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Where Will the Top NBA Free Agents Land?

With more than $1.2 billion in cap space opening up on July 1, where will marquee free agents land?

Steve Kyler

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Where Will The Top Free Agents Land?

Unlike most free agency periods, this summer is unique. It’s unique because for the first time in the free agency era, virtually every team in the NBA will have the ability to get to meaningful cap space. It also means virtually every team can pursue a top free agent.

In normal years, there are a small handful of cap teams and pending free agents have months to consider where they might fit and what they might get in terms of offers. None of that is true this summer. Most of the top-tier free agents know roughly what’s available to them, but many have no idea where the market will place them and how desperate some teams might get as they miss on higher profile players.

And while it’s fun to speculate on where guys may sign, this year may be the hardest of any to predict where guys will really land, simply because the market place is so wide open.

With that said, you have come to expect us to tackle the hard things in the NBA – so we won’t shy away from the challenge.

Keep in mind this list is not meant to be anything more than a prediction of where certain key free agents may land. While these predictions come from an educated-guess point of view, they are not meant to be a proclamation that Player X will sign with Team Y, simply because there isn’t enough known today to make that kind of call. We’ll start getting those on July 1.

So with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s jump into the key players of the 2016 NBA free agent class.

Kevin Durant

The initial word from the Durant side of things is that he’ll meet with a small handful of teams, which is believed to include the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. There is a chance that Durant expands the list to include the New York Knicks, but at this point that does not seem to be on the table.

The prevailing thought going into this process was that Durant would ultimately stay in Oklahoma City on a “one-and-one” deal – one fully guaranteed year and a player option year, giving the Thunder one more year and allowing Durant to see what teammate Russell Westbrook does next summer when he hits free agency. The player option is also insurance should an injury occur for Durant. That’s the smartest play for Durant on a number of fronts.

However, sources close to Durant said recently that his looming free agency was incredibly stressful and distracting and that Durant isn’t overly eager to go through this again and that these meetings may be more than just going through the motions. He is genuinely planning to listen to options and see what’s available to him and may make a long-term commitment with whatever team he chooses.

There is still a sense that Oklahoma City could be the front runner and with the moves the team made around the draft to add even more to the team, they did not hurt their cause acquiring Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova.

However, the threat to the Thunder is real. Durant is said to be very interested in what the Warriors could be with him on the roster, and the appeal of the Spurs is equally interesting. Boston and Miami are something of the dark horses, but sources close to Durant say that while they may not be the front runners, both offer interesting appeal to Durant.

One thing that was very clear is that Durant is not looking to drag this process out. He’d like to get to a quick decision and move past the circus. It’s unlikely that this gets decided in the 48 hours of free agency, however Durant is scheduled to launch his new Nike KD 9 shoe in Asia the second week of July and he’d like to have it all locked up in advance of that trip.

The prevailing belief is that the Thunder will win the day, however with how this is going, it’s far from locked.

Mike Conley

The word around Mike Conley is that he’s going to listen to some free agent pitches, but will ultimately give the Grizzlies the last word. That’s simply how Mike is wired.

The belief around the Grizzlies is that Mike will re-sign on the maximum offer they’ll present him on July 1. However, sources close to Conley say that getting his signature will require the team to be aggressive in adding talent to the roster. It’s one of the key reasons the Grizzlies passed on their team option on Lance Stephenson.

As things stand today, the Grizzlies will have about $31 million in usable cap space to add other free agents and still have the means to exceed the cap to re-sign Conley.

The Grizzlies are far from safe on this front, word is the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs all have eyes for Conley and could get a meeting.

The dark horse in all of this is the Brooklyn Nets, who may not get the serious consideration they’d like, but still plan to swing for the fences, according to sources.

At the end of the day, the Grizzlies seem like they are in the driver’s seat, but it’s far from a lock that Conley is back especially if the Grizzlies can’t get meaningful additions in free agency.

Hassan Whiteside

Off all the free agents, Hassan Whiteside might be the most obtainable. While the narrative surrounding Whiteside is that he’ll re-sign if the HEAT put a full max offer on the table, there is a growing belief that Whiteside may forego the HEAT and pick a new team that’s more openly committed to him.

The HEAT have said all the right things publicly, but there continues to be reports that some inside the HEAT organization would rather see the team invest the $20 million in free agent money into another player (or players). That’s not a new story by any leap of the imagination; it’s also why teams the L.A. Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets all believe they have a real shot at signing him.

Whiteside has said he’d like to get his free agency resolved quickly. League sources say money may end up winning out, but if the HEAT play games, there is a real chance Whiteside walks to a new team and the front runner there seems to be the Lakers, although sources close to Whiteside say it’s far from decided until he hears what those teams have to say.

Al Horford

The popular narrative is that Al Horford is leaving Atlanta, and that may well happen. However, sources close to the Hawks say they will give Horford a full maximum offer, meaning if Al leaves it won’t be over money; in fact, it would be at a sizable pay cut.

That’s not going to stop the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards from trying to pry him away.

Horford has been one of the players the Celtics have had eyes on for some time, trying repeatedly to trade for him over the last two years. The Mavericks are believed to have Horford just behind Whiteside on their front court wish list, much like the Blazers.

