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Best Remaining NBA Free Agents

With many of the top free agents off the board, Dennis Chambers takes a look at the best remaining free agents.

Dennis Chambers

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The NBA Free Agency period is madness.

Starting at midnight on July 1, the league and its fans are bombarded with report after report of landscape changing moves that create a wave of new storylines for the upcoming season. This free agency period has been no different.

As the first few days of free agency have taken place, most of the big fish have either stayed put with their current teams or found new deals elsewhere around the league. The likes of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant inked fresh new agreements to keep the Golden State dynasty together in the Bay Area, while Gordon Hayward decided to jump ship from Utah to join the Boston Celtics.

Other big names on the open market, like Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, took their talents from an already weaker Eastern Conference and signed with Denver and Minnesota, respectively, making the path to the Finals out of the West that much tougher.

However, even with most of the top impact players off the board, there are still quality players looking to cash out on a new deal. Some of the remaining players can command high dollar contracts, while others could be bargain options that can provide quality minutes to any number of clubs around the Association.

For the second leg of free agency, now that the initial flurry has died down, let’s take a look at the best available players who are still looking for work.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope* – Shooting Guard

At 24 years old, KCP remains on the market as a restricted free agent.

But now that the first wave of wing players are off of the board, Caldwell-Pope could be looking at offer sheets from other clubs who may have struck out on other options.

The former eighth overall pick has continued to grow into his own, especially over the last two seasons. A defensive pest, Caldwell-Pope has the ability to lock down the opponent’s top wing player. His shooting touch is still a bit shaky, 35 percent from downtown last season, but his percentage from three-point range has improved over each of his first four seasons. If the shooting guard can continue to creep that percentage closer to the 40 percent mark over the course of the next few seasons, he could develop into one of the top “3-and-D” wings in the entire league.

What is also attractive about Caldwell-Pope to potential suitors is his durability. Over the course of his rookie contract, Caldwell-Pope played in 314 of a possible 328 games. As the saying goes, no ability is more valuable than availability. And Caldwell-Pope has shown consistency in that area of his game.

Clarity in Caldwell-Pope’s contract situation should come over the course of the next few days, whether it’s a Detroit deal or a hefty offer sheet from a new club looking to bring in the 24-year-old shooting guard for the next stage of his career.

Rudy Gay – Small Forward

Rudy Gay has been in more favorable positions than the one he currently finds himself in after suffering an Achilles tear last season. However, that shouldn’t necessarily stop the career 18-point-per-game scorer from finding a decent home.

Going into next season, Gay will be a 30-year-old wing player on the court for the first time since tearing his left Achilles. An Achilles injury for any player is problematic — for one at Gay’s age, there isn’t much of a track record to assume he’ll return to peak form. Nonetheless, Gay still obtains countless scoring abilities that few players across the league can lay claim to.

Now that Gordon Hayward has chosen his new home up in New England, teams that were in pursuit of his services could turn their attention to Gay.

Along with Miami, Utah now has a gaping hole at small forward, and with players on board like Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio, they could look to throw money at Gay in order to keep pace in the Western Conference gauntlet.

Reportedly, Gay would prefer to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder and join league MVP Russell Westbrook and his new teammate Paul George. But the Thunder currently don’t have the cap flexibility to make that move possible.

As one of the top remaining wing players left on the market, it’s likely a deal for Gay gets done sooner rather than later.

Dirk Nowitzki – Power Forward

What should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the NBA is the lack of interest from other clubs in Dirk Nowitzki.

And even at 39 years old, it has nothing to do with his age.

The career-long Dallas Maverick will wind up re-signing with the club that drafted him and the owner, Mark Cuban, who adores him. But nevertheless, that doesn’t stop Nowitzki from cracking the list as best available due to what he can still contribute on the court.

While Nowitzki is no longer the top dog on his team in terms of scoring — that title belongs to Harrison Barnes — the 7-footer from Germany still managed to average 19.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and shoot nearly 38 percent from deep last season per-36 minutes.

With Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. on board in Dallas, Nowitzki will give Cuban and the Mavericks the opportunity to try and improve the roster bit by bit before he inks a deal to return home.

C.J. Miles – Small Forward

Another player who can look to find a new deal now that the Hayward saga is over is C.J. Miles.

The 6-foot-6 swingman has logged minutes at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions over the course of his career. And at 29 years old, the versatility and ability to score and defend multiple positions could make Miles a coveted player at this stage of the free agency game.

