If we learned anything from free agency over the last couple of years, it’s that the obvious free agency destinations seem to be the most unlikely.
In 2010, it seemed all but decided that LeBron James was either staying in Cleveland or heading to New York. That was the story for months. Almost no one talked about Miami as a destination, and surely not for all three of Miami’s current All-Stars Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James.
Steve Nash’s free agency was supposed to land him in either New York or Toronto. The Los Angeles Lakers were barely in the discussion, yet they came away with the two-time MVP.
No one had Paul Millsap on Atlanta’s radar last summer nor did anyone have Charlotte on Al Jefferson’s radar, and let’s not even talk about the Golden State Warriors, who last summer not only got serious consideration from Dwight Howard, but landed Andre Iguodala.
Which brings us around to the point – free agency is unpredictable.
This weekend, while having a casual conversation with Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, the topic of Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony came up. And while we both agreed that all signs point to Anthony staying in New York, there are some interesting options that he will likely consider, especially if the master plan laid out by the Knicks in July is underwhelming.
The L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls get mentioned the most, mainly because both will be in a position cap-wise to make offers that might be attractive to Anthony.
Sources close to the situation in Chicago say it’s highly unlikely the Bulls would meet the MAX-dollar asking price Anthony would likely be seeking. As things stand, the Bulls have $63 million in committed contracts for the 2014-15 season. There is a common belief that Chicago would use their one-time amnesty provision on the final $16.8 million of Carlos Boozer’s contract, which would get them to $46.2 million, or roughly $13.8 million under a projected 2014-15 salary cap of $60 million. If the new cap figure comes in a little higher, the Bulls would have more to play with.
The general sense of things is that Chicago would only consider using the amnesty provision on Boozer if they were able to land a major free agent and surely Anthony is that. The problem is that a first-year salary of $13 to $15 million would be a massive pay cut for Anthony, who is eligible to receive a first-year salary of 105 percent of his current $21.388 million salary in his new deal regardless of who he signs with.
»In Related: The Chicago Bulls Team Salary Page
Would Anthony leave some $7.45 million per year on the table to be a Bull? The only way Chicago could get enough cap space to sign Anthony to a full MAX-level deal would be to basically give away forward Taj Gibson and his $8 million 2014-15 salary. Are the Bulls willing to pay Boozer $16.8 million to go away, give Gibson away for basically nothing and pay Anthony $100 million?
The Lakers will have the cap space to be a major player for Anthony as well. They would be able to offer Anthony a full MAX-level offer, but given how little the Lakers have to work with on the existing roster, are the Lakers really any closer to a title than the Knicks? Would they get any closer with $23.5 million locked into guard Kobe Bryant and another $22.45 million to a soon to be 30-year-old Anthony?
There is no doubting that adding a star of Anthony’s caliber is a Laker kind of move, but is that the best use of the Lakers’ salary cap space and does a Bryant-Anthony duo really have a shot in the West? The Lakers can create a little more breathing room under the cap by using the new stretch provision in the Collective Barging Agreement on guard Steve Nash, but even the extra $6 million the Lakers can secure in that move gets off-set by the $23.5 million owed to Bryant, $900,000 owed to Robert Sacre and a player option on Nick Young worth $1.227 million. In total, the Lakers are looking at roughly $28 million before $22.45 million to Anthony, leaving them with just $9.55 million to flesh out the rest of the roster. Anthony could agree to a little less in a deal with the Lakers to free up room for other guys.
»In Related: The L.A Lakers Team Salary Page
Which bring us to the firestorm Frank tossed this way yesterday.
According to @stevekylerNBA Carmelo could join Miami if LeBron, Wade, Bosh & Melo all sign for $14 million. That is the Heat media's dream.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) February 17, 2014
If Anthony has to take less to be in Chicago or has to take less to fill out the roster in Los Angeles, would he take less to be a lot closer to a championship in his first year?
The Houston Rockets have $56.983 million in salary cap commitments in 2014-15. If they can off-load Omer Asik and/or Jeremy Lin’s $8.374 million contracts, they could get under the cap and offer Anthony the opportunity to play with James Harden and Dwight Howard.
»In Related: The Houston Rockets Team Salary Page.
The Miami HEAT have just $2.038 million in guaranteed contracts next summer. All three of Miami’s major stars can opt out and create massive flexibility for Miami, not only in re-setting the luxury tax clock for the HEAT to continue their run at championships, but making it possible for Miami to make a run at Anthony. Depending on what each is willing to re-sign for, the HEAT could have anywhere between $57 and $60 million to work with in free agency.
»In Related: The Miami HEAT Team Salary Page
In 2010 all three of Miami’s star players agreed to first-year deals just under $15 million each. They all sacrificed a little money so that Miami could re-sign Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. Would they do it again to add Anthony to the mix and make sure they can deliver on their initial promise of “not one, not two…” championships?
With the Indiana Pacers closing the gap aggressively, would the HEAT need another major guy to off-set what’s coming at them from Indiana?
Would Wade trade in his remaining two contract years worth a combined $42.6 million in exchange for a new three- or four-year deal? Wade left the most money on the table in Miami to create the current situation, would he do it again in July?
The HEAT have cap issues of their own to manage. Haslem has a player option worth $4.62 million that would eat into what Miami has to play with if he opts in, but given that all three of Miami’s stars would have to buy into a “take less plan” would Haslem do the same in exchange for a seat at the table on the next evolution of the HEAT? Miami big man Chris Andersen has a $1.44 million player option for next year, but would he cash that in for another deal around the same minimum-level money to remain on the roster awhile longer?
There are a lot of interesting options for Anthony to consider.
The first and most obvious option is to remain in New York, sign a massive new contract and try to build his own winner with the projected cap space the Knicks will have in the summer of 2015. A summer where Anthony could recruit guys like Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love to form his own Big Three in New York.
