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2015-16 Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Memphis Grizzlies’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The message was simple for the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason: stay the course. This group has been right there in the Western Conference for several years now, just short of busting through to the game’s biggest stage on multiple occasions. And with much of the same core set to return, headlined by Marc Gasol on a brand new contract, there was no reason for management to do anything outlandish. They made a couple value moves in acquiring Brandan Wright and Matt Barnes as solid depth pieces who can contribute in multiple areas, and will bring back Mike Conley and Zach Randolph to form one of the league’s more unheralded three-man combinations with Gasol. The Grizz have depth up and down the lineup at this point, and could have more versatility from their wing rotation than ever before if Barnes is still effective and everyone can stay healthy. As always, they’ll bide their time and look to sneak up on the right unassuming opponent in the playoffs, where (as usual) no one will want to see them.

Basketball Insiders previews the Memphis Grizzlies’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

The Grizzlies are going to be tough as nails this year, with a defense that should ultimately be one of the best in the league. Not a lot has changed from a year ago other than the additions of Matt Barnes and Brandan, but that’s not a bad thing considering how good the Grizzlies were last season. Memphis is a team constructed of players in the midst of their peak years and don’t have to keep their fingers crossed that a certain player or two will break out. They’re 100 percent ready to be awesome right now, and that’s exactly what they should be this season.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

-Joel Brigham

The Grizzlies quietly had an excellent offseason. They re-signed Marc Gasol, which was their top priority, but they also added two quality role players in Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright. Both players are on very reasonable contracts and they will fit in perfectly with the Grizzlies’ style of play. Outside of those two players, Memphis brings back much of the same core that they’ve had in recent years and that continuity means they’ll have great chemistry once again. The Grizzlies seem to be flying under the radar a bit since they didn’t make splashy offseason moves like some other teams in the West, but they’re definitely a contender and, as always, they’re a team that nobody wants to face in the postseason. Had they been completely healthy in last year’s playoffs, things could’ve been very different for them. Don’t sleep on the Grizzlies this year.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

-Alex Kennedy

Over the years, the Grizzlies have become one of the most entertaining teams to watch. They hustle. They grind. They aren’t afraid to get gritty. (Sounds like a perfect match for Matt Barnes, right?) The Grizzlies took care of business by locking in Marc Gasol. They are returning their core from last season, giving them an instant edge with chemistry. Health is always a key player in the Grizzlies’ success. If their top players can stay injury-free, this team has another shot at going deep in the playoffs.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

-Jessica Camerato

In a league full of teams transitioning to an offensive-heavy philosophy, the Memphis Grizzlies’ most notable free agent addition over the summer was defensive-minded veteran Matt Barnes. Why try to fix a successful output that isn’t broken? The Grizzlies haven’t won fewer than 61 percent of their regular season games since the 2010-11 campaign. With Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph still producing at a very high level, the Grizzlies will once again be in the Western Conference playoff mix at season’s end. Book it.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

–Lang Greene

The Grizzlies have cemented themselves as a contender in the Western Conference, especially after re-signing Marc Gasol this past summer. Mike Conley is up there with the likes of Pau Gasol and Luol Deng as players who have long been underrated and the evolution of Zach Randolph is what has truly helped this team grow into a contender. Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright should fit right in with these guys and I would chalk Memphis up for another 50-win season. After that, I’m not sure what happens to Memphis in the postseason, as the Clippers, Spurs and Warriors still seem to be better – at least on paper. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, the game isn’t played on paper. But I can’t take them any higher than third in the toughest division in basketball.
3rd Place — Southwest Division
– Moke Hamilton

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Mike Conley

A good case could be made here for Marc Gasol as the offense’s fulcrum, but Conley is the one who keeps Memphis’ attack humming and mostly viable while playing lineups often short on spacing. The Grizzlies were the equivalent of a top-10 per-possession offense while he was on the floor last season, per NBA.com, but slid to a borderline bottom-five unit when he sat down.

Conley is a stud in the pick-and-roll, one of the strongest in the game at keeping the defense continually on the back foot with a great change of pace game and a useful in-between floater. The Grizzlies need this in their primary ball-handler – Gasol and Randolph can both grind out their share of possessions in from the high and low posts, but Memphis lacks anyone else who can create regularly, and the frequent dearth of spacing allows teams to often crowd Conley’s roll men in two-man action.

Conley can punish teams for going under the screen as well, shooting over 39 percent on threes off the dribble last season, according to SportVU figures. He was in the same range on catch-and-shoot threes, making him a threat to space things out for one of the big guys in the post. He’s likely the team’s most irreplaceable piece offensively.