Last season with the Indiana Pacers, Miles shot a career-high 41 percent from beyond the arc.

While Miles may be pursued by prospective clubs for his ability on the court, it’s his price tag off the court that may make him most attractive. Without having the clout of players like Hayward and Gay, Miles isn’t in a position to command nearly as much money on his next deal as those players.

Miles can provide is a piece that complements an already constructed roster. A team like the New Orleans Pelicans, who is operating with little flexibility, could look to bring Miles on board in order to provide another floor-spacer for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

As the next wave of free agency moves starts to take place, Miles’ phone should be ringing more often than it was last week.

JaMychal Green* – Power Forward

Of the players remaining in free agency, JaMychal Green is one of the most intriguing.

At 6-foot-9, Green displayed a serious development in skill over the past two seasons for the Memphis Grizzlies. After taking over for Zach Randolph in the starting lineup last season, Green turned into a formidable option for Memphis on offense. Green averaged 11.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and shot 38 percent from beyond the arc last season — a testament to his growing versatility.

With Randolph moving on from Memphis to sign a two-year deal with the Sacramento Kings, the Grizzlies look to be in even more of a position to re-sign the 27-year-old big man. However, Green’s agent doesn’t feel the Grizzlies are doing their part to make Green feel welcomed back in Memphis, going as far as to say he believes, “Memphis is going in another direction.

Whether Green winds back up in Memphis or signs an offer sheet elsewhere, the versatile forward should be able to bring a developing skillset to whichever club he plays for next season.

*Denotes restricted free agent

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes

Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.

Spencer Davies

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Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.

Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.

We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.

It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.

“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”

You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.

In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.

So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?

“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”

Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.

“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”

Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.

Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.

“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.

“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”

As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.

But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.

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NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year

After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.

David Yapkowitz

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The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.

But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.

This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.

“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”

Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.

His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.

“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.

“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”

It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.

He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.

“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”

While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.

For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.

“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”

And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.

“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”

He’s certainly off to a good start.

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Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry

Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.

Moke Hamilton

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With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and the observing eyes in Las Vegas.

Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.

It’s Mitchell Robinson.

Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.

For Scotty Perry, though, he’s more than just another promising prospect; he’s the latest entry on the list of things that the newly hired general manager has gotten right. 

As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts worth barely enough to buy LeBron James lunch, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.

For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.

Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite.

Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.

It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in those few performances, though, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.

If you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that among Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and strategically managing his cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.

With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future and Kornet hasn’t exactly appeared to be the next coming of Dwight Howard, so for the rebuilding Knicks, the task doesn’t appear that difficult.

What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season. Yet together, they’ll carry the hopes of a billion dollar franchise on their backs.

Still, you don’t need to be able to count to a billion to understand that the ROI on Robinson could be exceptional. And it’s those crafty acquisitions that could help the Knicks maintain the space they’ll need to bring a superstar to Gotham City.

Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign. Robinson, like Knox, has given us over a dozen.

Truth be told, Perry has, too. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.

* * * * * *

It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.

In Vegas, Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.

In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim an in-prime Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.

As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. Nobody closed space from the weakside better than Camby, and few centers in the league were able to run out and contest jumpers like him. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.

We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.

It truly isn’t rocket science. When you think back even over the course of recent history, ask yourself how long it took for the world to recognize and extol the virtues of the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and even Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons. While each representing an extreme case, the truly impactful players are able to utilize their gifts to dominate and can usually do so from day one. Certainly, they can’t do it everyday, but the potential is there and it’s evident from jump.

The most you’re gonna get from summer league is a young stud showing you that he has some exploitable advantage over his competitors. For Knox, it’s his combination of ranginess and a better than advertised nose for the ball. For Robinson, it’s the incredible agility that an extended absence from the game doesn’t seem to have blunted.

The concept of exploitable advantage is where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. And although an extreme example, they are the specimen of what a team full of those types look like.

So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up fulfilling that potential will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.

Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job. That much is a fact.

* * * * * *

Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused—irony is often confused with coincidence.

In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.

In other words, back in 2015, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.

That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.

On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York. He was the team’s best player and has since proven to be a surefire Hall of Famer, yet they improved without him.

One could argue it to be ironic that Kyrie Irving welcomed a trade to the Boston Celtics after spending years battling them, or that fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have actually begun calling LeBron James the King of LA while Kobe Bryant still flies in a helicopter over Orange County.

Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.

Yea. That’s ironic. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury. Infinite fanfare and declarations of grandeur. All for naught. In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?

Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.

But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns.

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