A dark horse in the Horford race is the Miami HEAT. Should they lose Whiteside in free agency, Horford is believed to be the next guy on their list, and the feelings may be mutual.

The smart money says Horford takes the Hawks’ money and finishes where he was drafted, but there is some intrigue to this one.

Joakim Noah

The smart money puts Joakim Noah in New York on a major free agent deal. However, sources say while the Knicks are very appealing to Noah, it’s far from decided where he will land. The Minnesota Timberwolves are said to have interest in Noah and may have some credibility with the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, but sources cautioned that Noah wasn’t running to the Wolves because of Thibs.

The Washington Wizards are another team said to be in heavy pursuit of Noah, with some reporting they’d offer a full max deal to ensure they landed him.

While it’s safe to say the money being equal that Noah signs with the Knicks, there is a sense that a small bidding war could emerge that drives the price up past where the Knicks would go for a player of Noah’s age and injury history, so it’s far from a lock that the Knicks go all-in on Noah at any price.

Dwight Howard

Some were puzzled when Dwight Howard opted out of his remaining $23 million in Houston, believing that no one would offer Howard that kind of money in free agency. That may not turn out to be true.

While Howard isn’t the darling in NBA circles that he once was, there is a belief that he’s the second name on the Knicks’ wish list and could be the primary target for teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets. The Dallas Mavericks continue to be a name linked to Howard, although he may be much lower on the list than he was two summers ago.

There is a running belief that Howard could return to the Orlando Magic, but sources close to the Magic and Howard have really downplayed that as a serious consideration.

The smart money says Howard gets another big deal at or near the maximum. The question remains is, where does he land? That’s far from clear today.

Rajon Rondo

The Brooklyn Nets are said to be the front runners in the Rajon Rondo sweepstakes, mainly because they’ll go up to the max to sign him. As crazy as that sounds, there just are not that many starting-caliber point guards in the marketplace and the Nets do not want to be left without a point guard.

The Kings would like to have Rondo back; however, it does not seem like that’s a first-choice option for him.

If the Nets miss on Rondo, which remains a possibility, it’s unclear who the next big suitor may be.

Sources close to the situation say Rondo is not overly interested in being the only new addition, so it’s up to the Nets to make something else happen to strengthen their pitch to Rondo.

The Nets are said to have serious interest in Brandon Jennings, Jeremy Lin, Kent Bazemore and Jamal Crawford among others. If the Nets can land one of those players, they might lock up their shot at Rondo.

Ryan Anderson

There is no shortage of suitors for Ryan Anderson. It’s believed that Anderson is one of the top names for the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings.

Anderson was someone the Rockets pursued pretty aggressively at the trade deadline and with Mike D’Antoni in as head coach, landing more three-point shooting is a key point for the Rockets.

Anderson had the Wizards on his list of preferred trade teams at the deadline, so there is real mutual interest there.

Anderson is not going to come cheap, so it will be interesting to see how high the bidding gets.

Sources close to Anderson say he’d prefer a playoff team, so that might make offers from teams like Sacramento tough, unless they set the price tag so high he can’t refuse.

The Staying Put Squad

There are a few notable free agents who are unlikely to go anywhere:

DeMar DeRozan

The worst kept secret in basketball is how much DeMar DeRozan wants to re-sign in Toronto. Barring some kind of meltdown, it’s expected DeRozan and the Raptors consummate a new maximum deal on July 1 – locking him in with the Raptors for a few more years. DeRozan is not expected to meet with other teams.

Nicolas Batum

The same may be true of Nic Batum. He and the Hornets want to reach a new deal; the question is, at what price? The Hornets are expected to meet whatever is necessary and this one may get done quickly too.

Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier will be a restricted free agent and the Magic have been planning to match offer sheets. Evan may have to find his price elsewhere, but even a maximum offer likely gets matched. One of the key reasons the Magic were open to trading Victor Oladipo was knowing they were bringing Fournier back. Barring something nuts, the odds Fournier is not back are pretty small.

Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond’s free agency is more about process. Had he done an extension last summer, that new number kicks in with the new cap year on July 7 and would have limited the Pistons’ cap flexibility. In waiting, the Pistons pick up about $14 million in cap space to play with and can use Drummond’s Bird Rights to re-sign him after they spend. This one is about as done as it can be and is simply a cap maneuver.

Bradley Beal

Beal’s situation is very similar to Drummond’s because had the Wizards done an extension, it would have bit into their cap space this summer. Waiting was just about preserving cap space, not any sign of hesitation on doing a max deal for Beal.

Here are some things to know about the upcoming free agent period. Teams are eligible to talk about new contracts with players beginning July 1 at 12:01 a..m EST, nothing agreed to is binding until July 7, which will be the first day that new contracts not related to drafted rookies can be signed. Nothing becomes official until the NBA approves the contract.

While it’s believed the new salary cap will clock in at $94 million, the final agreed numbers will not be locked and released until July 6, after the NBA and the Players Association complete their end of year audits.

There is always a chance that the cap goes up slightly once the final math is checked.

Basketball Insiders will drop our annual NBA Free Agency Diary on Thursday and it will include all of the news, rumors, trades and speculation surrounding free agency all in one easy to read place. Keep an eye out for it.

