become, the Hornets still won’t have cap space even after Walker’s departure.

With the Celtics, Walker figures to play more like Isaiah Thomas in 2016-17 than Kyrie Irving the last couple seasons. Thomas held the ball for a Walker-like 6.9 minutes per game that season and the Celtics churned out the seventh-ranked offense in the NBA. With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward sharing ball-handling duties, Walker won’t have to create fire from wet blankets like he did in Charlotte.

The Celtics did well to pivot and ink Walker to a deal. He’s an incredible player, who can score on and off the ball, and was beloved by fans, teammates and coaches in Charlotte. Maybe the locker-room refresh after the Irving era will pay more dividends than expected. They’ll need all the help they can get to return to Eastern Conference prominence. Now, they try to find a starting power forward and starting center.

For more of Tom's analysis of the Walker deal, click here.

Klay Thompson gets max from Warriors

Contract details: Five years, $190 million

Analysis: A cold probabilistic analysis might say handing a max contract to a player on crutches is a dubious choice. But Thompson has given so much to the organization, this feels more about the past than the future.

The safe bet here is that the Warriors will be conservative on his return date, just like they were with DeMarcus Cousins and recovery from a torn Achilles. The Warriors have extra reason to play it safe considering they’re paying Thompson the max through the 2023-24 season.

Max money for a player coming off an ACL tear is a sizable gamble no matter how you slice it, especially when the Warriors could be paying $200 million in luxury taxes. But the Chase Center could be essentially printing money with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green opening the San Francisco waterfront property. Considering Thompson has played an average of 92.3 games per season since being drafted (playoffs included) and contributed to priceless memories for the Warriors faithful, Thompson has more than earned this paycheck.

For more of Tom's analysis of the Thompson deal, click here.

Harrison Barnes stays with Kings 

Contract details: Four years, $85 million

Analysis: The first domino has fallen! Well, not quite. Barnes drew some confusion around the league when he turned down a one-year, $25 million player option to stay with Sacramento. Now that he has guaranteed himself over three times as much dough, he’s looking pretty shrewd for that decision.
After life as a go-to scorer in Dallas, Barnes downshifted into a useful role player in Sacramento after the midseason trade. Playing alongside De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, the 27-year-old Barnes saw his usage rate drop from 23.7 percent in Dallas to 16.3 percent with the Kings, returning to his levels with the Golden State Warriors. He’s better suited for his current role as he posted a career-high true-shooting percentage in Dave Joerger’s uptempo offense.
At first blush, the financial commitment seems a bit steep for a player of his caliber, but that’s the small-market premium for you. Some stability in Sacramento isn’t a bad thing. The Kings should have more than $40 million left in cap space to round out their roster.

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Sixers' Ben Simmons is worth the max

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Sixers' Ben Simmons is worth the max

The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t messing around. On Tuesday, Ben Simmons signed a full maximum extension, worth $170 million over five years, to remain with the team that drafted him No.1 overall in 2017. With Joel Embiid already under contract through 2022-23, Philly GM Elton Brand locks in one of the best young duos in the NBA for at least the next four seasons.

Simmons’ extension isn’t a total surprise, but it’s still an enormous commitment from the Sixers once you account for the rest of the core’s price tag. The 22-year-old’s salary will jump from $8.1 million in 2019-20 to $29.3 million in 2020-21 and escalate gradually to $38.6 million in 2024-25. 

Haberstroh: Sixers smart to reload with Harris, Horford

With the re-signing of Tobias Harris and the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, the Sixers will be paying $131.5 million to just five players in 2020-21. To illustrate how steep that outlay is, consider that the salary cap is projected to be $116 million. (CBA 101: teams can go over the cap to re-sign its own players, generally speaking). According to ESPN, all five years are guaranteed with significant bonuses tied to All-NBA honors in 2019-20. 

Is paying all that guaranteed money to Simmons a wise investment? 

I wouldn’t think twice about it. He deserves it. Simmons is an elite NBA player, even at age 22 (he turns 23 next week). He averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists on 56 percent shooting in his second season in the league, becoming the youngest player in this past season’s All-Star Game in Charlotte.

Still, Simmons remains a basketball riddle. Consider that his top statistical comparables in FiveThirtyEight’s model include names like James Worthy, Grant Hill, Bernard King, Brad Daugherty, Blake Griffin and Andrew Bogut. All over the place. If you asked a Magic 8 Ball about Simmons’ future, it’d probably read, “Cannot Predict Now.”

Who is Ben Simmons? The irony is he’s himself, to a T. Simmons’ first two seasons in the league were just about carbon copies of one another. To wit:

In 2017-18, he played 2,732 minutes. 
In 2018-19, he played 2,700 minutes.