Top Defensive Player: Marc Gasol

The former Defensive Player of the Year may be leaving his physical peak as he reaches his 30s, but his defensive game has never been predicated on any sort of freak athleticism. He’s a savvy veteran at this point, never out of position and always in control of the interior for one of the league’s most consistent defenses.

Tony Allen has a legitimate case here, but two things: The big positions are inherently a bit more important defensively – they wall off the most common area NBA teams score in and are responsible for the majority of the rebounding. Maybe more importantly, while it’s not really a defensive deficiency, Allen’s play on the other end of the floor hurts him here. He’s too often a liability offensively, and the fact that Gasol was able to play seven more minutes nightly last season is important for a group that wants to maintain their defense-first culture.

Top Playmaker: Mike Conley

To be truthful, the Grizzlies don’t have a single high-volume setup man on the roster. Conley and Gasol do much of the creating initially, with Randolph as more of a score-first option on the block. It takes real effort for the Grizzlies to score a lot of the time, though, and without a single dynamic star to move the defense around the chances are tough to come by.

Conley does his best, using his combination of skills to open the floor wherever possible. Gasol and Randolph eat enough possessions on the block that he’s never been among the league’s more prolific assist men, but he’s a smart and diverse player in two-man action with enough moves in the bag to make things happen in isolation in a pinch and draw help.

Top Clutch Player: Zach Randolph

On the surface this may seem an odd choice – Randolph isn’t the Grizzlies’ first option down the stretch of close games and played slightly less in these circumstances than Conley and Gasol. Big Zach certainly isn’t the first guy anyone’s mind jumps to when they think of the league’s premier clutch players.

Here’s the thing, though: Memphis has an inordinate amount of success while he’s on the floor in these situations. Randolph was a team-best plus-24.4 per-100-possessions during the 153 minutes he played in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime and the score within five points last year. Even better, he was a jaw-dropping plus-37.6 per-100 in situations where the Grizzlies were either tied or behind by five or less – Memphis finished 17-9 in these games. Randolph seems to up his game when it comes down to it, raising his defensive intensity and imposing his full physical brutality on opponents when the game slows down.

The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee

Any guess who played the most minutes last postseason for the Grizzlies behind Gasol and Randolph, with Conley struggling with injuries? It was Lee, who earned coach Dave Joerger’s trust as a reliable two-way guy who doesn’t get outside himself and has some sneaky versatility to his game.

Lee shot a round 40 percent on over 200 threes last year, the most attempts of his career. He’s one of the only reliable shooters on the team beyond Conley, and has the skills defensively to match up with a number of guys on the other side of the ball. These sort of basic plus attributes are useful on both ends of the ball for a team that keeps it simple for the most part.

Best New Addition: Brandan Wright

Matt Barnes is a candidate as well, but Wright should be a perfect fit as a third big with Memphis. He’s long been unheralded as something of a jack of all trades, a smart player on both ends who does what’s asked of him and rarely makes mistakes. He should be an upgrade in this system over Kosta Koufos, who ended up being significantly more expensive (heading to Sacramento). Wright comes in at a great number (under $6 million annually) for each of the next three seasons – pennies as the cap explodes.

– Ben Dowsett

Who We Like

Tony Allen: Long one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, Allen in part represents just how vital shooting has become in today’s game. There aren’t five guys in the world who lock down opposing wings as effectively, but the Warriors played him off the floor in the latter stages of the second round last year when they used Andrew Bogut as his de facto “defender,” allowing the big Aussie to abandon Allen entirely and force the Grizzlies to play four on five offensively. Allen couldn’t punish them for ignoring him, and the series turned in part on Steve Kerr’s ingenuity.

Will teams continue to extend that theme even further? It’s a blueprint a number of coaches should be able to replicate, and it could really limit Memphis offensively while Allen stays on the floor. That said, his value on the other end can more than overcome this at times, particularly against teams with a primary creator on the perimeter. He can suffocate up to three positions, maybe the best guy in the league at simply denying star wings the ball with relentless pressure and the ability to mirror their motions. He’s a joy to watch when he’s engaged, and an ace in the hole for Joerger in the right matchups.

Beno Udrih: Udrih is a nice change of pace backup for Conley, a bit of a jitterbug who has a number of tricks up his sleeve and can keep teams off balance with second units. He assisted nearly a quarter of Grizzlies baskets while on the floor last season. He isn’t quite talented enough to play huge minutes and is in the later stages of his career, but he’s useful for what the Grizzlies need out of him.