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 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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NBA PM: Los Angeles Clippers 2017-18 Season Preview

After the loss of star Chris Paul, Basketball Insiders previews the LA Clippers for 2017-18.

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Earlier this offseason, Chris Paul decided to take his talents to Houston to play alongside James Harden. With this decision, the Los Angeles Clippers we have known for the last few years came to an end. However, rather than leaving the Clippers empty handed, Paul opted into the final year of his contract, which allowed Los Angeles to trade him to the Rockets in exchange for Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Wiltjer, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, a protected 2018 first-rounder and $661,072. It’s never good to lose an elite talent, but this was as ideal of an outcome as a team could reasonably hope for in this sort of situation.

Shortly after Paul was traded, Blake Griffin re-signed with the Clippers on a five-year, $173 million contract. The deal signaled that the Clippers were not going to strip down the roster and start a full rebuild. Instead, the Clippers invested heavily in Griffin, acquired Danilo Gallinari in a sign-and-trade deal with the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks, signed Milos Teodosic and Willie Reed and added new executives to restructure the team’s front office.

The Clippers added a lot of fresh faces, but necessarily said farewell to several key contributors and role players, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, Alan Anderson and Brandon Bass. With a fresh new roster, based heavily around Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers enter the season with several questions, including how far this team can go in the postseason.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Clippers did an admirable job bouncing immediately back from Paul’s decision to take his talents to Houston. The team is deeper than it has been in recent seasons, though they lack the high-end talent they had when Paul was on the roster. It’s not clear how far this team can go in the playoffs, but the team has potential. If nothing else, this season will be more interesting that the last few have been. Rather than predictably falling short in the playoffs because of a lack of depth and health issues, this squad has the talent to withstand a few injuries and the chance to create a new identity. The Clippers can’t reasonably expect to overtake the Warriors this season, but they should be competitive on any given night, regardless of who their opponent is.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

— Jesse Blancarte

The days of dreaming about raising a Clippers championship banner at Staples Center followed Chris Paul to Houston. It’s over.

Even still, credit the franchise for making lemonade from their lemons; they recovered nicely from Paul’s departure. I wouldn’t be shocked for the Clips to flirt with 50 wins this season, but that’ll depend on Blake Griffin’s health and the ease with which Milos Teodosic is able to make the conversion to the NBA. Aside from that, there’s a lot to like — Danilo Gallinari is a stud, Patrick Beverly is underrated and Lou Williams is still a prolific scorer. I also happen to think that both Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans are certified NBA players, so the Clippers are one of the teams I will be paying closest attention to this season.

I do expect the Kings to be much-improved, as well, but in the end, I’d expect Doc Rivers to figure out how to put all these new pieces together and carry his Clippers to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.

2nd place — Pacific Divison

— Moke Hamilton

Basic math suggests that the Los Angeles Clippers minus Chris Paul equals a huge step backward as a franchise, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still in the fold, after all, and the return for Paul wasn’t bad. Pat Beverley is an elite defender at the point guard spot, and electric Euro backup Milos Teodisc brings the offense that Beverley can’t. Lou Williams can replace some of the bench scoring lost from Jamal Crawford, while there’s plenty to like still about the team’s kids — Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and even rookie Sindarius Thornwell. They lost their captain, which hurts, but I don’t see any reason why they can’t still compete at an elite level this season considering how well they restocked. I’m not out on LAC just yet.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

— Joel Brigham

Despite Chris Paul handcuffing the Los Angeles Clippers into trading him this summer, they somehow managed to turn around and receive an impressive haul for the all-star point guard.

In return for Paul, the Clippers acquired Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and a few more pieces. By moving Paul, Los Angeles had enough money in the bank to pair Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. With this group of players, the Clippers should still be plenty competitive in a deeper Western Conference, and ultimately should find themselves in the playoff picture this season. Not bad for losing arguably the best point guard in the entire league.

2nd place — Pacific Division

— Dennis Chambers

It’s never easy to lose a consensus top-10 player in the NBA, and the Clippers acquitted themselves nicely despite being forced to send Chris Paul to Houston this offseason. Their massive trade haul with the Rockets included strong pieces like Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and others, and they also made some smart signings in Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic. Will a deeper, more diverse roster be enough to make up for the loss of Paul? It’s tough to say, though we have to expect at least some drop-off. The health of DeAndre Jordan and especially Blake Griffin will loom large for this bunch, and there could be a few fit issues with a guy like Gallinari, who will play a lot of small forward despite being better-suited as a four man at this point in his career. Expect the Clippers to be right there competing for the final few playoff spots in the West.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

— Ben Dowsett

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin, when healthy, is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. He still struggles with his jumper, but his combination of size, strength and skill makes him an efficient scorer and effective playmaker from the power forward position. Griffin averaged 22.8 points per game last season and shot 33.6 percent from three-point range on a career-high two attempts per game. If Griffin can improve his three-point shooting even by just a few percentage points, it will force opponents to guard him more closely on the perimeter, which could open up more opportunities to attack the basket off the dribble. Additionally, Griffin is still one of the best playmaking power forwards in the league. Last season, Griffin averaged 5.2 assists per game – a number that could easily increase this season with the exit of Paul. Griffin isn’t quite as physically explosive as he was earlier in his career, but with Paul out of the picture and a more refined offensive game, Griffin is in a position to take his game to another level. Much of the Clippers’ success this season will depend on how effectively Griffin can manage being the focal point on offense.

Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan

The Clippers have, for the most part, been an average-to-good defensive team over the last few seasons – thanks in large part to DeAndre Jordan. Jordan entered the league as a raw, physically gifted center. Over his career, he has steadily improved and refined his game. The result is Jordan is now one of the most physically gifted and effective defensive centers in the NBA. He’s still prone to making a few mental errors on most nights (biting on pump fakes, failing to rotate to help a teammate, etc.), but also consistently contests shots at the rim, blocks shots, rotates effectively on the perimeter and hauls in plenty of rebounds. Patrick Beverley comes in as a close second here, but Jordan anchoring the defense from the center position is arguably more important than Beverley’s perimeter defense.

Top Playmaker: Milos Teodosic

The Clippers signed Milos Teodosic to a partially-guaranteed, two-year $12.3 million contract (with a player option on the final season). Teodosic, 30 years old, has arguably been the best player in Europe over the last few years and is one of the best passers currently playing the game of basketball in any professional league. Teodosic spent the last few years playing for CSKA Moscow of the Russian League and VTB United League. NBA fans may not know much about Teodosic and many have likely never even seen him play before. However, if Teodosic’s game translates to the NBA, it won’t take long for NBA fans to take notice. Teodosic’s passing skills and court vision remind us of players like Steve Nash, John Stockton or perhaps even Jason Williams. Teodosic will struggle on the defensive end of the court, but expect him to quickly develop chemistry with his teammates on offense, especially the high-flying Griffin and Jordan.

Top Clutch Player: Danilo Gallinari

Danilo Gallinari isn’t generally considered to be one of the NBA’s top clutch players, but he has proven himself to be an effective scorer and playmaker in late game situations. Gallinari has suffered through knee and other injuries over his career but he is still a very capable scorer. He is a good spot up shooter, can score in isolation, in the post and gets to the free throw line frequently. Gallinari is also a good playmaker and is as much of a threat to create an easy scoring opportunity for a teammate as he is to score himself in a clutch situation. Gallinari probably looks to draw a foul too often in these situations, which can get him into trouble, but with the game on the line, he is probably the team’s best option to either get a bucket or create a scoring opportunity for a teammate.

The Unheralded Player: Patrick Beverley

Patrick Beverley has established a reputation for being one of the grittiest, tough-nosed point guards in the league. Whether he is facing off against Russell Westbrook or Ramon Sessions, Beverley is going to give maximum effort to lock down his opponent. His box score numbers won’t blow anyone away on most nights, but he will make the Clippers a better team and will often keep his opponents in check.

Best New Addition: Danilo Gallinari

Gallinari comes to Los Angeles at a hefty price, but he addresses several areas of need for the Clippers. Gallinari is probably better suited to play the power forward position at this point in his career, but he can still manage to play small forward as well. The Clippers have been in desperate need of a quality small forward and Gallinari should help in that regard. However, Gallinari’s ability to play power forward should allow the Clippers to create some interesting small ball lineups that, in theory, should be quite effective on offense. The issue with Gallinari is his health. Gallinari has only managed to play in 70 or more regular season games twice in his career and the last time was in the 2012-13 season. Gallinari is off to a bad start this season health wise as he injured his hand in an on-court altercation earlier this offseason.

— Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Jerry West

Jerry West has established himself as one of the best team architects in the NBA. West’s fingerprints are all over the Golden State Warriors, who have assembled and maintained one of the most talented rosters in NBA history. Looking for a new challenge, West agreed to join the Clippers as a consultant this offseason and his fingerprints already appear up and down the Clippers’ current roster. It can be argued that he should have opted for a complete rebuild after Paul left, rather than retooling the team’s roster on the fly. As impressive as the Clippers’ roster reconstruction has been this offseason, there’s a legitimate argument that they aren’t good enough to win a championship and too good to land into top-draft picks to rebuild with. While this may be the case, we trust West to make the necessary moves to put the Clippers in a position to be successful.

2. Patrick Beverley

The Clippers are in search of a new identity and culture, which is something Beverley can have a big impact on. Earlier this offseason, Beverley said that he hoped his effort and approach to the game would have a positive effect on his teammates and give the team a new identity.

“Me providing the leadership I provide. Trying to change the culture a little bit,” Beverley said. “You think of L.A. and you think of lights, camera, action. All of that is fun for sure. But at the end of the day, they judge you by wins and losses and how hard you play, and how you putting on for the city. If I can just be fortunate to bring my culture to the team, try to change the culture a little bit to kind of a blue collar, grit and grind kind of team and potentially make the playoffs and when you make the playoffs, anything can happen.”

The Clippers have a reputation for complaining to the officials too often and falling short of expectations. If the team adopts Beverley’s hard-nosed approach to the game and learns to stay away from the officials (or at least tone it down), their reputation across the league could transform quickly.

