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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 Sunday: Raptors Aren’t Extinct Just Yet

The Celtics should be a concern to the Cavaliers, but the Raptors shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Moke Hamilton

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The Toronto Raptors aren’t extinct—not yet, anyway.

With the whirlwind of movement that dominates the headlines this past NBA offseason and the growth of several young players, we’ve spent far more time discussing the likes of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks than the team from up North.

We’ve asked ourselves whether LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers can win the Eastern Conference for a fourth consecutive year and whether or not the Washington Wizards are finally ready to give some credible resistance. Some of us have even gone as far as to predict that, in the ultimate irony, Kyrie Irving will lead the Celtics to the conference crown this season.

And that doesn’t even begin to talk about the storylines from out West.

All the while, quietly and meticulously, Dwane Casey and his Raptors have stalked, and you peer at the standings and realize that they enter play on November 19 at 10-5, tied with the Pistons for the second-best record in the conference.

What has made the Raptors thriving especially improbable is the fact that they’ve done it despite missing a few key contributors for a game or two. To this point, they have ranked respectably both in points allowed per game (102.6) and points allowed per 100 possessions (107.8). Those metrics rank them eighth and 11th, respectively.

So, where exactly do the Raptors fit in the grand scheme of things?

It seems like a question we’ve been asking for a few years now.

* * * * * *

Having qualified for the playoffs four consecutive years, Dwane Casey’s team has won three playoff series over the course of that duration, but haven’t exactly found timely and efficient play from their two star players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Now, as the Eastern Conference begins to feature younger players with appreciable upside—Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown to name a few—it’s totally fair to wonder where the Raptors fit in. It’s also fair, believe it or not, to wonder whether they’ll be able to provide as much resistance to the Cavaliers as the Celtics.

In effect, the Raptors have become a modern day version of Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks. After signing with the Hawks prior to the 2005-06 season, Johnson led the revival of the franchise. They would end up qualifying for the playoffs five consecutive years, but never advanced past the second round. A similar story can be told of Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers.

The point is, however, that over the years, the Raptors have developed an identity and are a team whose hallmarks have come to be toughness and ball-sharing—two characteristics that most coaches would love to embody their team. While we’ve been paying close attention to the things that are brand new and exciting, the Raptors are the same old crew that they have been. And for a team like that, the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks will continue to be the gold standard.

The Mavericks notably rebuilt and tore down several incarnations of their team around Dirk Nowitzki until the team was finally able to surround Nowitzki with the right complement of players to score one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Whether anyone chooses to acknowledge it, the Cavaliers are vulnerable.

Entering play on November 19, LeBron James leads the league in both total minutes played (617) and minutes played per game (38.6). Of the players who will comprise James’ supporting rotation in the playoffs, the majority of them are players whose impact will be mostly felt on one side of the floor: offense. To this point, the Cavs have 10 different players averaging 20 minutes played per game—an incredibly high number. More than anything else, that’s a result of Tyron Lue playing with his rotations to figure out which units work best, while also taking into account that the team has been playing without both Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose for long stretches.

Still, of those rotation players—James, Rose, Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green—the simple truth is that it is only James who has performed like a true two-way player.

It’s a troubling trend upon which the Raptors—and other teams in the conference—could capitalize.

The best two words to describe the Cavaliers to this point in the season are “old” and “slow,” and that’s simply a fact. The club still ranks dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions and 28th in the league in points allowed per game.

In short, the Cavaliers, at least to this point, have certainly appeared to be vulnerable. It is those same Cavaliers that have ended the Raptors season each of the past two years.

You know what they say about third times—they’re often the charm.

* * * * * *

There’s obviously a long way to go, and any chance that Toronto would have to get past the Cavs rests in the ability of Lowry and DeRozan to find some consistency in the playoffs. Still, as the complementary pieces around them have slowly improved, we have spent the early goings of the season fawning over the brand news teams and storylines in the conference and have paid no attention to the old guard.

And depending on how the brackets play out, any Cavaliers foray in the conference finals might have to go through the familiar road of Toronto.

If that happens to be the case—if the Cavs do have to square off against their familiar foe—they’re ripe for the picking.

Just as they have been over the past few years, the Duane Casey’s team will be there waiting for their opportunity.

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NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers

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Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz

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The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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