Free agency remains stuck in traffic, but moves coming: We’re more than a week into the free agency process and the movement up until this point has not matched the hype before the market opened. The holding pattern is due to the best player in the game, LeBron James, taking his sweet time to evaluate all of his options around the league.
The majority of teams know and fully understand they’re not truly in the race for James’ talents. But if James decided to leave Miami, it would set off a chain of events where a team might need to shed a veteran for cap space, trade a promising young asset or give up draft picks.
So while most teams aren’t in contention for the main free agency feast, they’re in a holding pattern ready to scavenge the market in the aftermath where value might be found.
Here’s where we stand this morning:
LeBron James: According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, James will be meeting with Miami team president Pat Riley in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Erik Spoelstra, Micky Arison and Dwyane Wade will also reportedly attend the meeting today. James’ agent, Rich Paul, has conducted meetings with Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Phoenix over the past week, but the four-time MVP hasn’t met with any team directly during the process.
James opted out of the final two years of his HEAT contract worth around $42 million. He is reportedly seeking a maximum-level contract in his new deal.
Miami lost to San Antonio in this season’s NBA Finals in five games. At season’s end, James noted Miami’s roster needed to improve at all positions. So far this summer Miami has come to agreement with forwards Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, while trading for James favorite, Shabazz Napier, in the first round of June’s draft.
Gordon Hayward: The Charlotte Hornets have reportedly agreed on an offer sheet with the restricted free agent forward. The deal, according to Marc Stein of ESPN, is reportedly worth $63 million over four-years. The Charlotte Observer first reported the deal.
Hayward is expected to sign on the dotted line at Thursday 12:01 a.m., according to the report. Once signed, the Utah Jazz will have three days to match the offer sheet.
The Hornets lost free agent forward Josh McRoberts to Miami this week, but Hayward would be a solid addition to a franchise looking to capitalize off their current momentum.
Talks broke down between Utah and Hayward early last season before the extension deadline. The Jazz were reportedly offering $12 million annually, while the forward was seeking north of $13 million per season. The Jazz opted to allow the market to decide Hayward’s value and they will now have to decide whether they should match. Reports have indicated that Utah will match, even though the offer sheet features a fourth-year player option and 15 percent trade kicker in an effort to dissuade Utah from matching.
Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 77 appearances with Utah last season. Hayward struggled with his shot, however, shooting a career-low 41 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range.
Carmelo Anthony: The high scoring forward reportedly has lucrative offers on the table from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles (Lakers) and New York, but is still evaluating his options.
Newly crowned Knicks head coach Derek Fisher told the media on Tuesday he believes Anthony can win at a high level in New York and said he communicated the same message in their private meeting last week.
“It’s about winning, from what I could gather,” Fisher said according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “He wants to win. He wants to be successful, and so in the time I had to visit with him, I just shared with him that we’ll be a better basketball team because we’ll play the game in a better way. We’ll play as a team, we’ll play with a system with the format that allows the game to be easier for him and easier for his teammates.
“I’m not sure if we hit home. I guess we’ll find out, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.”
Chris Bosh: The All-Star forward has seemingly been tied to the decision James makes this summer. But Bosh definitely has options to weigh. For instance, Houston is reportedly willing to offer a maximum four-year deal, although the team would need to shed salary in order to make such an offer. For now, the message from Bosh’s camp is that he prefers to remain in Miami with James, but he is open to listen to overtures.
Brian Roberts: The reserve point guard won’t dominate many headlines this summer, but he has developed into a solid rotation player over the last two seasons. The Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies are reportedly interested in the point guard and he has a visit with the Charlotte Hornets lined up soon.
Charlotte's planning visit with free agent Brian Roberts, league sources tell Yahoo. He's on top of short list to backup Kemba Walker.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 9, 2014
Roberts averaged 9.4 points and 3.3 assists last season with New Orleans while connecting on a stellar 94 percent from the free throw line.
Charlotte is looking for depth at their point guard position behind the emerging Kemba Walker.
Aldridge Wants To Retire In Portland: All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has made it clear that although he won’t sign a contract extension this summer, he wants to retire in Portland.
Aldridge told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian he will re-sign with the team next summer rather than signing an extension now. Aldridge, 29, wants the security of a five-year contract and is making the best business decision possible, of course assuming he remains injury free.
LaMarcus Aldridge tells The Oregonian he will not sign a contract extension with #Blazers this offseason, but plans to do so next summer.
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 8, 2014
Aldridge said it makes most sense financially to wait because he can sign for more years (5) and make more money ($108 million) next year.
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 8, 2014
Aldridge: "I'm happy to stay (in Portland), happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or 2. But …" (cont)
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 8, 2014
Aldridge cont: "… I just want to get a 5-year deal. I feel like that’s the best decision on my part."
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 8, 2014
LaMarcus Aldridge said he wants to finish his career in Portland. One reason why: "I want to be the best Blazer. Ever."
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) July 8, 2014
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, Aldridge was reportedly unhappy with the direction of the franchise and open to the possibility of trade. But with the team’s recent success, an emerging core and solid front office moves, the forward is now seemingly content in Portland,
Aldridge averaged a career-high 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds last season on 46 percent shooting.
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.