3. Blake Griffin

Despite the departure of CP3, Griffin returns to the Clippers on a max-contract with the hope of not only maintaining the team’s standard of play, but improving on it. It won’t be easy, however. Paul is still one of the best overall point guards in the league and has been the focal point of the team’s offense since he first put on a Clippers jersey. Griffin has the skills to thrive both as a scorer and playmaker, which will likely be on full display this season. Health has been a problem throughout Griffin’s career. With Paul gone, any time Griffin misses will be even more detrimental than it has been in past seasons (though Paul and Griffin played quite well over the years whenever the other was injured). If Griffin has better luck with health and thrives in the absence of Paul, Griffin could have a big season.

4. Sindarius Thornwell

The Clippers purchased the No. 48 pick in this year’s draft from the Milwaukee Bucks and used it on former South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell. Last season, Thornwell averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range. Thornwell earned First-Team All-SEC honors and was named the SEC Player of the Year. Thornwell, who played four years of college ball, does not have the upside of other prospects, but he was arguably college’s most productive player last season and brings youth, athleticism and skill to the Clippers. It’s not clear how Doc Rivers plans to utilize Thornwell with this year’s roster, but if he proves to be a reliable contributor, he would be a big boost for the Clippers.

— Jesse Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Clippers stayed above the NBA’s $99.1 million salary cap, re-signing Blake Griffin while sending Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets via sign and trade. By acquiring Danilo Gallinari and using most of their Mid-Level Exception on Milos Teodosic, Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans, the Clippers are hard-capped at $125.3 million. They’re close to that line with 14 guaranteed players, limiting their ability to use their $7.3 million trade exception for Paul, which expires in late June.

Before next season, DeAndre Jordan can opt out of his contract. If the Clippers stumble this season, they may be better off shopping Jordan instead of risking he leaves outright as a free agent. Before November, Los Angeles needs to decide on 2018-19 options for Sam Dekker and Brice Johnson. The Clippers could have a decent amount of cap room next July (roughly $35 million) but that relies on Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, Teodosic and Jordan all opting out.

— Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Depth. During the CP3 era, the Clippers constantly struggled to manufacture adequate depth on the roster. With three massive contracts between Paul, Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers had little flexibility to bolster the roster. Now, the Clippers have invested heavily in Gallinari and the other players acquired in the trade for Paul. The result of this is a deeper roster that doesn’t have as much top-end talent, but isn’t scrapping the bottom of the barrel for help either.

— Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

While the Clippers’ roster is deeper than it has been in years, the absence of Paul means the Clippers no longer have an elite Big 3 to build around. While other teams like the Warriors feature several superstar talents, the Clippers are down to Griffin and Jordan. Will these two be enough to carry the Clippers deep into the playoffs? It’s unclear what the duo and this new roster is capable of, but this season should be more interesting that recent seasons in Los Angeles.

— Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Should the Clippers have opted for a full rebuild rather than retooling on the fly after the loss of Chris Paul?

The Clippers had the opportunity to shed all of their major salaries and rebuild from the ground up. Rather than engaging in a Sam Hinkie style rebuild, the Clippers re-signed Griffin, invested in Gallinari and rounded out the roster with several veterans and young prospects with guaranteed salaries. The Clippers could still unload these players in trade if it’s clear this roster cannot compete with the elite teams of the league, but that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, the Clippers will likely earn a bottom-four seed in the Western Conference and will hope that moving forward they can bolster the roster through opportunistic trades, solid drafting and internal development. We will never truly know whether the Clippers would have been better off by engaging in a full rebuild, but if this teams falls flat this season, people will second guess the team’s offseason strategy to retool on the fly.

— Jesse Blancarte

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Indiana Pacers and Jarrod Uthoff Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto

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The Indiana Pacers and free agent forward Jarrod Uthoff have agreed to a one-year, partially guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Uthoff, who shot 46 percent from beyond the arc in the G-league last year before being called up by the Dallas Mavericks, gives Indiana 20 players heading into training camp.

Uthoff passed on EuroLeague offers as well as offers from three other NBA teams, Basketball Insiders has learned.

The 24-year-old forward averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game while playing in nine games for the Mavericks last season.

For more information on Indiana’s salary cap and roster situation, click here.

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Toronto Raptors 2017-18 Season Preview

The Toronto Raptors have made an enormous financial commitment to their roster, will it be enough to matter in the East? We take a look at the Raptors in this season preview.

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The band is back together in Toronto for another go at postseason glory. After re-signing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors bring back two of their top three scorers from last season and look poised to prey on the weak Eastern Conference in an attempt to finally unseat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With some fresh faces in the mix for Toronto, and hopefully full seasons from Lowry and Ibaka to pair with what appears to be the prime version of DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors are about to embark on what looks like their third consecutive 50-win season.

While the continuity and experience are there for the Raptors, will it finally be enough to get over the hump and past the Cavs? Only time will tell.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Toronto brought the gang back this summer to continue trying to take their shot at an NBA championship.

In retaining both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors kept their two biggest weapons alongside star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, effectively keeping their window of competition among the East’s best open. Despite keeping old faces around, the Raptors did manage to add some fresh blood into their equation, hoping to finally break through to the next level. C.J. Miles crosses the border into Toronto after a trade that sent Corey Joseph to the Indiana Pacers. The Raptors also added OG Anunboy in the first round of this year’s draft.