Matt Barnes: Barnes offers some more stability and a ton of playoff experience. There’s a good chance he becomes the preferred option on the wing to someone like Jeff Green come playoff time, with continued solid two-way play at 35. You know what you’re getting from Barnes: intensity, plus defense and enough other skills to stay on the floor. He’ll compete for regular minutes with the likes of Green and Vince Carter; Memphis’ newfound depth on the wing will allow them to pace each of them, and provide some more versatility come playoff time. He’s a nice offseason pickup for a cheap price.

Dave Joerger: Joerger should be mentioned within the elite circle of NBA coaches more often than he actually is. He’s proven both disciplined and adaptable in his two years at the helm in Memphis. The Grizzlies have been able to stick to their grit-and-grind guns in part due to an effective, no-fluff system that emphasizes their limited offensive strengths, and Joerger has resisted the urge to tinker too heavily and damage what can be a low-margin approach.

Does he have the ingenuity to help get this team through an imposing Western gauntlet? It’s not exactly a condemnation of his style if not, but this might be one of the last chances he has with the current core as Gasol and Randolph age. One of the game’s best at making the most of what he has may have to do even more for the Grizzlies to challenge the West’s true elite, though true to form he’ll keep them one of the postseason’s toughest outs at the very least.

– Ben Dowsett

Strengths

This Grizzlies team continues to be defined by their defense. They’ve been no worse than seventh on a per-possession basis each of the last four years, and they should be right in that range again with most of the band back. They play a mostly conservative style that suits Gasol in the middle, with strong perimeter guys in Allen, Conley and Lee anchoring a strong front line.

They also have a great deal of continuity on their side, vital for a team with a low margin for error. Every member of the team’s core has been in town for multiple seasons; Wright and Barnes are the only real newcomers, and both are veterans who will have little trouble fitting into a great culture. Everyone is on the same page in Memphis, with a limited amount of ego clouding things in the locker room.

The Grizz also have some legitimate depth this year. In Lee, Green, Allen, Carter, Barnes and even sophomore Jordan Adams, Memphis can throw a number of different looks at teams on the perimeter, and can even try larger periods of small ball with someone like Green or Barnes at the four. Wright gives them three bigs who can play serious minutes when needed. This team should run at least 10 deep most of the year and could be among the league’s freshest come playoff time if they can stay mostly healthy.

– Ben Dowsett

Weaknesses

The Grizzlies continue to have issues with shot creation, and it looks to be a primary concern yet again. Conley is the only ball-handler with even token separation skills individually, and even he is much more effective in the two-man game. Randolph and Gasol can both get theirs down low, and Gasol is excellent in the pick-and-roll as well, but with so few other threats anywhere else on the roster and a lack of distance shooting it’s easy for teams to sit on these actions and clog things up.

The Grizzlies are hoping a guy like Barnes, along with continued strong shooting from Lee and Conley, can push them over the top spacing-wise. It’s tough to say if he’ll be enough unless they get some improvements elsewhere, though – the Grizz were 23rd in the league in three-point percentage last season.

In a bigger-picture sense, the past few seasons have seemed to indicate that perhaps the Grizz don’t have an extra gear in playoff time. They’re always one of the league’s toughest outs, and no one ever wants to play them… but they also don’t really seem capable of raising their game quite high enough against the league’s true elite. Part of it is scheme – Memphis plays such a labor-intensive style in the first place that kicking things up yet another notch can be difficult. They also lack a superstar-level offensive player to put them on his back when things get rough, and while some of this is cliché at times, it’s been noticeable in the playoffs.

– Ben Dowsett

The Burning Question

Can the Grizzlies finally get over the hump against the West’s elite?

It seems to be a yearly question at this point. No one would ever dispute Memphis as a legitimate contender by now – they’re one of the league’s most consistent franchises. They just can’t seem to ever take that permanent leap from great to elite, though.

It may never be in the cards, as painful as that might be for the franchise’s faithful. Gasol, Conley and Randolph are a wonderful core, but they’re undoubtedly behind the times of the modern league to some degree with their style and approach. They’ve lacked versatility in a couple instances, particularly against the Warriors last season when they couldn’t rebound after Golden State’s move to Bogut on Allen.

To management’s credit, though, they aren’t going quietly. Barnes and Wright aren’t superstar additions, but they fill real needs and add depth on a tight budget. This is the kind of team ready to pounce at the slightest sign of weakness; it would only take one playoff injury or stroke of misfortune for an opportunity to arise. If they can keep their key pieces healthy, they’ll be lurking as always come May.

– Ben Dowsett

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NBA Daily: The Hot Seat – Eastern Conference

Matt John takes a look at which coaches and general managers from the Eastern Conference are on the hot seat.

