For months now, we’ve been talking about how crazy the NBA’s free agency period will be this summer. With the cap rising to a record $94 million from the current $70 million figure, teams all across the NBA will have plenty of money to spend. Players will be earning huge contracts since there’s so much money that will be available.
Teams have been positioning themselves to have as much cap space as possible with the hope of adding some top-level players. Beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday morning, teams will officially be allowed to start courting free agents and then will be able to officially sign those free agents on July 7, when the moratorium period will officially be lifted.
Kevin Durant is expected to be one of the most sought-after free agents of this class. Although he’ll be highly coveted, it remains to be seen just what Durant will ultimately do. He’ll meet with some teams and hear their sales pitch, but we’ve seen prior free agents meet with teams only to ultimately return and re-sign with their original teams. With the cap drastically rising again next summer, Durant even has some incentive to sign a one-year deal and then ink a long-term contract next offseason (like LeBron James has done in recent years) – although it remains to be seen if Durant wants to go through another year with free agency looming over him.
With free agency set to open for business on Friday, there are some realistic players on the market whom teams to pursue and have a legitimate chance of signing. These players could be looking for a huge payday or could be looking for a change of scenery. Who are some possible free agents that could be had? Here are several names to keep an eye on that could be on the move (in no particular order):
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks:
After Durant, Horford is arguably the top player who could be had. Horford is a guy that has been with the Hawks organization for his entire nine-year career, so leaving the only team that he’s known could turn out to be harder than expected – as we saw DeAndre Jordan struggle with that decision last summer (which our Joel Brigham recounted in this article earlier today).
If it’s money that Horford is after, the Hawks would be the best option for him, but it remains to be seen what his mindset is heading into free agency. If it’s a championship he is after, his best chance for that could be elsewhere. The Hawks have made the playoffs in nine-straight years, but they only advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals once. Horford could sense this roster has gone as far as it’ll go and could opt for a fresh start elsewhere.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT:
It seems as though Whiteside could be the most likely name on this list to leave. Both sides have said the right things in recent weeks, but it remains to be seen if the HEAT will be able to retain him. The HEAT’s salary cap situation this summer is very complex, so it could prove to be harder than expected to re-sign Whiteside, Dwyane Wade and possibly add other players as well. Miami must re-sign Whiteside using their cap space (and can’t offer an extra year), since they don’t have his full Bird rights.
The fact remains that Whiteside will likely be looking to sign for as much money as he can this summer. This is a player who has bounced around between the D-League, overseas and the NBA since being drafted in 2010 and has made less than $4 million in his NBA career. With so much money available to teams this summer, it’s highly likely that a team will offer him a max-deal in the neighborhood of around $20 million a season.
Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks:
Parsons will reportedly explore all of his options when it comes to free agency this summer. Given the recent development that the Mavericks are not interested in offering Parsons a max-contract, he’ll seek his options elsewhere and could be had for the right price. While Parsons and his camp are seeking a max-contract, it remains to be seen if he’ll receive max-offers considering that he’s coming off of two consecutive season-ending knee injuries.
Although his most recent knee surgery wasn’t as significant as his first injury, it still could be a red flag for potential teams. If Parsons can show that he’ll return at 100 percent, he still remains one of the best options available at small forward. His return to full strength last season took a bit longer than expected, but he began to play well toward the end of the campaign when he averaged 18.8 points, five rebounds and 2.7 assists per game during the month of February.
Bismack Biyombo, Toronto Raptors:
Biyombo played his way to a huge payday with a big showing for the Raptors during the playoffs. He averaged just 5.5 points, eight rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game during the regular season, but elevated those numbers to 6.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in the postseason. Biyombo has proven to be a great player on the defensive end, and should receive plenty of offers from teams in July. The fact that he’s 23 years old should help him as well, as he likely still has untapped potential.
He’s previously said he would be open to giving the Raptors a hometown discount, but it remains to be seen if that will ultimately happen. Unless the Raptors elect to trade away several players, they likely won’t have enough cap space to re-sign DeMar DeRozan and Biyombo. Bringing back DeRozan seems like a formality at this point, but Biyombo could be on the move, especially if the price tag starts at around $14-$16 million as has been previously reported.
Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks:
Bazemore turned in his best season to date and is set to earn a significant raise this summer. He earned just $2 million this past season, while averaging 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Bazemore has established himself as an excellent perimeter defender and should receive no shortage of offers in free agency.
Depending on how things play out with Al Horford, Bazemore could be on the move this summer. If the Hawks are able to re-sign Horford, they likely won’t have enough cap space to re-sign Bazemore. The Hawks could also have a difficult time re-signing Bazemore because they don’t have his full Bird Rights, meaning they won’t be able to offer him an extra year and more guaranteed money (like Miami with Whiteside).
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans:
Anderson is another player who appears to be on his way out. Our own Alex Kennedy reported back in March that Anderson is prepared to hear sales pitches this summer from potential teams. Anderson is said to want a fresh start elsewhere and may not be back next season with the Pelicans.
Anderson earned $8.5 million last season, and it seems as though he could earn double that this summer in free agency. He should be a hot commodity on the market since he can stretch the floor as a power forward as he’s shot 38 percent from three-point range in eight seasons in the NBA.
Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls:
It seems as though both Noah and Gasol could be leaving Chicago this offseason. The Bulls appear to be restarting their roster a bit based off of their recent trade of Derrick Rose and could be looking to move on from Noah and Gasol. Noah reportedly doesn’t trust the Bulls’ front office and is looking to sign for a max-contract this summer.
Gasol also appears to be on the way out as well. Rumors of Gasol having one foot out of the door started surfacing in the middle of last season. At this point of Gasol’s career, he could be looking to join a contender and it doesn’t look like the Bulls will be able to seriously compete next season. Gasol held a $7,769,520 player option for next season, but reportedly informed the Bulls today that he’ll be declining that option, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Evan Turner, Boston Celtics:
Turner appears to be in for a hefty payday. He earned just $3,425,510 this past season with the Celtics and is set to hit unrestricted free agency. The Celtics could potentially have as much as $55 million in cap space, and may be inclined to spend that on trying to entice some of the top free agents.
We’ve seen the Celtics try to make some splashy trades on draft night, so it remains to be seen if they’d like to retain Turner. Our own Alex Kennedy also reported that there appears to be mutual interest between Turner and the New York Knicks. If the Knicks are serious about adding Turner, they could make him an offer that he can’t refuse to pry him away from the Celtics.
Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers:
It should be no surprise that Mozgov is likely out in Cleveland. He averaged just 17.4 minutes per game for the Cavaliers during the regular season and appeared in mostly only garbage time during the postseason. He’ll likely receive some offers as he can still provide some depth in the frontcourt for a new team.
He earned just under $5 million last year and seems to be in line for an increase this summer with so much money available. Given that the Cavaliers just won the championship last week, acquiring Mozgov for two future first-round draft picks likely won’t be scrutinized all that much, but it seems like a lot to give up for a player who didn’t play a huge role with the team this season.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets:
Howard officially opted out of the final year of his contract with the Rockets and will become an unrestricted free agent. The odds of Howard re-signing in Houston are virtually non-existent after the team hired Mike D’Antoni as head coach. The relationship between Howard and D’Antoni became strained during their time with the L.A. Lakers.
Despite taking a hit to his reputation over the past couple of years, it seems as though Howard can still be a valuable asset to a team. Howard averaged 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game last season and still showed signs that he can make an impact. The Knicks are said to have interest in the big man, and the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets have been linked to him as well.
Rajon Rondo, Sacramento Kings:
It seems as though Rondo’s time with the Kings is up. He signed a one-year deal with Sacramento last season worth $9.5 million in an effort to show teams that he could still play at a relatively high level. Rondo proved exactly that as he averaged 11.9 points, 11.7 assists, six rebounds and two steals per game. With point guard one of the weakest positions in this year’s free agency class, Rondo will likely be a guy highly coveted by teams in needs of point guard help.
With less than a week to go until the start of free agency, these are some of the players who could be on the move. This free agency period is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in recent years and should be very interesting to see play out.
NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”