In 2017-18, he took 12.3 shots per game and made 6.8.
In 2018-19, he took 12.2 shots per game and made 6.7. 

In 2017-18, he averaged 8.2 assists and 3.5 turnovers.
In 2018-19, he averaged 7.7 assists and 3.6 turnovers.

In 2017-18, his player efficiency rating was 20.0.
In 2018-19, his player efficiency rating was 20.0.

And his other advanced metrics were eerily similar, too. 

Some might call that uncanny consistency. Others might call it a red flag. But criticizing Simmons’ plateau in Year 2 ignores the fact that most of the players on the All-Rookie teams had either even or down years. Most everyone expected huge things from Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Lonzo Ball in 2018-19. None of them took a huge step forward. (Mitchell came on strong late in the regular season, but struggled mightily in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets.)

Simmons’ postseason saw wild swings from clear superstar to critically flawed. The best game of his young career notably came in a playoff setting, one in which Embiid sat out with a sore knee. Entering Game 3 tied 1-1 in the series against the Brooklyn Nets, Simmons erupted for 31 points and nine assists on the road without his co-star. That virtuoso performance came on the heels of Jared Dudley saying Simmons was “average” in the halfcourt. Simmons responded in a big way.

That’s the Simmons that Philly fans want to see every night. But over the next nine games, Simmons averaged just 12.1 points, including four straight games without making a free throw.

Look, he’s 22. We want Simmons to be a finished product who dominates every playoff game he’s in, but he’s years away from his prime, and the Sixers just locked in his age 24 to age 28 seasons.

The most tantalizing aspect of Simmons’ game is his defense. Thanks to his versatility, it’s possible Simmons will win a Defensive Player of the Year award by the time this contract is done. At 6-foot-10 with point guard speed and instincts, Simmons has the ability to thwart just about any player in the game. According to research by Nylon Calculus’ Krishna Narsu, Simmons was one of nine starters who guarded all five positions at least 10 percent of the time on the floor last season. None of them were as young as Simmons.

It’s rare for a player to show a knack for defense at Simmons’ age. It was Simmons, not Jimmy Butler, that took on the Kawhi Leonard assignment in critical moments of the playoffs. There were lapses, to be sure, but he was 22 freaking years old going against the best player in the world. Getting young players to commit defensively in the NBA is like pulling teeth. Simmons wants to be a Defensive Player of the Year one day, which is a huge win in and of itself.

Simmons’ lack of a jumper has many folks howling about how Embiid and Simmons are horrible fits next to each other. The numbers don’t agree. With the two young stars on the floor this postseason, the Sixers outscored opponents by 19.5 points per 100 possessions. Here are some postseason net ratings for star duos (net rating is points ahead/behind every 100 possessions while on the floor): Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, minus-1.3; Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, plus-3.0; Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, plus-7.8; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, plus-9.6. Again: Simmons and Embiid, plus-19.5.

Some of that juggernaut rating is a reflection of JJ Redick, Harris and Butler often being on the floor as well, but it’s undeniable that the Sixers have thrived with Simmons and Embiid on the court. The fit isn’t perfect, but Simmons and Embiid complement each other in other ways. 

While Embiid lumbers up the floor, Simmons blitzes past defenders in the open court. Simmons’ ability to execute high-level passes in tight spaces has resulted in Embiid shooting 45.5 percent on 2-pointers off of Simmons’ passes compared to 41.5 percent on 2-pointers from all other teammates, per NBA.com tracking. Simmons assisted more of Embiid’s buckets than Butler and T.J. McConnell combined. (Side note: the Sixers are going to miss Redick’s playmaking next season).

Would a reliable jumper help Simmons’ impact? Of course it would. But you could say that about a lot of players -- most valuable ones, too.

The reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has shot 26.5 percent from downtown over the last five seasons. Russell Westbrook, another MVP, has shot above 30 percent on 3-pointers once in the last five seasons. Westbrook has made 216 more 3-pointers than Simmons has over the last two seasons, but he’s also missed 504 more 3-pointers than Simmons over the last two seasons. Those misses matter, too.

Taking more 3-pointers would probably be good both for Simmons’ development and the Sixers’ spacing. But excessive 3-point shooting from bad shooters can be just as hurtful to NBA offense. Yes, the offense can become clogged when it slows to the halfcourt and playoff teams can exploit that. But even with the iffy shot and fit with Embiid, the Sixers were the eighth-best offense in the NBA. Not historic, but pretty darn good. And they were a bounce or two from the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simmons’ lack of range has generated some polarizing opinions on the player. Some think Simmons is another Michael Carter-Williams (there are a lot of blue check marks here). But that’s incredibly unfair to an elite finisher like Simmons, who owns a 57.0 true-shooting percentage in his career compared to Carter-Williams’ 47.1 percent over his first two seasons -- not even in the same sphere. Simmons is much closer to Magic than MCW.