Matt John

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Speculation is what makes following the NBA fun. Theorizing what’s going to happen so easy and so fun that it’s harder not to do it. It’s why everyone is hooked on the draft, why they are hooked on free agency and why they are especially hooked on the trade deadline.

Do you notice a commonality there? All of that has to do with player movement. The players make this league what it is. No question. That’s why we always keep our eyes peeled when one could potentially be on the move. Especially if it’s a star. Then, there are the coaches and general managers. Even if speculation about them is not nearly as strong as it is for players, the hot seat is something we do keep our eye on.

We usually have a pretty good grasp on whose job is on the line. When we see a team not playing up to expectations, or not making the progress that they intended to make, or just flat-out sucking the life out of everyone, usually it’s the coach and/or the general manager whose job is in the most jeopardy.

However, we’ve seen in recent weeks that the hot seat can at times be unpredictable. We knew this was supposed to be a gap year for the Brooklyn Nets. Even if they had been one of the worst teams in the league, did anyone really believe for a second that Kenny Atkinson would get the ax? Things were on the up and up for the Nets his last week as the head coach. Next thing we knew, he was out of a job.

Imagine how that conversation went.

Thanks for helping our franchise look respectable again after we put our fans through the seventh circle of hell! OKAY BYE!

But, that’s their prerogative. The point is, you never know who’s on the hot seat. You wouldn’t think that guys like Mike Budenholzer, Masai Ujiri or Brad Stevens would be in any danger of losing their jobs, but a coach as well-respected as Atkinson losing his job signals that anything is possible should they find themselves in a situation with just the right amount of wrong in it.

Basketball Insiders is looking at coaches and general managers who could be in danger of losing their job. Today, we’re looking at the Eastern Conference. Going over who may be on the hot seat requires premising why their job would be on the line. With that all in mind, let’s take a look.

“If This Blows Up In Our Face, We Need A Scapegoat”

Brett Brown/Elton Brand — Philadelphia 76ers

The best way to approach this is by starting with those who are probably on the hottest seat of them all.

When a team that has both two young superstars in their prime and championship aspirations appear to be falling way short of expectations, heads will roll. Unless they magically turn things around in the playoffs — if we have the playoffs — the 76ers appear to be going down this route. The narrative that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, as good as they are, are not a good match together has picked up a lot of steam this season.

Even so, Embiid is 26 and Simmons is 23. They still have time to figure it out. At the very least, Philly will give it another year with those two pending any unforeseen trade requests. Don’t rule anything out. The operative thinking is likely to be that the Sixers will change their surroundings first before they consider getting one of them out of town. If anyone’s taking the fall, it’s most likely going to be Brett Brown.

Brown’s name has been popping up on the hot seat since the end of last season because of Philly’s failure to make serious progress despite having one of the league’s most talented rosters. He still has not been able to find the right formula for Embiid and Simmons, he hasn’t been able to cover the holes left by Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick and he hasn’t been able to fully integrate Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, or Al Horford.

Philly’s defense remains airtight — that side of the ball has never really been an issue — but its offense has fallen below league average primarily because the lack of spacing has made it look more like a clogged toilet than it ever has in the Embiid/Simmons era. As Simmons and Embiid progressed as players, offensive progression as a whole should have come along too. That hasn’t happened, and that’s on Brown.

But the blame can’t be placed entirely on him. It wasn’t his idea to spend money that could have been used to keep Redick to pay top dollar for Al Horford. Or to give a superstar-like extension to Tobias Harris, a good-not-great player. Nope, that’s on Elton Brand.

Brand shot for the stars last season when he acquired Butler and Harris mid-season, and many Philly fans argue that the Kawhi buzzer-beater prevented the team from a Finals berth. Perhaps, but since then, the moves the Sixers have made since have not worked. Horford has flopped. Richardson has only been okay. Harris still hasn’t rediscovered the groove he once had in LA.

Brown is on a hotter seat than Brand is because he’s been there longer. Since Brand’s been on the job for less than two years, it’s more likely than not that they give him another year to fix this. If hypothetically, Brand was able to find a taker for Horford and his enormous contract, maybe that would keep his job secure, but who would be that willing to take the rapidly aging Horford on a deal like that now?

Scariest of all, this is what The Process is at its completion. There are no more assets to rely on. Cap flexibility is now out of the question. They got the young starlets they wanted, but more and more skeptics are starting to believe that the duo of Embiid and Simmons has peaked. If nothing improves by season’s end, someone’s taking a fall here. The most likely one is going to Brown, but it wouldn’t be overly shocking if Brand goes down with him.

