You Can Always Dream, Right?: In the game of kick the free agency can down the road, there is no bigger possible free agent in 2016 than Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. While some fans are dreaming of the gems of the 2015 free agent class as their franchises saviors – yes that’s you Lakers fans – such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love or Boston’s Rajon Rondo, the name to watch in 2016 is without question Kevin Durant.
Durant hung another monster number last night in Miami – 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 12-of-23 shooting from the field. Durant put another exclamation point on this season, one where he might actually be the MVP of the league, an accomplishment that has eluded him for the last two seasons.
»In Related: The Oklahoma City Thunder Salary Page
Durant’s all-around game has improved dramatically every year he’s played, and this year not only is he scoring at an elite level from all over the floor, he has also embraced the leadership role most wanted to see him take on.
As humble as Durant is as a person, and as much as he wants to say there are no class differences on his roster, what’s showing up on the floor is a polished and mature player that’s taking ownership of his situation.
Durant has two more seasons fully guaranteed on his contract after this one, so his free agency is as far away as almost anyone in the NBA, but that’s not going to stop the speculation from taking on a life of its own.
Some around the league point to Durant’s decision to part with Landmark Sport’s Rob Pelinka as his agent to sign with rap mogul Jay Z’s RocNation Sports last summer as a big red flag. However, sources close to the situation say that Durant’s decision was not about Oklahoma City, but about building his off-the-court brand outside of the traditional sports marketing world.
Durant has almost everything a player can get in the sports marketing world, raking in an estimated $14 million a year from deals with Sprint, Gatorade, Nike, 2K Sports and BBVA. His circle points to opportunities outside of sports as the biggest reason for the change in management.
At every step of the way, Durant has pledged his loyalty to Oklahoma City and talks frequently about how the small-town vibe suits him. So painting Durant as seeking a bigger stage, does not line up with what he’s said since arriving with the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
»In Related: The Possible 2016 NBA Free Agent Class
However, the ugly specter of free agency is very real for smaller market teams. The Thunder unfortunately are on the clock to deliver another trip to the NBA Finals before the voices in Durant’s life try to steer him toward brighter lights or bigger cities. It happened with LeBron James. It happened with Dwight Howard.
So while Durant’s free agency is a ways down the road, you can bet that the larger market teams will be trading and constructing contracts to make sure they have $20 million in available space in July of 2016, in the off chance that Durant’s mindset on his future in Oklahoma City changes.
For almost two and half years, teams in the NBA jockeyed contracts and made bad trades to make sure they could get a seat at the table with James in 2010. The pool of would-be suitors trying to pry Durant out of Oklahoma City in 2016 is likely going to be even bigger.
As unlikely as Durant leaving Oklahoma City seems today, remember both James and Howard had similar stances about their former teams when they had three years left on their deals too.
Paxson OK With Rose Not Recruiting: Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said he was OK with his star Derrick Rose not taking an active role in recruiting players to the Bulls in free agency, saying that when he was a player he wouldn’t have been comfortable doing it and he doesn’t expect Rose to do it either.
“I personally would not have been comfortable doing that as a player. That was me, so I expect and appreciate where Derrick is coming from,” Paxson said on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” yesterday.
“I would never tell a player, I don’t think Jerry Reinsdorf or Gar (Forman) would tell a player, ‘Look, you have to do this.’ If a player wants to do it, great. If he doesn’t, that’s his choice.”
»In Related: Chicago Bulls Team Salary Page
Paxson said he understands that Rose has relationships around the league, especially with possible free agents, but that he does expect him to play the recruiter role and does not think that will stop the Bulls from landing players.
“I know that Derrick has relationships with a lot of guys around the league. He spends his summers in L.A. working out with a lot of guys and I know he’s got great relationships with people,” Paxson said. “I do firmly believe that when you’re around people you can sell yourself just being the person that you are, and we all know Derrick is a terrific young man.
“I don’t see that as an impediment to us getting players here. I think at the end of the day people know who Derrick is and there are a lot of guys who would like to play with him.”
Paxson also talked about the perception that the Bulls organization won’t spend the money to be true title competitors.
“The way I look at, having been around Jerry Reinsdorf a long time, he’s been more than fair. When I was a player and contract situations came up, with me personally, those were always done in a fair manner,” Paxson said.