Whether the same core plus a few new sidekicks can help Toronto get passed Cleveland and Boston is still up for debate, and barring catastrophic injuries, probably unlikely. However, the Raptors will still be plenty competitive this season, as they have been for years now.

2nd place — Atlantic Division

— Dennis Chambers

It’s okay if you’ve started to get bored by the Toronto Raptors. There were no splashy moves this summer, which came after yet another uninspiring postseason showing. Kyle Lowry is awesome, and DeMar DeRozan is one of the league’s elite scorers at this point, but neither player has been all that great in the playoffs the last few years. Serge Ibaka doesn’t look as athletic as he did in Oklahoma City, and Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t appear to have much more ceiling to grow into. These guys are what they are at this point, and while the addition of C.J. Miles will help with three-point shooting a bit, there just wasn’t enough change here for me to think bigger things are coming. They’re a high playoff seed in the East, for sure, but it’s hard to expect much out of them in the postseason based on what we’ve seen from them in the recent past.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

— Joel Brigham

In what should be remembered as a fairly excellent summer, the Raptors were able to ride both sides of the competitive fence. They retained Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka – both on sizable contracts, but nothing ridiculous, and with only three-year terms to match the remaining guaranteed time on DeMar DeRozan’s deal. This means they’ve clearly identified this three-year period as their competitive window. They’ve also retained young talent on the roster, such as Norm Powell, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and 2017 draftee O.G. Anunoby. They’re set for both the present and future.

Whether the present side is enough to get them over the hump and into an NBA Finals remains to be seen, and feels unlikely for now. The Raptors did add shooter C.J. Miles, but they also lost both Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll. Unless the playoffs bring some new answers for the Clevelands and Bostons of the world, they could be in roughly the same competitive spot a year from now.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

— Ben Dowsett

After clocking “only” 51 wins last season, the Raptors saw a fairly impressive streak come to an end—it was the first time since the conclusion of the 2011 season that the team failed to increase their prior season’s win total.

The team also saw their three-year reign atop the Atlantic Division come to a halt, as the Celtics managed to finish two games ahead of them in the standings.

At this point, most people believe that the Raptors have peaked, and I’d tend to agree. DeMar DeRozan remains one of the more underrated shooting guards in the league, and at 28 years old, he probably hasn’t played his best basketball yet. The same can’t be said of Kyle Lowry, however, as he will turn 32 years old in March. The most interesting thing to see as it relates to the Raptors is the extent to which the minutes created by DeMarre Carroll’s trade to Brooklyn impacts some of the younger players on the roster. If rookie OG Anunoby hits the ground running or if Jonas Valanciunas or Norman Powell take a significant stride forward and become stars, then maybe the Raptors will have a chance to fight for something other than a berth in the second round of the playoffs.

If not, though, we’ve likely already seen the best of this group, and we’ve likely seen their reign atop the Atlantic end.

2nd place — Atlantic Division

— Moke Hamilton

The Raptors did well to retain their most important players this offseason and structure their contracts in a way that allows Toronto to go in a different direction in three years, should it become necessary. For now, the Raptors seem destined to remain a tier below the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss of Patrick Patterson may have more of an impact on Toronto than most predict, but the addition of C.J. Miles will add some much needed floor-spacing. Toronto is going to have to hope that some of its younger players have improved enough so that they can effectively fill the roles that veterans like DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph , Patterson and P.J.Tucker held last season. Even if the Raptors’ younger players step up, it won’t amount to anything unless Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan find a way to perform at their usual levels during the postseason. For a variety of reasons, both star guards have struggled to make the kind of impact that are expected of them in the games that matter most. Until they figure out how to overcome this, the Raptors can’t hope to compete with Boston or Cleveland, regardless of how well the rest of their players perform. Also, can we please get more playing time and a bigger role for Norman Powell?

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

— Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player – DeMar DeRozan

Now in the midst of his prime and coming off of a career year, DeMar DeRozan has separated himself from Kyle Lowry to become the clear-cut top option on offense.

Last season, while Lowry struggled with injuries, DeRozan found himself as the head honcho of the Toronto Raptors’ offense. Scoring a career-high 27.3 points per game was one thing, but DeRozan dominated the ball on offense and turned in a massive 34.3 percent usage rate. Much is known about DeRozan’s inability to connect from downtown, and he shot his worst percentage from beyond the arc last season since 2011-12. However, his ability to cut defenders up in the midrange is unparalleled and slowly, but surely, that skill is becoming a lost art in today’s NBA. But DeRozan makes it work.

With a healthy (and paid) Lowry, plus a few more options that can shoot from outside, DeRozan should be fully capable of replicating his career year this season using the extra lane space at his disposal. If the Raptors expect to trade punches with the big dogs of the Eastern Conference, they’ll need a big year from their star shooting guard.

Top Defensive Player – Jonas Valanciunas

While DeRozan carries the torch for the Raptors on offense, their defensive anchor comes in the form of 7-foot center Jonas Valanciunas.

In the age of small ball and shooting from deep, Valanciunas provides a little blast to the past for the Raptors in the way he uses his large frame to take up space and plug up the middle of the lane. Last season, Valanciunas led Toronto in Defensive Win Shares with three, and was second on the team in Defensive Rating, posting a 105 in that category.