“It’s Time For A Fresh Start”

Jim Boylen — Chicago Bulls

Does anyone know what exactly John Paxson and Michael Reinsdorf see in Jim Boylen? It might be safe to say that they are looking at him through rose-colored glasses. Sure, Chicago played somewhat-promising basketball towards the end of last season, but in the wake of Boylen’s rather odd actions on the court this season — and since the Bulls are still a subpar team in the Eastern Conference — might it be time to pull the plug, guys?

Boylen’s coaching decisions have put off a fair amount of spectators. There’s an ongoing belief of a disconnect between him and his players. Was it mentioned that the Bulls stink?

They’re 22-43. Their defense is average — allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions is good for 14th in the league — but their offense is ghastly, putting up just 106.7 points per 100 possessions which is good for 27th. The players don’t have a good relationship with him. Other Bulls personnel don’t have a good relationship with him. Lauri Markkanen, one of the Bulls’ most promising players, has somehow regressed in Year 3.

It’s a little awkward since Chicago extended Boylen last summer, but it’s better to admit it’s not working instead of forcing it in hopes of it one day working out. That wouldn’t be a bad strategy if it looked like Boylen and his players were on the same page.

The front office clearly sees it differently. They’d rather wait this out than act now while they can. Who knows? Maybe if and when this coronavirus situation passes, maybe that’ll give them the time they need to make the right move.

When it comes to discussing Jim Boylen, this isn’t as much of a take that says “He is on the hot seat,” but rather one that says, “He should be on the hot seat.”

“If You Can’t Improve Our Bleak Situation Now, We’re Getting Someone Else”

Tommy Sheppard — Washington Wizards

Unlike the previously mentioned name above, what’s happened to the Wizards does not have much, if at all, to do with Sheppard. Basically, he inherited the mess left by Ernie Grunfeld. Washington doesn’t really have a whole lot of options at the moment. The team can either miss out on the playoffs, or they can get thrashed by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Either way, it won’t be pretty.

Their problems go much further than that. John Wall should be coming back, but he’s coming back from a slew of injuries, so who knows what kind of player we should expect to see on the court. Bradley Beal is getting increasingly fed up with the lack of success the team has mustered. You can’t really blame him since the team’s taken a nosedive from their near-conference finals run just three years ago.

What makes this even sadder is that Sheppard has done some of the little things correctly since taking over. He literally stole Davis Bertans away from San Antonio. He re-signed Thomas Bryant on good value. He did the same when he brought in Ish Smith. Drafting Rui Hachimura would also be included, but that’s not a little thing now, is it? It’s a huge thing, and it could pay dividends for Washington’s future knowing Rui’s potential. The catch-22 is that no one knows how long it will take for the future to arrive.

The situation with Wall and Beal puts a lot of pressure on Sheppard and everyone else in the front office to get the train rolling because it’s continuously sputtered since 2017. No one should blame Sheppard if he’s not able to salvage this, but that won’t stop the pressure from mounting.

Knowing how awful the New York Knicks have been, there’s a case for general manager Scott Perry to be up here too, but we all know the real problem with the Knicks lies within the very top with James Dolan. The Knicks have been through this rodeo plenty of times that it doesn’t matter who they have making the moves. If serious change is going to happen, it starts and ends with James Dolan.

That’s what the hot seat comes down to. If a coach or GM is in danger of getting fired from their job, it’s predicated from the belief that they’re not making a big enough difference to help their team move forward.

Those who have been mentioned here were put in a tough situation to begin with, but it is on them to change their team’s outlook for the better regardless. If they’re not able to do with this while on the hot seat, then there won’t be a hot seat to sit on for long.

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NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Southeast Division

Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series with a look at the best names coming out of the Southeast Division.

Shane Rhodes

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It may seem like it, but, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA world never truly stopped turning, even Bodog Canada is still running.

Yes, in a time of some much-needed, sports-related distraction, the play has been put on hold. But the Association has continued to chug along as the draft and free agency still loom large.

At this point, a resumed season and or expedited postseason would seem more likely than not. But, if the remainder of the 2019-20 season is forgone, players and teams must continue to prepare for that worst-case scenario. And that’s exactly what they’ve done, albeit under awkward circumstances given recent living and travel constraints; players have had to get creative with workouts, while teams have been forced to adopt a much more film-centric approach to the draft.

With that in mind, Basketball Insiders has continued to work as well. In recent days, we’ve looked at several players, spanning the Northwest, Central, Atlantic and Pacific divisions, that could hit the open market once the world gets back on track. Today, we’ll look at the Southeast Division.

It may not be the cream of the free-agent crop, but there are plenty of players coming out of the Southeast that should garner serious interest and that could make a serious impact next season, either with their current team or elsewhere.

