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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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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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