While I think many go overboard on Simmons’ lack of a jumper, I am not holding my breath that he’ll add one. Brook Lopez famously didn’t make a 3-pointer until his seventh year in the league and he’s now one of the NBA’s most prolific 3-point shooters. But Lopez was an excellent free throw shooter (81 percent in his first two seasons) and regularly exhibited a knockdown mid-range shot. 

Simmons’ lack of a single made 3-pointer in his two seasons grabs headlines, but it’s his poor free throw shooting (58.3 percent) and lack of mid-range game that make me skeptical it’ll ever become a go-to weapon. Since 2000, there are 25 players who have zero 3-pointers in at least 3,000 minutes over their first two seasons. The list is almost exclusively centers. The ones that eventually added a 3-point shot -- Lopez, Marc Gasol and Horford -- all shot at least 70 percent from the line. 

Simmons, however, owns a free-throw shooting percentage that ranks 23rd of 25 players, just ahead of Mason Plumlee and Bismack Biyombo and just behind fellow Klutch client and workout buddy Tristan Thompson. I probably don’t have to tell you that Plumlee, Biyombo and Thompson have yet to add any semblance of a 3-point shot. 

But Simmons does outrank all of those non-shooting centers in one category: total win shares. Again, just because Simmons doesn’t have a jump shot doesn’t mean he can’t be a dominant player. 

It all boils down to this: Simmons instantly vaults into the MVP conversation if he adds a jumper to his game. Players that are one skill away from MVP talk absolutely deserve the max. Players in that realm are almost never 22 years old. Simmons is already there.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh) and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories, videos and podcasts.

Rockets' Russell Westbrook gamble won't end well

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Rockets' Russell Westbrook gamble won't end well

If you’re the Houston Rockets, which star would be the ideal fit with James Harden?

First, the star would have to be OK with not having the ball in his hands. In the best-case scenario, said star is a sharpshooter who can defend multiple positions at a high-level. On top of that, he’d have young legs to ease Harden’s burden as he enters his thirties.

In other words, it’s probably not Russell Westbrook. 

On Monday, the Rockets reportedly traded for the 2016-17 MVP, pairing him with James Harden to form one of the most intriguing duos in the NBA at a cost of a combined $340 million over the next four seasons (Westbrook and Harden each have player options for nearly $47 million in 2022-23). As part of the deal, the Rockets traded Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025. 

For the Rockets, it’s a bold move, but it’s tough to ignore the scent of desperation. Houston general manager Daryl Morey valiantly fought off rumors about Paul’s reported trade demand and publicly guaranteed that Paul and Harden would be back next season.

It took less than a month for Morey to reverse course and trade Paul to a Western Conference rival so he could reunite Harden and Westbrook for a championship push. It can’t be overstated that the most 3-point obsessed team in NBA history just traded for the worst high-volume 3-point shooter ever. Westbrook’s career 30.8 percent 3-point field goal percentage is the worst in NBA history among the 110 players with at least 2,750 3-point attempts, per Basketball Reference.com.

One rival general manager called it a “panic move” by Houston, calling the pick-sweetened package “too rich” to send OKC’s way.

Westbrook seems heretical to Morey’s gospel of efficiency. Over the last decade, there’s only been one player who used at least 30 percent of their team’s offenses possessions with worse shot efficiency than Westbrook last season. That was Kobe Bryant during his farewell tour two seasons after a torn Achilles.

Morey doesn’t have his head in the sand when it comes to Westbrook’s inefficiency. Quite the opposite. In April 2017, I interviewed Morey on an ESPN podcast while his player, Harden, was up for the MVP award. Harden had lost steam in the public eye compared to Westbrook, who was averaging a triple-double on the season.

Of course, at the time, Morey was stumping for his guy, Harden, and attempting to delicately discredit the other candidates without formally naming them (Westbrook eventually won the award). Without saying the word “triple-double” Morey made it clear that that was an overly simplistic MVP criteria.

“For me, the argument is pretty straightforward and simple,” said Morey. “Don’t get distracted by the easy catchphrases.”

Morey continued, citing Houston’s No. 3 seed in the West.

