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.
If the Heat miss out on Hayward, likely they'll extend bigger offer to Gay. Celtics could as well.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 4, 2017
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
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.