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NBA AM: The Pending Free Agent Watch List

Of the 239 players eligible for free agency next July, a handful may be available around the trade deadline.

Steve Kyler

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The Pending Free Agent Watch List

There are 239 NBA players who could become eligible for some type of free agency in July of 2017. Of those players, 25 hold a Player Option for next season and many will likely opt out. Thirty of those players are possible restricted free agents by way of a Qualifying Offer from their current team. Sixty-two of those players have a Team Option for next season, and many are likely to be free agents if they continue to underplay their deal. Two players – Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – hold an Early Termination Option.

While it’s unlikely that all 239 players actually hit the market, there are a couple of would-be free agents who are worth watching as the 2016-17 NBA season starts to gear up this month – mainly because all of them could walk away from their current team and leave them with nothing.

Jeff Teague – Indiana Pacers

The Pacers just got Teague into town in a draft-day trade and are hopeful he is the long-term answer at point guard for a team that’s very quietly become a sneaky contender in the Eastern Conference.

The problem for the Pacers is that, historically, players who have been traded the year before free agency tend to go shopping when it’s time for a new deal. That could get dicey for Indiana.

Teague is eligible to have his contract re-negotiated, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets did with James Harden. The issue there is that Paul George also becomes re-structure eligible on September 25. The Pacers are sitting on about $6 million in cap space – enough to get George to the current NBA max, but not enough to also sign Teague to a new deal.

Unless the Pacers opt to dump a contract and create more room, re-structuring Teague’s deal does not seem to be in the cards, which means a stroll through unrestricted free agency for the point guard and a ton of risk for Indiana.

The good news for the Pacers is that Teague is a hometown kid who has said he’s very excited about the long-term future in Indiana. The problem with that is there are no guarantees there and if Teague does flourish with the Pacers, will they play the game in a free-agent bidding war?

The Pacers could put an end to all of this with a new deal for Teague, but to get there they’d need to make a trade. At this point, the Pacers do not seem overly concerned about making one.

Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans made a strong run at free agent point guard Ty Lawson, and they also recently brought free agent Lance Stephenson in for a workout. Sources close to the situation say that the Pelicans are looking for backcourt depth and considering the long injury history of both Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, it’s understandable that the Pelicans are not ready to bet their future on what they have.

Both Holiday and Evans are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and it’s a safe bet that one or both players aren’t back next season.

Holiday is the more intriguing of the two, mainly because when he has been healthy he’s been very productive on both end of the court. However, the stretches of good health have been too few and far between.

Here are the questions New Orleans has to ponder: How many games can Holiday really log this year? And at what point do the Pelicans face the inevitable that Holiday likely walks in July?

The Pelicans seem to be at least exploring what their options are now, which likely means that as the deadline gets closer and their season comes into better focus, making a deal around Holiday or Evans becomes a real option.

Considering Holiday has played in just 139 games in his three seasons in New Orleans, it’s hard to envision he returns a ton of value in trade. But for the Pelicans – who just got nothing for Ryan Anderson’s free agency – would letting another player (or two) walk for nothing really be smart?

The guard spots are absolutely something to watch in New Orleans. The Pelicans seem like they are open to ideas.

Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings – $14.2 million Player Option

The Kings and Rudy Gay are headed toward a divorce; it’s only a matter of time. Gay holds a Player Option for next season and even though $14.2 million seems like the right number for Gay, even in this new bloated contract environment, he likely opts-out not for the first number, but the last number on his new deal.

It’s unlikely Gay fetches a deal more than $14 million annually as a free agent, but can he get a team to lock in two or three more contract years in the process? More importantly, opting out would allow him to choose his next team.

Gay’s option year makes consummating a trade tough. Some of the teams that like Gay (that’s you, Houston) don’t want the 2017-18 contract year. The teams that are interested in the contract year want Gay to opt-in and lock in that security, but it doesn’t seem he’s ready to commit to that.

The Kings are expected to open camp with the roster as it stands, but as things start to take shape, there is little doubt Gay is one of the odd guys out, especially if the fit is less than ideal.

