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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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Brandon Paul Finally Gets His Shot

Brandon Paul spent the last four years trying to find a home in the NBA. Now he has one, and he’s making the best out of his opportunity.

Dennis Chambers

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Brandon Paul had just finished one of his more productive games in the Las Vegas Summer League. On July 10, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers — his third summer tour — Paul dropped 21 points against the Golden State Warriors.

After the game and back in the locker room, a text can across Paul’s phone from his agent, Adam Pensack reading, “Come out, ASAP.”

Unbeknownst to Paul at the time, Pensack was ready to deliver the news the 26-year-old shooting guard had been working his whole life to hear.

Paul was going to the NBA under a one-year guaranteed contract with the San Antonio Spurs.

“Adam works his ass off,” Paul told Basketball Insiders about his agent. “So I knew he had some things going on, and he was telling me there was a few teams in the mix, but it was not substantial just yet. But I knew once I saw those missed calls and stuff that something might have happened, there might have been some movement. I didn’t expect the news I got.”

The news that Paul wasn’t expecting was the exact news he returned to his third stint in the summer league for. After leaving the University of Illinois in 2013 as one of the Fighting Illini’s most accomplished players in school history, Paul set out to jump right to the Association.

But his story isn’t as linear as he may have hoped four years ago.

After going undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft, Paul joined the Minnesota Timberwolves for his first taste of summer league action. Unfortunately, his performance didn’t warrant a further deal. Instead, that August, Paul was packing his bags to head to Russia to play for BC Nizhny Novgorod.

By February of 2014, Paul was back in the states and his rights were acquired by the Canton Charge, Cleveland’s developmental team. Bouncing around from country to country trying to prove your worth is one scenario for a professional basketball player trying to make it. But with Paul, on top of working towards his shot, he fell under a string of bad luck that delayed his process.

Throughout the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Paul suffered a myriad of injuries that kept him out of the NBA conversation. Since regaining his health, and focusing on his craft, starting with a stint a Spain playing for Joventut Badalona, Paul’s journey culminated with a text message that made the four years of battling all worth it.

“I don’t know if there was doubt,” Paul said about his circumstances. “I think there was motivation, and I think there was a little bit of confusion as well. I had gone through so many injuries, part of myself wanted to question why this kept happening, but I just kept telling myself its all a part of the bigger picture. I think I can kind of sit around, and pout and be sad for myself, or I can continue to get better and prove to myself that I’m a tough player and I think I was able to do that.”

That level of perseverance led Paul to one of the most storied franchises in the NBA and under the tutelage of arguably the greatest coach the sport has ever seen, Gregg Popovich. Those qualities alone that led Paul to San Antonio bear a striking resemblance to the Spurs culture Popovich has cultivated.

The experience from bouncing around different leagues and different countries to ultimately landing in San Antonio has been a dream come true for Paul.

“Its been great, man,” Paul said. “I’m able to learn every day. I’m able to play with some of the best guys around the league. The staff is incredible, down from the interns to the head coach, to the front office guys, to the training staff, everyone just knows their role, it’s like a big family. Coach is going to put you in a position to be successful and guys want to be able to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Since arriving in San Antonio, Paul has seen himself fit into a multitude of roles. Some nights he’ll sit completely, sans a few minutes at the end of the game. Others he’ll play a large role as a reserve. Occasionally, including twice already this season, Paul will get a starting nod.

Adaptation isn’t something that Paul is new to. He’s spent almost every day since leaving college adapting to new surroundings, scenarios, or outcomes pertaining to his basketball life. To him, why should San Antonio be any different?

“It’s not tough at all,” Paul said. “I know my role out there, and I knew coming out of college that I was one of the few players who understood that 90 percent of the NBA is role players. So if you figure out your role, and you’re able to execute that role, you’re going to be a guy that can stick around in the league for a long time.”

Even after a lifetime spent playing basketball, Paul believes there are still things to learn every day when he goes to work. Understanding his role and situation, including his fluctuation of playing time, allows Paul to keep a sharp mind for the minutes he spends on the bench, rather than the court.

“It’s amazing man,” Paul said. “You’re able to learn from the best, see how things move, and when you’re not out there, it gives you a chance to kind of, not only be a fan but a student of the game. You can see what’s going on, and if your number gets called, you kind of adjust to what’s going on because you’ve seen it before, you’ve seen it happen throughout the game, you’ve seen guy’s tendencies. So just being able to come into this organization out of any, and to learn from that is truly a blessing.”

That day all the way back in July, when Pensack delivered Paul with the news of his contract, was an emotional first for the guard. Back then, there was time for jubilation and reflection. On Dec. 3, however, the next night of firsts for Paul in his NBA journey, there was no time to waste.

Paul would be getting his first career start, going up against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He wasn’t told a day in advance. He didn’t know at shootaround that morning. Instead, assistant coach Ettore Messina approached Paul during his pregame stretch and informed him about the lineup change.

This wasn’t July, though. The Spurs were in the middle of the season, and as Paul said, “you gotta be ready whenever.” That means, at most, a few minutes to let the butterflies take their course, and then it’s back to work.