“I don’t think there is anything we can do necessarily… There are so many people out there now through talk radio, TV, the internet, everything. There are just a lot of people that have a voice and the perception is that we’re cheap.”
Paxson resigned himself to the fact that he can’t change what people say about his team in the media, but he did try and explain why his team made the move to trade Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I can tell you about what’s happened recently,” Paxson said. “We came into the season with a high payroll; in the tax for the second straight year. With Derrick’s injury and other things we made the decision to move Luol and get under the luxury tax this year to give us some flexibility for years going forward. From the business standpoint we felt it was the right thing to do and you have to think that way; it is just a reality of the business.
“You hear those things (being cheap) but to feel like you have to go out and respond to everyone you just end up chasing your tail and it’s really not worth it. I know we work for a terrific owner and an organization that is willing to spend, we just don’t want to spend foolishly and I think 90 percent of the teams in this league think that way.”
The 23-22 Bulls are currently the fifth seed in the East and have won six of their last ten games.
»In Related: Current NBA Standings
Assuming the Bulls do not add any salary before the NBA trade deadline, they are looking at the possibility of having cap space this summer, if they opt to use their one-time amnesty provision on forward Carlos Boozer. If that’s the case, the Bulls could have roughly $16 million to spend on possible free agents this summer.
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NBA Daily: Porter Jr. Ready to Make Up For Lost Time in the NBA
Michael Porter Jr. played just 53 minutes of basketball in his lone college season, yet believes he’s the best player in the draft now that he’s seemingly healthy.
When Michael Porter Jr. stepped foot on Missouri’s campus, he was supposed to inject life into a basketball program that hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2012-13 season.
After receiving his release from the University of Washington, following the firing of Lorenzo Romar, Porter Jr. decided to return home and play under Cuonzo Martin for the Tigers. The No. 2 ranked recruit in the nation, the near 6-foot-11 small forward possessed the scoring and versatility traits to suggest he would be a star at the college basketball level before making his jump to the NBA.
But that would not be so for Porter Jr., as a back injury and subsequent surgery would limit him to just 53 total minutes in three games coming at the end of the season.
In his brief stint as a student-athlete, Porter Jr. played how many would expect a teenager coming off of months-long injury rehab: rusty.
Thirty points and 20 rebounds in three games, on 10-for-33 shooting from the field, and 7-for-20 from beyond the arc. It was clear Porter Jr. was not up to the speed he expected to be on the college court just several months prior. But no matter, he wanted to get out there anyway, regardless of risking re-injury, so that he could help his teammates.
“I knew that I wasn’t gonna put on a show, or be the Mike that they saw in a few months,” Porter Jr. said at the NBA Combine. “The way I was thinking about was just, you know, they’ll know the player I am in a few months. Just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had like six players on scholarship at the time because two had gotten injured. So, I was just trying to do what I could to be a part of the team.”
Porter Jr.’s return didn’t lift his team the way he had hoped, as Missouri fell to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA tournament 67-54. When the clock hit zeros, the smooth shooting swingman with a questionable injury history set his sights on the NBA.
However, Porter Jr.’s projection at the game’s highest level is much different in May than it was 10 months ago. From positioning himself to battle for the top overall pick, Porter Jr. is now somewhat of an enigma. His game is a bit of a mystery, and so are his medical records. Once considered a no-brainer to be picked top-three, Porter Jr. could find himself sliding near the back end of the top 10 on draft night.
Noting that he originally injured his back a few years ago in high school, when the injury finally caught up to him just before his college career was ready to tip off, Porter Jr. took a unique approach to otherwise disappointing news.
“When I had to have the surgery I kind of viewed it as a blessing,” Porter Jr. said. “A new start, and I could really reach my full potential. They had me as the number one player in high school, but I didn’t even feel like I was at 100 percent, and I do now.”
Being at 100 percent, as Porter Jr. says in his own words, just before he begins his NBA career has the forward excited for his future. Despite missing time on the court and falling behind other prospects in the draft conversation, Porter Jr. hasn’t lost his self-confidence.
“I’m just excited to show everybody the player that I am,” Porter Jr. said. “I’m still the best player … I played against all these guys, they’re all great players. But I’m the best player in this draft.”
Though his back is still a mystery, and his sample size is small, if Porter Jr. were to reach the potential scouts and NBA personnel pegged him as having when he was on the doorsteps of college basketball, then he has the makings of a franchise-caliber player.