»In Related: The New York Knicks Team Salary Page
Anthony clearly shifted the onus onto his current team this weekend in New Orleans. He made it clear then that he wants to retire as a Knick and that he wants to hear the plan for a championship run from New York before making his free agency decision. So clearly the Knicks are on the clock and have the means to secure Anthony going forward.
But in free agency, the expected outcome is rarely what happens. For Anthony there are a number of options to consider, even if staying in New York is the most likely outcome.
NBA Daily: Keldon Johnson Is Next In Line
Keldon Johnson, a prototypical 3-and-D prospect, will have plenty of franchises clamoring to get a look at Kentucky’s next 19-year-old star-in-waiting, writes Ben Nadeau.
The life of a potential non-lottery first-rounder is not easy, make no mistake.
And for Keldon Johnson, a wild final month may be just beginning.
Johnson, 19, is one of three players from the University of Kentucky expected to be drafted in the opening round next month — but where exactly is anybody’s guess. At 6-foot-6, Johnson is an athletically-gifted guard, above average in both the open court and from behind the arc. His overlying statistics — 13.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 38.1 percent from three — might not scream can’t-miss, but the freshman is ready to get after it and prove his worthiness during the springtime workouts.
“I’m fine with competing, I did it all year and I’ve been doing it all my life,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders during last week’s NBA Draft Combine. “All I gotta do is just keep working hard. I think if I keep working hard and stay in the gym, I’ll be fine.”
So far, Johnson has received strong marks — both during the collegiate season and during these most recent tests — for his passion, athleticism and effort on defense. Given his height and lengthy wingspan, it’s possible that Johnson could slot in at the small forward position at the next level too. Basically, Johnson kind of spring-loaded rotation-worthy asset that every franchise could use, whether rebuilding or as a yearly powerhouse.
Thankfully, that’s a position that Johnson finds himself settling into one month before the draft.
As is customary for the back half of the first thirty picks — the odds are high, barring a trade, that Johnson lands on a team that reached the postseason this year. In fact, the only team that didn’t have a playoff game with a current selection between Nos. 14 and 30 is Cleveland at 26. The possibilities, particularly so given Johnson’s modern skill-set, are endless.
Whenever he ends up, though, Johnson just wants to make a good impression.
“I definitely want to play my first year, but if I get in a situation where I won’t get as many minutes and they still develop me, I’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “I definitely want to play, but if that’s not the case, then I just have to keep working.”
Prestigious franchises like Boston, Golden State and San Antonio decorate Johnson’s perceived pick range, with perennial postseason contenders in Milwaukee, Portland, Oklahoma City, Utah and Philadelphia finishing out the round. Johnson, like most young prospects, will have to work at improving his deficiencies — to some, that includes his free throw percentages and playmaking — but what he could eventually offer far outweighs everything else.
A defensive-minded athlete that can stretch the floor? Check. A multi-position shooter that wears those impassioned emotions on his sleeve? Sign him up. Understandably, Johnson wants to land with a franchise that can help him hit the ground running as a rookie, both on and off the floor.
“Just having a great relationship with the whole organization,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “Coming and fitting in right away, them developing me and getting me ready to play at that level.”
One look at Johnson’s stellar freshman year highlights, however, and it’s hard to see how the former Wildcat won’t fit in. For as much as things change — what with the need for floor-stretching unicorns and seven-foot point guards these days — sometimes, other matters stay exactly the same.
The desire for 3-and-D contributors in the NBA will never die and Johnson seems to fit that mold exceedingly well. And, if anything, that may just be his floor.
On seven occasions in 2018-19, Johnson tallied 20 or more points, even hitting at least one three-pointer in six of them. During a mid-season contest against Utah, Johnson went a blistering 6-for-7 from deep before notching 4-for-7 against the much tougher North Carolina a week later. If the pressure wasn’t high enough then, Johnson certainly lived up to the hype during the NCAA Tournament as well.
Although he struggled against Houston, Johnson was solid in Kentucky’s narrow loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight, tossing down 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists on 4-for-6 from the free throw line. Time and time again, giving the ball to Johnson resulted in wins for the eventual No. 2-seeded Kentucky.
According to Johnson, he believes he’s a more-than-capable passer too — an opinion he’s set out to cement during upcoming private one-on-one sessions.
“I really just shoot the ball — [but] I can handle the ball a lot better than what they think,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “Once I go into workouts, I’ll be fine.”
Since 2010, more than 20 players from Kentucky have been chosen in the NBA Draft and their list of former superstars needs little introduction — Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall to name a few — but their continued success with prospects under John Calipari cannot be understated. Just last year alone, four Wildcats were selected, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, the former of which was just named to the All-Rookie Second Team earlier this week.
But with his silky smooth stroke, Johnson’s mechanics and release have potential franchises simply excited about the type of two-way scorer he could be in the near future. Against stiff competition like LSU’s Naz Reid and teammate Tyler Herro– two other likely first-rounders in June — Johnson still finished the season as the SEC Freshman of the Year for good reason.
In a month, somehow, everything and nothing will change. Fundamentally, Johnson will be drafted to an eager team somewhere in the first round, a franchise that will want to feature his NBA-ready qualities — whether that be on the defensive end or from behind the arc. Johnson’s name may not be mentioned in the same breath as Zion Williamson or Ja Morant — two other freshman standouts — but the marathon has only just started.
With everything other than the interviews and individual workouts now officially out of his hands, Johnson’s trying not to sweat the small stuff.
“[I’m] just enjoying the process, just having a great time,” Johnson said. “I mean, really enjoying it, to be honest, don’t take it for granted and enjoy the whole thing.”
NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
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