“Yeah I think so,” Paul said of pre-start jitters. “But I kind of had to get over it, I can’t worry about it too much. I think that type of stuff ended pretty early in the season. After I started I played early on a decent amount of minutes, so I think that kind of helped get the butterflies out of there.”

The road that Paul took to get his chance in the NBA wasn’t the smoothest it could’ve been. For the 6-foot-4 shooting guard, maybe that’s the way it was supposed to happen. Paul refers to his opportunity with the San Antonio Spurs as a “blessing,” but with all the evidence laid out to consider, it’s safe to say Paul worked as hard as he may have been blessed.

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NBA Daily: Let The NBA Trade Chatter Begin

More than 95 NBA players become trade-eligible this week. Steve Kyler breaks them down.

Steve Kyler

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Let The Trade Chatter Begin

While NBA teams are always talking, whether aggressively or casually, the date most teams circle on the calendar to start really exploring trade options is December 15.

That’s mainly because that’s when the bulk of trade restrictions on players signed during the offseason to free agent deals lifts, but also because most teams have played 25 or more games.

While it’s easy to talk about trades, especially for teams that get off to a slow start, it’s also important to realize teams put in mountains of works assembling their rosters. That includes weeks and weeks of development and planning work, so rushing to tear it all up after a slow start isn’t always smart. Take the Cavaliers as a perfect example. The Cavs were 3-4 entering November looking dreadful, since then, the Cavs have gone 17-4.

Most teams want to give the roster they built a chance because change does not always equal improvement. However, as teams get to the 30-game mark, there is enough of a sample size to know where you stand, which is why trade talk tends to be lower until mid-December.

With more than 95 players becoming trade eligible tomorrow, trade talks are going to start to heat up.

NBA teams are prohibited from trading players signed during the offseason for 90 days or December 15th, whichever is greater.

Players who re-signed with the same team and received more than a 20 percent increase in salary from last season, are further restricted until January 15th.

Players that signed one-year deals with the same team, also gain the ability to veto trades, as do rookie scale players that signed a Qualifying Offer.

Equally, players who had free agent offer sheets matched, like Washington’s Otto Porter Jr., also gain veto rights for the first calendar year of their deal.

With all of that said, here is how the 2017 free agent trade eligibility breaks down:

Atlanta Hawks

Luke Babbitt
Dewayne Dedmon
Ersan Ilyasova (Veto Rights)
Mike Muscala (Veto Rights) 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Boston Celtics

Aron Baynes
Gordon Hayward
Shane Larkin
Daniel Theis 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Brooklyn Nets

Tyler Zeller 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Charlotte Hornets

Michael Carter-Williams
Julyan Stone 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Chicago Bulls

Justin Holiday

Trade Eligible January 15th

Cristiano Felicio
Nikola Mirotic  

Cleveland Cavaliers

Jose Calderon
Jeff Green
Derrick Rose

Trade Eligible January 15th

Kyle Korver

Dallas Mavericks

Maxi Kleber
Jeff Withey
Nerlens Noel (Veto Rights)
Dirk Nowitzki (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Denver Nuggets

Paul Millsap 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Mason Plumlee 

Detroit Pistons

Reggie Bullock
Langston Galloway
Eric Moreland
Anthony Tolliver 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Golden State Warriors

Nick Young
Omri Casspi
Zaza Pachulia (Veto Rights)
Kevin Durant (Veto Rights)
David West (Veto Rights)
JaVale McGee (Veto Rights)
 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Andre Iguodala
Shaun Livingston 

Houston Rockets

Tarik Black
Nene
Luc Mbah a Moute
P.J. Tucker
Troy Williams 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Indiana Pacers

Bojan Bogdanovic
Darren Collison
Damien Wilkins 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Los Angeles Clippers

Danilo Gallinari
Marshall Plumlee
Willie Reed
Milos Teodosic 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Blake Griffin 

Los Angeles Lakers

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Tyler Ennis
  

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Memphis Grizzlies

Mario Chalmers
Tyreke Evans
Ben McLemore
Wayne Selden
 

Trade Eligible January 15th

JaMychal Green 

Miami Heat

James Johnson
Jordan Mickey
Kelly Olynyk
Dion Waiters
Udonis Haslem (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Milwaukee Bucks

None

Trade Eligible January 15th

Tony Snell  

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jamal Crawford
Jeff Teague
Marcus Georges-Hunt
Taj Gibson
Shabazz Muhammad (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None   

New Orleans Pelicans

Tony Allen
Ian Clark
Darius Miller
Rajon Rondo

Trade Eligible January 15th

Jrue Holiday  

New York Knicks

Ron Baker
Michael Beasley
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Jarrett Jack
Ramon Sessions

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Oklahoma City Thunder

Raymond Felton
Patrick Patterson
Nick Collison (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

Andre Roberson  

Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo
Khem Birch
Shelvin Mack
Jonathon Simmons
Marreese Speights