“Call me crazy, but historically people who watch the NBA know that (players) can put up numbers on average to below-average teams and that’s why they don’t vote for those candidates. Call me crazy, but if you’re a dominant player and primarily dominant on offense and you’re not even an above-average offense in the NBA, it seems hard to say you’re making an impact.”

“On top of that, the other guy (Harden) who is putting up basically the same dominant numbers is leading the top-10 offense ever, not below average in the NBA this season.”

When Morey was asked more pointedly about Westbrook’s candidacy, the Houston GM again harped on Westbrook’s box-score numbers not translating to team success.

“(Westbrook)’s having one of the greatest seasons ever. He just happens to be doing it with James Harden also having one of the greatest seasons ever -- and on a team that’s winning. There’s really no precedent when two people are having absolutely historic seasons that they give it to the guy who is generating his value on the side of the ball where his team isn’t even above average.”

That was in 2017, but it might as well be right now. 

Last season, Westbrook again averaged a triple-double while his team finished 16th in offensive efficiency, sandwiched between the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings. And that was while Westbrook’s teammate, Paul George, had an MVP-caliber season. What’s more, the Thunder still couldn’t get out of the first round, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in five games.

So, what makes the Rockets think they can do better with Westbrook and Harden? 

This appears to be a situation where Houston’s new owner Tilman Fertitta may have gotten impatient after a Western Conference semifinals loss to the Golden State Warriors and then went on a rant saying the Rockets should have, uh, cut the Warriors’ throats.

"I can promise you, we're gonna win some championships with James Harden because we're not going to sit here," Fertitta said. "We're going to battle every year. We're going to have a strong offseason, and we're gonna do whatever it takes to be a better team. We're not gonna sit on our hands. I can promise you that."

"I'm a fighter. That's my culture," Fertitta said. "The longer I own this team, they're gonna pick up more of my culture. We had 'em. We should have stepped on their throats the other night and cut their throats. It's step on their throats, and let's take it back to Houston and end it in six."

For what it’s worth, Westbrook certainly fits into that fighter culture. A one-of-a-kind athlete, he’s also three and a half years younger than Paul, and lines up closer with Harden’s career trajectory. Harden turns 30 years old in August and 33 at the end of his deal, while Westbrook turns 31 in November and will be 34 in 2022-23. But there are more than enough reasons to be concerned about Westbrook as he enters the back half of his career.

It starts with his injury history. Beginning with the collision with then-Rockets guard Patrick Beverley in the 2013 playoffs, Westbrook has undergone five procedures on his troublesome right knee, most recently a clean-up in May and arthroscopic surgery last September that wiped out his preseason. For someone who relies on his wheels so much, that has to be a concern.

Most alarming, there are signs his physical decline has already started. In his age-30 season, coming off that September surgery, Westbrook finished with just 33 dunks, 24 fewer than in 2017-18. Just 2.9 percent of his field goal attempts were dunks, tying a career low, per Basketball Reference. He notably had zero dunks in the Thunder’s first-round loss to the Blazers.

Some of that drop may be attributed to an early-season injury to his plant leg, an ankle sprain, that caused him to miss six games in November. But it’s also noteworthy that Westbrook experienced a bizarre drop in his ability to draw fouls during the regular season, taking only 6.2 free throws per game and making just 65.6 percent of them (down from 10.4 attempts and 84.6 percent in his MVP season).

When he is healthy, Westbrook plays like he’s shot out of a cannon, but it backfires far too often. Playing next to George was supposed to free up open shots and help Westbrook become more efficient. Instead, Westbrook became the worst version of himself, hijacking the offense with premature jumpers and getting careless in transition.  Westbrook ranked dead-last in transition efficiency among 27 players with at least 250 transition plays, according to Synergy Sports tracking. Only 22-year-old Ben Simmons coughed up the ball more times in these open-court situations, fueling the critique that Westbrook plays with a low basketball IQ even at this stage of his career.

Fastbreak opportunities are normally an integral part of a healthy NBA offense. But in the case of Westbrook, his tendencies have become so hurtful last season that him finishing a transition play was less efficient than OKC’s halfcourt offense (0.87 points per play versus 0.93 points per play). 

As the architect of the Seven Seconds Or Less Offense in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni may be able to wean some of the headaches out of Westbrook’s game, but expecting him to make a wholesale change at this point in his career isn’t a smart bet. 

Perhaps D’Antoni tinkers with the iso-heavy offense that defined the Harden-Paul era and tries to step on the gas. Last season, the Rockets were the NBA’s fourth-slowest team in pace factor, a measure of possessions every 48 minutes. And it worked, with the Rockets ranking second in offensive efficiency, mostly thanks to Harden’s one-on-one dominance. 