Best of the Bunch

Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards — Unrestricted — $7,000,000

While he wasn’t moved, Bertans was a hotly contested commodity at the trade deadline. That won’t change come free agency.

The 6-foot-10 Latvian is the new “normal” for the NBA power forward — a long-armed sharpshooter that can open up the paint rather than bog it down. And, in a league where frontcourt spacing is at a premium, Bertans is set to earn a nice new deal as one of the best shooters, regardless of position.

In 54 games with the Wizards, Bertans shot a blistering 42.4 percent from beyond the arc on nearly nine attempts per game. He set career marks in points (15.4), rebounds (4.5), three-pointers made (3.7) and attempted (8.7) per game, among other stats.

Those numbers are impressive in their own right and should need no qualifier. But, just to drive the point home, Bertans is just one of five in NBA history to play at least 50 games and shoot at least 40 percent on eight or more three-point attempts per game. He would also be the only player on that list to spend the majority of his time at the four-spot.

Even among a “sexier” group of free agents, Bertans’ skillset and potential fit with a variety of different contenders would have him at or near the top of plenty of free agent lists. So, in a relatively weak class, expect his camp to try and break the bank.

And don’t expect it to take very long. Washington may push hard to keep him to appease Bradley Beal, but the sheer amount of potential interest could leave the Wizards out in the cold.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic — Player Option — $17,150,000

After six seasons, 2020 may be the year Fournier and the Magic part ways.

Fournier has been on Orlando’s chopping block for what seems like forever; going back to 2016, the Magic have just never seemed committed to the Frenchman. Staring at a second-consecutive eighth-place finish in the East and an inevitable shake-up coming this summer, why would that attitude change now?

Likewise, for Fournier, the Magic have struggled to sustain success during his tenure. In the midst of a career year, a career-high 18.8 points per game to go along with strong shooting and competent defense, a contract comparable to his $17,150,000 option shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Fournier lack for suitors; why wouldn’t he test the waters?

So, what exactly does a potential team get in Fournier? A talented offensive guard and arguably the best available (pending DeMar DeRozan’s player option) in this free-agent class.

Fournier isn’t going to carry an offense, but any interested teams should already have an established star to pair him with. Think of him as a potential Khris Middleton to Team X’s Giannis Antentokounmpo; a talented player in his own right, but one that would buttress a team’s top option rather than shoulder the load himself (something he has been tasked with in Orlando).

Should he indeed look to leave the Sunshine State, the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors could prove perfect candidates for Fournier’s services. Likewise, any aspiring up-and-coming squads that are looking to add a veteran while keeping the roster relatively young could do worse than the 27-year-old.

Serviceable Veterans

Goran Dragic, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $19,217,900

At 33-years-old, 2020 is probably Dragic’s last chance to earn a sizable, long(ish)-term contract. And, with rumors that the HEAT only plan to offer a one-year (albeit bloated) deal, it may come with a team other than Miami.

Regardless of the team, Dragic should continue to provide above-average offense next season and, amid a resurgence after an injury-riddled 2019, he should earn a pretty penny doing so. Even with a move to the bench, Dragic has continued to produce. In 54 games (53 off the bench) he averaged 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists to go along with a 37.7 three-point percentage, his best clip since 2016.

Whatever his decision, Dragic would likely emphasize winning as he’s made the postseason just three times in his 14-year career. Even on a one-year deal, Miami may be his best bet in that regard, though teams with prior interest — the Dallas Mavericks, mainly — could serve to lure him away.

That said, should an up-and-coming roster offer him a starting opportunity (a la Ricky Rubio and the Phoenix Suns a season ago) along with a large enough salary or more in terms of long-term security, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dragic jump at it.

Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks — Unrestricted — $19,000,000

A Teague addition isn’t going to inspire much confidence in any fanbase. Nor is he going to move the needle much toward title contention.

But at 31, Teague is still capable of solid production from the point guard spot, especially as a passer. In 59 games split between the Hawks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Teague averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 assists and shot 43.6 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three. A season ago, while he was limited to just 42 games, Teague averaged more than eight assists.

So, while he may not “wow” many teams, it’s clear there’s some potential there. Ideally, Teague would slot into a reserve role on a contender, an assist man and outside shot coming off the bench, but could also serve as a nice stopgap or bridge option for a team assessing their future at the position — think the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, etc. Likewise, Teague is a quality leader and role model that almost any team would benefit from bringing in.

It just probably won’t be in Atlanta.

Of course, with Vince Carter expected to retire, the Hawks could always elect to bring Teague back to maintain that veteran presence in the locker room. But, with Trae Young locked in as Atlanta’s starter amidst a bevy of other talented young guards on the roster, the fit is just a bit too awkward.