Along with being the team’s anchor defensively, Valanciunas is the Raptors top defensive rebounder as well. So, after the big man does his job in terms of affecting the opponent’s ability to score, he’ll rip down the loose ball as well to turn it back over to the Toronto offense.

With multiple 20-point scorers and capable shooters on the roster up across the border, the defense hinges itself on the 7-footer from Lithuania.

Top Playmaker – Kyle Lowry

For the last five seasons, the Raptors’ top playmaker has been the same guy. And this summer, Toronto made sure that same guy would bear this title for at least three more seasons.

Kyle Lowry is the catalyst behind the Raptors offense that again holds the task of trying to dethrone the Cleveland Cavaliers and battle with the Boston Celtics for Eastern Conference supremacy.

While battling injury last season limited Lowry to just 60 regular season games allowed DeMar DeRozan to explode his scoring total, the Raptors offense as a whole felt the effects of losing their starting point guard. When Lowry wasn’t on the court for Toronto, their Offensive Rating dropped from an impressive 115.9 down to a 108.1.

Lowry doesn’t just represent the Raptors’ point guard and leader in assists when he’s on the court for Toronto; their offense as a whole surges from his ability to score efficiently at all levels and operate the unit as a well-oiled machine.

Top Clutch Player – DeMar DeRozan

As the Raptors’ alpha dog on offense, it’s generally a good bet to place the ball in DeRozan’s hands come crunch time as well.

Last year, as noted, DeRozan had a lot of time to himself on offense. As a result, he logged a decent amount of minutes in the “clutch time” of games. Of the 41 games that DeRozan and the Raptors were in a “clutch” situation (either the 4th quarter or overtime with less than five minutes left with either team’s lead being less than five), Toronto was 22-19. DeRozan himself managed 3.6 points in 3.4 minutes of those particular situations, good for 14th best in the entire NBA.

When the game is on the line for the Raptors, their best bet is to get it to their best scorer and let him go win the game.

The Unheralded Player – Norman Powell

When the star backcourt players for Toronto need to catch their breath, Norman Powell is waiting in the wings to pick up their slack.

Playing just 18 minutes a game last season, Powell managed to score 8.4 points per game and provided the Raptors with a much-needed scoring punch off of the bench. In just his second season, Powell saw a serious increase in action as he began to consistently prove his worth in the Raptors’ second unit.

Without the name recognition or the big contract that some of the other Toronto backcourt members possess, Powell tends to fly under some radars in terms of attention paid to. However, with another year and a bigger role under his belt, the Raptors’ bench scoring dynamo could see himself get even more opportunities this season. Judging from the track record, Powell will be right there to produce when called upon, too.

Best New Addition – C.J. Miles

Coming over in a trade from the Indiana Pacers, C.J. Miles represents the Raptors best new piece this season.

With Miles’ ability to score from the outside and play multiple wing positions, he adds a level of versatility and relief to Lowry and DeRozan that they didn’t have last season. Playing alongside two potent scorers like the backcourt duo in Toronto, Miles should be able to hoist open jumpers on more than a few occasions this season. After shooting 41.3 percent in Indiana last year running beside Paul George, there’s cause for belief that Miles can provide similar consistency up north.

While the Raptors posted one of the best offensive ratings in the league last season, they still were relatively average when it came to shooting three-pointers. As the rest of the NBA begins to adopt the long-ball mentality, Miles is the perfect addition to a Raptors team that is looking to make a deep playoff run.

— Dennis Chambers

WHO WE LIKE

1. Masai Ujiri 

For another year, the Raptors’ general manager has kept the team relevant among the league’s powerhouse clubs. By signing Kyle Lowry to an extension, bringing back Serge Ibaka, acquiring the likes of C.J. Miles and drafting OG Anunoby, Ujiri allowed his franchise another season to make a deep playoff run.

Instead of bolting from beyond the border to the New York Knicks front office opening, Ujiri stayed put to man the fort he’d built into a legitimate contender in the East. And instead of letting some of his core players walk, Ujiri ponied up the necessary cash to keep the wheel turning in Toronto for at least a few more years.

Ujiri may never become the architect of a team that wins a title in Toronto, but he for sure has been the builder of one of the most successful stretches in franchise history.

2. O.G. Anunoby

Before tearing his ACL during his sophomore season at Indiana, O.G. Anunoby was regarded as a potential lottery pick in last June’s NBA Draft. Instead, he wound up falling due to injury and the Raptors snatched him up with the No. 23 pick.

If Anunoby returns to form though, he could present himself as an important perimeter option defensively for the Raptors. Standing at 6-foot-8, Anunoby measures out a 7-foot-2 wingspan, making his length and athletic explosiveness a combination that’s hard to get around. As a freshman at Indiana, Anunoby was responsible for guarding Jamal Murray during a NCAA Tournament matchup. The Hoosiers won that game, and Anunoby forced Murray to shoot 1-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Anunoby is a project, and coming off of injury doesn’t help that, but if he can put the health concerns behind him and develop the way Toronto is hoping he can, Anunoby could potentially wind up as the steal of the 2017 draft.

