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NBA AM: In The Hunt For LaMarcus Aldridge

Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge might be the most obtainable big name free agent in the market, which is why so many teams are lining up to meet with him tonight. Who are some of the value priced NBA free agents?

Steve Kyler

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In The Hunt For Aldridge:  The flood gates of the 2015 NBA Free Agent class open at 12:01am EST tonight, and while teams can start to deliver their free agent pitches and players can verbally agree to terms, actual contracts cannot be signed until the July Moratorium is lifted on July 9th.

The nine day window creates an interesting stage for teams as they try and wiggle their way into face to face meetings with coveted players and no one seems to have a bigger list of suitors than Portland free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge will start meeting with teams tonight in Los Angeles, with the Lakers expected to be the first team to pitch, followed by Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas. Toronto and New York are expected to get the final two meetings on Thursday.

While the overall opinion among NBA insiders is that Aldridge is looking for a new team and leaving the Blazers behind sources close to the process say the dialogue between Aldridge and the Blazers has been good and that Portland has made a serious offer to keep Aldridge and simply has to wait out the process.

The Spurs have long been considered the favorites to land Aldridge and are actively looking at trades that could offload salary to allow them to sign Aldridge to a full max deal starting at $18.8 million and, while retaining many of their cornerstone veteran players such as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

The Lakers are also believed to be serious suitors for Aldridge and have been expressing an increasing confidence that they are in the running in a serious way.

League sources have said that the Lakers are willing to reshape the team around Aldridge if he wants to be a Laker and that includes exploring trades for some of the young guys on the roster in return for proven, win-now veterans. The Lakers would rather not part with second overall pick D’Angelo Russell, but the notion that Aldridge was frustrated with the younger core around him in Portland is not lost on the Lakers and they at least seem to be open to the idea if that would yield a commitment.

The Toronto Raptors were an interesting addition to the Aldridge list. Sources say that veteran point guard Kyle Lowry may have been in Aldridge’s ear a little to help secure the sit down. The Raptors dumped off the contract of Greivis Vásquez to ensure they had a full max salary slot to offer and are pitching the “one player” away concept. The fact that both Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan are said to be actively recruiting helps the Raptors since both are well respected by other NBA players. The Raptors may be the long-shot in much of this, but it seems they are being aggressive and their existing roster players are trying to help.

Sources close to the process said while everyone is hopeful for a quick decision from Aldridge, they understand this may not get resolved until after the Fourth of July holiday.

The next player on many of these team’s wish list is Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, who is expected to meet with teams in Los Angeles so at least they won’t have to travel far to get in the next line.

The Value Players To Consider:  While much of the focus in free agency will be at the top of the board, there are a few free agents that could be obtained at a more reasonable price, especially as the dominoes start to fall off the board.

K.J. McDaniels (Restricted, Houston Rockets)

While the Houston Rockets would love to bring McDaniels back, he is in a position where an enterprising team with cap space can do what the Rockets did to the Knicks and Bulls, and that’s backload a deal that makes it unfavorable to the Rockets.

As Houston tries to lure in another big named player, McDaniels could likely be had for a number north of the mid-level, in fact there is a sense that if the offers for McDaniels get much higher than $3-$4 million per year, Houston may bow out altogether.

The dialogue between the Rockets and McDaniels has been extremely positive, so there is a sense that if McDaniels did get a serious offer, the Rockets might be willing to sign and trade him rather than lose him for nothing, but preserving cap space at this point seems to be the bigger concern for the Rockets.

Because McDaniels is a one year player he does not have any of the two Bird Right options, so the Rockets must use cap space to match anything McDaniels is offered in free agency, making him obtainable for the right price.

Kyle O’Quinn (Restricted, Orlando Magic)

Like McDaniels, there is a sense that Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn could be had if the price is right. The Magic are pursuing forward Quincy Acy in free agency, which could signal a less than interested stance with O’Quinn as they are very similar players. O’Quinn fell out of the rotation in Orlando after the coaching change and seems resigned to the fact he’d be playing elsewhere next season.

There are a number of teams expressing interest in O’Quinn the big questions becomes what’s he really worth and what number is enough to ensure the Magic let him walk.

The general sense among NBA teams is that O’Quinn is going to fetch somewhere in the $4-$5 million range, making him a less expensive option for teams looking to bolster their front court without breaking the bank.

Shane Larkin (Unrestricted, New York)

The New York Knicks did not pick up the option on Larkin last year, making him an unrestricted free agent. Larkin’s camp is not looking for a crazy deal, understanding that Larkin has more to prove before he’s worthy of a bigger payday. In terms of obtainable, low cost guards, Larkin could be the best on the board. There is a sense that teams that are willing to get into the $2-$3 million per year range and have a defined role for Shane could land him.

The New York Knicks have expressed an interest in keeping Larkin, although the fit in the Triangle was less than ideal for Shane’s style of play. That said, Larkin is not opposed to staying in New York, but he is unrestricted so he has the ability to choose his next situation.

Austin Rivers (Unrestricted, LA Clippers)

Like Larkin, Rivers is an unrestricted free agent after the Pelicans opted not to pick up his option and subsequently traded him to Boston, who flipped him to the Clippers.

Rivers had a solid run for the Clippers, finally showing flashes of why he was thought of so highly in the NBA draft. The Clippers can offer River’s 105 percent of the $2.43 million he earned last season without tapping into their exception money.

However the Clippers look to be as capped out as anyone in the league and are likely facing stiff luxury tax penalties.

The narrative on Rivers is if all things are equal he’s staying in LA, but if someone wants to poach him away, a multi-year offer in the $4-$5 million range might get him. Given how unimpressive Rivers was in New Orleans, signing him to a large dollar deal might be too risky to rationalize, but on a two-year deal, it might get his attention and lure him away from the Clip show.

Will Barton (Restricted, Denver Nuggets)

Barton might not be as available as some teams would like, but he is a restricted free agent and the Denver Nuggets have a cash flow problem. It’s not very likely that anyone poaches away Barton, unless the number get silly, but there is no doubt he might be a guy worth testing the Nuggets resolve on in the $5-$6 million per year range.

Of the bunch he might be the hardest to obtain, but if you rewind back to 2011 when the Sacramento Kings backed the truck up to Marcus Thornton’s house with a five-year $40 million deal, it reminds us that something silly could always happen.

Gerald Green (Unrestricted, Phoenix)

After a couple of failed stops early in his NBA career and stopovers in China and Russia, Green reemerged as the NBA player he was supposed to be in the 2005 NBA Draft.

Green is an unrestricted free agent and is drawing interest from a number of teams, including the Dallas Mavericks who view him as a slightly cheaper answer to Monta Ellis who may be headed elsewhere for monetary reasons.

Sources close to the process say Green could be had in the $5 million range, or slightly less if the deal is three or four years. Green turns 30 next January and has posted respectable numbers. Green is not a future All-Star, but he does have an athletic, up-tempo game and while he has clashed with head coaches that have been demanding of him, there is a sense that he is in demand in the middle of the market and for what it may cost, he could be a real value given how valuations are looking to soar.

If you are looking for a complete list of eligible free agents, you can find the 2015-2016 Free Agent class here, the 2016-2017 class here and the 2017-2018 class here.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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NBA

Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA

NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, currently 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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