Potential Bargains

Jae Crowder, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $7,815,533
Meyers Leonard, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $11,286,515
Kelly Olynyk, Miami HEAT — Player Option — $12,667,885

Crowder has bounced around the NBA, having played for six teams in his eight seasons. But, at every stop, he’s proven at least a capable contributor and, more importantly, to have a team-first attitude.

His stats don’t jump out of the boxscore — 10.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals across 58 games between the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami — but Crowder is without a doubt a crucial building block. He may not win you the Larry O’Brien trophy, but the energy and passion that he can bring to the table go a long way in competing for one. Better yet, Crowder should make that impact for little in terms of compensation.

As for Leonard, any team priced out of the Bertans bidding should look to make him a top target. Aside from the fact that he’ll cost next to nothing in comparison, Leonard has proven a capable marksman in his own right; a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter, Leonard shot 42.9 percent from deep on 2.4 across 49 games with Miami. Like Crowder, Leonard is also a we-before-me personality and could prove a capable leader in a locker room in need of one.

He’s capable enough on the defensive end that he won’t kill you on a regular basis and athletic enough that, when his confidence is there, he can make a serious impact on offense. Should Leonard get lost in the shuffle as the HEAT look to pair a third star with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, expect another team to scoop him up quickly.

Now, should a team swing-and-miss on Bertans and Leonard, Olynyk may have what they’re looking for

Like Leonard, Olynyk can knock it down from distance and should prove a capable reserve wherever he may find himself next season. Unlike Leonard, however, Olynyk has a player option for next season, one that he may not be able to pass up. If a team is interested enough, they’ll need to convince him to pass on more than $13 million next season. It’s not unthinkable, should an interested party promise Olynyk more than the 18 minutes per game he averaged with the HEAT this season, but they would need to strike the right balance between pay and play.

The Unlikely Reclamation Project

Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Player Option — $25,565,217

Let’s just get this out of the way: Batum is probably spending one more season in Charlotte.

Through two seasons, the Batum-Hornets relationship looked promising, as the forward averaged 15 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a steal per game. After that… you know the rest. A combination of coaching changes, injury and just general poor play has turned the formerly productive Batum into the world’s highest-paid cheerleader.

With more than $27 million left on the table, it would be hard to fault Batum for sticking out the last year of his deal. He won’t — or at least he shouldn’t — find anything close to that number on the open market, even more reason to opt-in.

That said, should he catch wind of a potential opportunity, would Batum be willing to walk away? While an opt-out may be out of the question, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Batum opt-in, force Charlotte into a buyout and jump at a fresh start.

This isn’t last summer; the free-agent frenzy won’t be nearly as exciting. That said, and most fans would agree, any basketball action would be welcome right about now — a scratch for that incessant itch that has lingered since the NBA put the season on pause. While we hope that play can resume as quickly and safely as possible, we at Basketball Insiders also hope that, in the meantime, our continued coverage can serve as a nice reprieve to everyone.

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NBA

NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Pacific Division

David Yapkowitz ventures west to continue Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series with the Pacific Division.

David Yapkowitz

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Basketball is postponed indefinitely, and while there’s no exact timetable on when the NBA season may or may not start up again, there is certainly plenty to still talk about.

This week at Basketball Insiders, we’ve got you covered. Regardless of what ends up happening with the season, free agency is certainly going to be a major talking point. Now, there isn’t much star power that will be available this offseason, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players here or there that could move the needle a bit for some teams.

Moving right along with our free agent series, here’s a look at some of the top free agents that could be available in the offseason.

Difference Makers

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $6,000,000

Admittedly, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Montrezl Harrell isn’t in a Clipper uniform. His career has exploded since arriving in Los Angeles, and he’s an integral piece to any championship hopes the Clippers have. He’s good enough to start for many other teams, and he often finishes games.

There’s no doubt that he’s lined himself up for a nice payday. There will be other teams interested in his services. The Clippers will need to be prepared for the offers he’ll receive. He’s a legit double-double threat who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He’s an improved defender and incredibly mobile.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has said he’s willing to open up his wallet for a contender. This will be his first major test in keeping the core of this group together. Harrell’s role is part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous, and they can’t afford to lose him.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Player Option – $27,093,018

Davis is another player whom it’s difficult to see leaving his current team. There are only a few teams projected to have cap space this summer, and none of them are anywhere close to being the contending team Davis wants. Nonetheless, he’s been adamant about exercising his player option and entering free agency.

He declined an extension with the Lakers back in January, but that’s not something to read too much into. He is eligible to sign for more money as an unrestricted free agent than if he would’ve signed the extension.