3. Dwane Casey

Dwane Casey has been responsible for shaping the Raptors into the contender that they have been over the last four years. While Ujiri has consistently placed upgrades and quality pieces in Casey’s hands, he’s ultimately been the one in charge of putting them all together to make it work.

And he’s done just that.

Over the course of the last four seasons, Casey’s lowest win total with Toronto is 48 wins, back in 2013-14. Since then, and coupled with the emergence of DeRozan and his pairing with Lowry, the Raptors have been a force to be reckoned with amongst the teams in the East (not named the Cavaliers). While Casey has never gotten the Raptors over that final hump — let’s be honest, there’s not much he can do about LeBron James — he’s consistently taken his team deep into the postseason and made them a more than watchable product.

What the Raptors have in Casey is a leader who is more than capable of meshing egos, game-planning at an elite level, and placing his team and players in a position to compete night in, and night out.

4. Norman Powell

The proverbial underdog on the Raptors squad, Norman Powell put himself on the map last postseason.

After turning in a strong sophomore campaign, Powell was asked to step into the starting lineup amid injury problems for five games during Toronto’s last playoff run, and boy did he answer the call. In just 25.2 minutes a night during the playoffs, Powell managed to score 11.7 points and shot a more than impressive 44.1 percent from downtown, giving the Raptors another scoring option that they needed with an ailing Lowry.

While on the court for the Raptors in the playoffs, Powell helped the team spike their Offensive Rating from 101.7 to 107.9. At just 23 years old, and through only two NBA seasons, Powell performed beyond his years for Toronto in the playoffs.

Heading into this season, Powell seems to have already earned his stripes and could be in position for another jump in production this season. Should he continue to develop, the Raptors may have another dangerous weapon to pair with their star-studded backcourt.

— Dennis Chambers

SALARY CAP 101

The Raptors are flirting with the NBA’s $119.3 million luxury tax threshold. Currently, they’re slightly over by a small margin, invested heavily in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Of the four, Valanciunas is the most likely to be moved, if Toronto can find a suitor. The team is hard-capped at $125.3 million, which may get in the way of the team utilizing their Bi-Annual Exception of $3.3 million. Similarly, Toronto won’t be able to use most of their sizable trade exceptions ($11.8 and $7.6 million) until next July.

Looking ahead, the Raptors project to be over next summer’s salary cap (estimated at $102 million). Both Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo are eligible for extensions, with an October 17 deadline. The team also needs to decide on 2018-19 options on Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam.

— Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

For a team that’s coming off of their fourth straight playoff run, the Raptors are loaded with experience. Simply put, they’ve got a bunch of guys that have been there before and know what it takes to grind out the long NBA season and get themselves to May basketball.

With a core of DeRozan, Lowry, Ibaka, and Valanciunas, Toronto has guys in place that have experienced deep postseason runs. In a year where there could be some turnover of new teams at the bottom of the playoff standings, the Raptors could find themselves in a matchup with some fresh blood that may be too green to handle the moment.

What the Raptors do so well, especially in that aforementioned playoff scenario, is getting teams to commit fouls, shooting fouls in particular. Last season, Toronto was the best team in the league when it came to free throws per field goal attempt, where they averaged .233 per shot. By possessing the ability to wear down opponents and get them into foul trouble while simultaneously getting the opportunity for free points, the Raptors have a unique skill that will benefit them greatly come the postseason.

— Dennis Chambers

WEAKNESSES

Unfortunately for the Raptors, what they have in experience they lack in any real depth. Today’s NBA calls for its most elite contenders to have three, maybe even four, star players. Toronto has two bonafide stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Serge Ibaka is a nice player, but he’s no star.

Last season, the Raptors had just four players average double-figures (not counting Terrence Ross who now plays in Orlando). Those scorers weren’t even spread out, either. DeRozan averaged 27 points, Lowry 22, Ibaka scored 14, and Jonas Valanciunas pitched in 12 points a night. After that, it drops off the Raptors. Trying to beat teams like Cleveland and Boston who are going to have a bevy of players who can drop 20 points in a blink of an eye is going to be a challenge should either one of Toronto’s star guards have an off-shooting night.

Along with their lack of star power, the Raptors are an average three-point shooting team at best, and in today’s league that’s just not good enough. Last season, Toronto ranked 21st in three-pointers made and 22nd in attempts. Luckily for them, their efficiency in taking those shots was decent, with a team average of 36.3 percent. With Lowry back at full health and the addition of C.J. Miles, hopefully, the Raptors can improve their outside shooting. Otherwise, they may not be able to produce those quick big-time runs the rest of the league seems to be adopting.

— Dennis Chambers

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Toronto Raptors finally get themselves over the hill with their current core and past the Cleveland Cavaliers?

How do I say this nicely? No.

Listen, while the Toronto Raptors are a very good basketball team, they lack some of the key ingredients to truly break through to that next level. Unfortunately for them, there’s not much they can do about it. They don’t have the cap space or the assets to acquire that crucial third-star player, and the duo of DeRozan and Lowry isn’t quite good enough to hang banners in Air Canada Centre.

More than anything though, it’s just bad timing. The Raptors impressive core and stretch of good basketball hits the brick wall otherwise known as LeBron James year after year. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it’ll never be enough to take down one of the great ones.

— Dennis Chambers

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