With the opportunity of getting that kind of upside at a potentially discounted selection, Porter Jr. was one of the most popular names at the Cmbine. The forward mentioned meeting with just about every team picking in the top 10 come June’s draft. One team that Porter Jr. has been frequently linked to, the Chicago Bulls, were not exclusively mentioned on his list. But Porter Jr. noted the Bulls and his agent were in contact and he hoped to get a workout scheduled with Chicago.
No matter who Porter Jr. meets with or works out for from now until draft night, the versatile and skilled forward projects to be one of the most interesting players to follow. Could he impress throughout the draft process and reclaim his spot within the top-three? Or will he slide down draft boards and become a potential steal for a team in the back half of the lottery?
Whatever the outcome is, Porter Jr. will be ready.
“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” Porter Jr. said. “But this is just a step in my process in becoming the best player that I can be. It’s a little different, but I’m more ready than ever. I’ve been dreaming about this NBA stuff for so long, I feel like I’m ready.”
Trae Young Believes He’s NBA Ready
Trae Young has exceeded expectations since his freshman year of college, and he believes he will continue to do so in the NBA
Before the collegiate season started, many believed that the best players in the upcoming NBA draft were going to be bigs. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr., all of whom were 6’10’’ or taller, were considered to be among the top prospects coming out of the NCAA, but Trae Young had something to say about that.
Coming out of high school, Young was regarded as one of the better incoming freshmen, but not among the best of the best. Young ranked no. 23 in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017 and was ranked third among point guards, behind Collin Sexton and Jaylen Hands, which led to low expectations for him. Young proved right out of the gate that he was much better than the scouts had rated him.
Young tore up college ball as an Oklahoma Sooner, as he averaged 27.2 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field including 36 percent from three. While Young’s play made him stand out among his peers, it didn’t translate into much success on the court. The Sooners went 18-14 on the season and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Now that the season is over, Young is shifting his focus to his next stop: the NBA. With the draft coming up in just a little over a month, only one word comes to mind when describing Young’s current mindset: Confidence.
“I bring a lot of things to the next level. I think I would bring an immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court,” Young said at the NBA combine. “I can space out the defense. I can attack defenders in multiple ways, get my teammates involved. I think I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to whichever team I go to and making a huge impact.”
While Young is not expected to be picked in the top five, he should be picked between the six to ten range. Any player who is selected in that range has to work his absolute hardest to live up to the lengthy expectations that he will certainly face once he enters the NBA. Young luckily sounds like he is up to the task.
“I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away, and I’m working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level,” Young said. “I want to make a huge impact right away.”
Young is expected to be a high lottery pick, but he doesn’t care much for where he is selected as much as he cares about going to the team that suits him best.
“My main focus is going to the right team. It’s not about going one, two, three or 30. You see a lot of guys going in the second round in certain years that make big impacts for teams,” Young said. “It’s all about the fit for me. Whether that’s one or whether that’s whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and I’m going to be ready to make an impact.”
Young’s expected high draft position stems from his electrifying play as a scorer in college. Young’s performance for Oklahoma his freshman year was impressive enough to draw comparisons to NBA megastar Stephen Curry. While Young is flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Curry, he takes pride in being his own player.
“He’s a two-time MVP and a champion. I mean, I love the comparison but I feel like I bring a lot of different things from different players’ games to the table,” Young said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young. That’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing so hopefully I can achieve some of those things.”
Young’s skillset may remind fans of Curry, but Young prides himself on modeling his game after his favorite player of all time: Steve Nash.
“With his size and my size, we’re pretty similar,” Young said. “He is very cerebral. He can score on all three levels and he knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s a winner so I feel like a lot of his characteristics match with mine.”
Those who have watched Young know of his offensive repertoire, but skeptics have pointed to his defensive shortcomings as a red flag. Young, however, believes his play at the combine will show that he can be a positive on the other side of the ball.
“I’m excited about having the opportunity to show people that I can play defense, and I’m excited to show that from day one,”
When all is said and done, Young may very well wind up being the most prolific scorer to come out of what many believe is a loaded draft, but Young has much bigger ambitions in mind for his career.
“I think I’m the best overall player in this draft, but my main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft,” Young said. “My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. That’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”
NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine
Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.
UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.
While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.
Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.
“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”
Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.
Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.
“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.
I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”
Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.
“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.
Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.
“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.
Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.
Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.
“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”