Last season, Harden finished with 1,280 isolations and was the NBA’s most efficient player in those situations, scoring 1.11 points per isolation, according to Synergy tracking. The player that ranked last in isolation efficiency last season? Yup, Westbrook, at just 0.75 points per play. 

So, Westbrook is inefficient playing fast and playing slow. D’Antoni certainly has his work cut out for him. 

Westbrook should find some easier pathways to the rim with Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker flanking him, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that Harden and Westbrook ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in turnovers last season. Meanwhile, Paul finished with half as many turnovers as Westbrook (152 to 325) and remains one of the most efficient point guards ever.

From a schematic point of view, Westbrook makes little sense next to Harden. With Harden pounding the rock in isolations and pick-and-roll attacks, why guard Westbrook off the ball? Paul shot over 43 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, while Westbrook made just 53-of-166 (31.9 percent).

Maybe that’s the idea, to just have Westbrook not shoot 3-pointers. But at least defenders had to respect Paul as a shooter. With Westbrook off ball, Harden will see more defenders in his way to the rim.

There’s also this: point guards who rely on speed and athleticism don’t age particularly well. Consider that his top comp in FiveThirtyEight’s similarity model, Isiah Thomas, played his last game at the age of 32 after rupturing his Achilles tendon in 1994. Though that injury was a career-ender, Thomas had already planned to retire that season because too many nagging injuries had sapped his effectiveness. In his last two playoff runs, following the 82-game grind, Thomas labored his way to just 13.7 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting from the floor.

The Rockets could look at Westbrook and see Jason Kidd, who is the third-closest comp on the FiveThirtyEight list. The triple-double maestro from Cal famously added a full-throttle 3-point shot in his mid-30s and enjoyed a career renaissance in Dallas that culminated in a championship in 2011. That’s the best-case scenario for Westbrook if everything falls into place, but Kidd was a significantly better shooter even at this stage of his career. 

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City continues one of the quickest, and most impressive, teardowns in NBA history. The Thunder were eyeing one of the biggest payrolls the league had ever seen before George reportedly went to GM Sam Presti with a trade request last week. The Thunder could have hung on and tried to tread water, but a Westbrook-centric team weighed down by the four years and $171 million remaining on his supermax extension wasn’t the most prudent decision for a small-market team. Though Paul has three years of max money left, it’s one year shorter than Westbrook’s (if Westbrook picks up his player option in 2022-23).

If the Thunder choose to keep Paul, he could mentor 20-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and run point alongside Dennis Schroder with Terrence Ferguson, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams anchoring the frontcourt alongside Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson, who’s returning from knee surgery. That could be a playoff contender, but it’s more likely that OKC spins Paul to a team with true championship aspirations.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder are already working with Paul’s agents to move him to a new team. If Denver sputters to start next season, would it trade Paul Millsap for Paul and accelerate their title contention now that they have former OKC stretch four Jerami Grant? That’s one possibility. According to ESPN, the Miami Heat discussed a possible Westbrook trade with the Thunder and are prominently involved in Paul trade discussions as they try to land a co-pilot for Jimmy Butler.

But OKC is loaded with assets now and can take their time with Paul and with their future. Usually teams have to lure other teams with a first-round pick sweetener to take on money like Westbrook and George, but it’s a testament to Presti’s roster that he was able to turn the tables. Teams gave the Thunder picks to take on their money. Presti brokered a record-setting deal to acquire five first-round picks and two picks swaps with the Los Angeles Clippers for George and his three-year contract (player option on the third season). They received another protected pick from Denver for Grant, giving the Thunder potentially 15 first-round picks over the next seven drafts.

In exchange for those picks and a bright future, Presti ended the OKC Thunder as we know them. I’ll never forget seeing James Harden drape his arms around Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Miami after the Heat had sealed the 2012 NBA Finals. Despite the five-game loss, OKC looked destined to assemble its own dynasty one day. Seven years later, all three are gone and the Thunder never got back to the Finals. 

Now, the Rockets are banking on Harden and Westbrook to rediscover their old magic in Houston. Maybe it works. With Klay Thompson recovering from a torn ACL and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, the West is as wide open as it’s been in years. Maybe Westbrook’s reckless, driving style pairs perfectly next to the shooting of Harden, Gordon and Tucker. Maybe the old OKC Thunder duo return to their glory together and finally get the Rockets over the postseason hump that’s stalled them for the past three seasons. Vegas sportsbooks actually view this deal as improving the Rockets title odds.

But I don’t see it. Between Westbrook’s injuries, declining play and the bizarre on-court fit, this feels like a reunion that’s doomed to fail.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh) and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories, videos and podcasts.