Uncertainty is a problem in any transaction in the NBA, but as things get closer to the trade deadline and teams fail to meet their objectives, obtaining a versatile small forward who more than likely opts out is a viable possibility. Word is the Kings do not want a ton in return for him, so this one seems like a matter of when rather than if.

Zach Randolph – Memphis Grizzlies

If you follow the Grizzlies, you may feel that it’s hard to imagine Zach Randolph not finishing his career in Memphis. The question is, will the Grizzlies go the Tim Duncan route and give Randolph years on his next deal in exchange for a lower cap value? Or, do the Grizz cash Randolph out in trade and move into the future?

Even though the Grizz can exceed the cap to sign Randolph to any number they want in July, is it smart to make a longer-term or big-dollar investment in Randolph? It’s romantic to think that he would take a huge pay cut to stay in Memphis, but it’s not really practical to believe it happens.

The Grizzlies have to come to terms with what Zach is in the near-term as they enter training camp. If Randolph can bounce back to form in what will be his 16th season in the NBA, that’s good for the Grizzlies. But at some point, they are going to have to find minutes and a role not only for big free agent addition Chandler Parsons but also rookie Deyonta Davis. A case can be made that there is no better teacher and tutor for the new Grizz players than Randolph. That may very well be true, but should the Grizzlies really try to keep Zach beyond this year, especially with the new coaching staff and system coming in that’s expected to increase the tempo? That’s the real question; if the answer is no, there is little question he has trade value around the NBA.

Trading Randolph is not overly likely, but as the deadline gets closer and the Grizzlies have a sense of who they really are in the West, that could change.

Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks – $21.4 million Player Option

We have talked about Millsap in this space before and the story from Atlanta is that Millsap is a cornerstone to their season. Whether that’s true in the long-term remains to be seen, but in the short-term the Hawks see Millsap as the counterbalance to Dwight Howard and a focal point for their season.

Here’s the question: If the Hawks are not out of the gate world-beaters – if they are a middling team in the East – do they hang on to Millsap? Keep in mind, he can walk as a free agent.

League sources say the value of a would-be free agent diminishes the longer a team holds on to him, so if the Hawks are not sold Millsap will stay in his $21.4 million Player Option, can they really risk letting him potentially walk in July?

Sources close to the Hawks say the relationship between Millsap and management is actually pretty good, even despite the trade rumors around the draft. They say that there has been an honest, open dialogue about Millsap’s role and future in Atlanta.

But if the Hawks get out of the gate at 5-15, does all of that change?

Millsap is absolutely a name to watch as the trade deadline gets closer. But like many of the guys on this list, he’s not someone the Hawks would look to move today – if they looked at moving him at all.

Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks – $17.8 million Player Option

The next month or so will be huge in understanding if Monroe has a long-term future in Milwaukee. To say the fit is less than an ideal is an understatement and given how the Bucks and Monroe constructed his contract, extracting value out of a trade is going to be tough if the fit does not improve.

Sometimes, a player and team reaches an agreement on a hard-to-trade contract structures as a sign of faith in the partnership. In Monroe’s case, he holds all the power.

To get value for Monroe, a team is going to want to know he’ll stay in his deal for next season because the value proposition on a Monroe rental is very different than if he’ll opt-in to his Player Option at $17.8 million.

The Bucks are not expected to make any bold changes before training camp opens; in fact, this is likely the squad that opens the regular season. The big unknown to all of it is at what point does Milwaukee cut their losses on Monroe? And how helpful will Monroe be in helping the Bucks get anything of substance in return for him?

If this past summer taught teams any lesson, it’s that home-court advantage is not much of an advantage when it comes to retaining free agents. With many of the names above, their home team may be unwilling to pay current market value to keep them beyond this season, meaning most (if not all) could be traded at some point before the trade deadline in February.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @OMaroneyNBA, @JabariDavisNBA, @Ben_Dowsett and @CodyTaylorNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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