One team, however, that is projected to have cap space is the New York Knicks. If you recall, when Davis initially released a short list of teams he wanted to be traded to, the Knicks were on that list. His hometown Chicago Bulls should have space as well. Don’t hold your breath on him leaving the Lakers, but stranger things have happened.

Key Pieces

Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916

Saric is in an interesting situation. He was once touted as being part of “The Process” in Philadelphia, but now he’s become more of an afterthought in the league. The Suns have the option to tender a qualifying offer which would make him a restricted free agent and give Phoenix the option to match any offer.

He’s a useful player who could help a number of teams. A mobile big perfect for small ball offenses who shoots the three at a decent percentage. He had fallen out of the rotation in Phoenix earlier in the season, but prior to the NBA being put on hold, he had managed to work his way back into the lineup.

He’s still relatively young at 25 years old. There will most likely be interest around the league. It’s up to Phoenix to decide how much they’re willing to invest in him — and if they potentially have his replacement already on the roster in someone like Cam Johnson.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings – Restricted – $8,529,386

Bogdanovic drew some heavy interest at the trade deadline, and the Kings rebuffed any offer. They clearly see him as one of their core players. He was having a solid year, especially during the second half of the season when he was placed in the starting lineup.

He’s a combo guard who can play a little small forward as well. He’s a good shooter and a willing passer. The Kings have already let it be known that they intend to match any offer he receives. That’s not to say other teams would be dissuaded from making an offer.

A big part of the Dewayne Dedmon deal with the Atlanta Hawks was having an eye towards clearing up potential cap space to re-sign Bogdanovic. To show that they’re on the right path, the Kings must re-sign him and match any offer he gets.

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $15,000,000

Morris has fit right in with the Clippers since arriving at the trade deadline from the New York Knicks. He gives them another scoring threat as well as a solid defensive presence. Before the trade, he was enjoying a career-year in New York and had other teams willing to trade for him.

Depending on what happens with Harrell, could Morris be priced out of the Clippers range? The Clippers have also let it be known that they would like to re-sign Morris as well, but part of that might depend on what other offers are out there.

Morris can help a lot of teams, and the Clippers would definitely be better with him than without. But they shouldn’t break the bank on him if that’s what it’s going to take in order to re-sign him.

Aron Baynes, Phoenix Suns – Unrestricted – $3,481,986

Not a lot of fuss was made when the Boston Celtics traded Baynes to Phoenix last summer. But when Deandre Ayton was suspended at the beginning of the season, not only did Baynes step in to fill the void, he was also on his way to earning a solid payday in the offseason.

He’s a tough, physical player who plays strong defense and is active on the glass. This season, in particular, he showed off a new ability to shoot from three-point range. Unfortunately for him, he suffered injury problems and then saw his role decreased when Ayton returned to the lineup, putting a damper on his production.

It’s hard to tell if any potential contract offer would be hindered based on his performance in the second half of the season, or if teams will look at his early play as evidence of what he could do with extended minutes and more of a defined role. Ayton is the future though at center for the Suns, and unless Baynes is willing to sign for less and play a backup role, the Suns should allow him to walk.

Potential Bargains

Kent Bazemore, Sacramento Kings – Unrestricted – $19,269,662

Bazemore is due around $19 million this season. It’s highly likely he doesn’t get a contract that big this offseason. He was talked about as a potential buyout candidate after the trade deadline, but Sacramento opted to keep him.

His overall production has gone down from when he initially signed his deal with the Atlanta Hawks, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a serviceable player. In 21 games with the Kings, he put up 10.3 points per game while shooting 38.6 percent from three.

He can help a team, especially a playoff contender, off the bench. At this point, the Kings have younger options at his position and will need to re-sign Bogdanovic. He could end up being a steal for a team.

Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings – Unrestricted – $2,578,800

Giles was once one of the most highly touted prospects in the country. Unfortunately for him, he suffered injury setbacks and hasn’t quite been able to carve out a role in the NBA. His time with the Kings has marred by setbacks, and the team declined his fourth-year option before the season began.

As per the CBA, the Kings are limited in only being able to offer Giles a one-year, $4 million contract. Other teams are free to offer whatever they want. When he was given playing time after the trade deadline, he finally looked like he was turning the corner and becoming a productive NBA player, and then the season was put on hold.

The last couple months of the season would’ve been huge for Giles’ contract outlook. If he would’ve maintained that level of play, there would be no doubt he would have earned himself a new contract. For now, he’s going to have to hope that will be enough. He’s still extremely talented and extremely young. It’s not going to break the bank to sign him and any team looking to take a flier on a potential low-risk, high-reward player, this is their opportunity.

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