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Philadelphia 76ers

Amir Johnson
J.J. Redick
Phoenix Suns
Alan Williams

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Phoenix Suns

Alan Williams

Trade Eligible January 15th

None   

Portland Trail Blazers

None 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter
George Hill
Zach Randolph 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

San Antonio Spurs

Pau Gasol
Rudy Gay
Manu Ginobili
Joffrey Lauvergne
Brandon Paul 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Patty Mills  

Toronto Raptors

Alfonzo McKinnie
C.J. Miles
  

Trade Eligible January 15th

Serge Ibaka
Kyle Lowry 

Utah Jazz

Jonas Jerebko
Royce O’Neale
Thabo Sefolosha
Ekpe Udoh 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Joe Ingles 

Washington Wizards

Jodie Meeks
Mike Scott 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Otto Porter (Veto Rights) 

Tracking all of these details is pretty tedious, which is what makes Basketball Insiders’ salary cap guru Eric Pincus so amazing. If you want to know more about each teams’ cap situation, make sure to check out the team links here for a detailed break down of every team’s cap position and restrictions.

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: One Year Later, Yogi Ferrell Continues To Rise

One year after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Yogi Ferrell is still thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.

Ben Nadeau

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It was never going to be easy for Yogi Ferrell.

At just 6-foot-0, there were major concerns about Ferrell and his ability to effectively contribute at the professional level, so the 24-year-old was a near-lock to go undrafted despite his impressive haul of collegiate honors. In 2016, he did not hear his name called on draft night — but for a gamer like Ferrell, pushing on was always the only option.

However, on this particularly cold mid-season evening, Ferrell sits at his locker and studies film on a tablet. He looks comfortable and focused as if he knows that this moment cannot be ripped away from him once again. Today, Ferrell is the Dallas Mavericks’ backup point guard and is settled into a steady role amongst a currently crowded backcourt. For Ferrell, he now finally has the life of an everyday NBA player.

But just over one year ago, Ferrell had to take the road less traveled to reach professional basketball for good.

“It was actually about this time [last year] when [the Nets] decided to waive me and I went back to Long Island,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t know I’d be here. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me and I’m just still trying to be here in Dallas.”

To be exact, the Brooklyn Nets waived Ferrell on December 8th, 2016. 365 days (and counting) later, Ferrell has earned his guaranteed contract but he’s still playing like he has something to prove.

* * * * * *

In order to fully understand Ferrell’s winding journey, it’s necessary to go back to where his story really kicked off: Summer league. Following a solid audition in Las Vegas — 8.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game — Ferrell was shifted to Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. With the offseason signings of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, plus the addition of rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, there was no room for Ferrell and he was the last man cut in training camp.

Before the Nets could even blink, Vasquez re-injured his problematic ankle just three games into the campaign, an ailment that would eventually require season-ending surgery. Lin, of course, lasted just two more games before a hamstring injury derailed the key free agent acquisition until deep into the season.

Out of nowhere, it was time for Ferrell.

After waiving Vasquez, the Nets signed Ferrell on November 9th — the same day as his NBA debut, where he logged five points and three assists in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. But as the Nets continued to free fall without their veteran point guards, Ferrell grew more confidently into his role and was a solid fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s three-point heavy rotation. Over 10 contests with Brooklyn, Ferrell tallied just 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15 minutes per game. Nonetheless, for a suddenly talent-deficient roster, it appeared as if the point guard was poised to stick around through the winter.

In a surprise twist of fate, the Nets waived Ferrell to sign Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially guaranteed three-year deal, opting to tie their future to a different G-League point guard instead. Just like that, it was back to Long Island for Ferrell — but surprisingly, it wasn’t something that he hung his head over for too long.

“I knew my next opportunity was going to come — I didn’t know when, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Ferrell said. “I had a great coach — coach [Ronald] Nored — and he told me to still go about my business as if I was still in the NBA. I didn’t get all the luxuries, but if you treat yourself like a pro, like you’re there now, once you get there, it’ll make it easier and you can make a splash.”

Upon returning to the G-League, Ferrell continued his hot streak and ended up averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds over a total of 18 games — both before and after his NBA call-up with the Nets. Ultimately, it wasn’t long before another franchise took notice of the enigmatic guard and the Mavericks capitalized, signing Ferrell to a 10-day contract while both Deron Williams and Devin Harris were hampered by injury. His debut with Dallas saw Ferrell tally nine points and seven assists in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker — but somehow, that was only the beginning

Affectionately nicknamed Yogi-Mania — a play on Linsanity, Lin’s historic stretch with the Knicks back in 2012 — Ferrell re-joined the NBA red-hot, even leading Dallas to back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. Quickly thereafter, Ferrell signed a multi-year deal with Dallas and then promptly torched the Portland Trail Blazers for nine three-pointers and a total of 32 points. Over his initial two-week stretch with the Mavericks, Ferrell scored 10 or more points in seven of his first nine games and made a serious claim for a permanent spot in the rotation.

Of course, the multi-year contract offered Ferrell something else he hadn’t yet experienced in the NBA: Job security. After Ferrell’s team option was picked up last June, he was happy to have a role with the Mavericks once again, no matter how big or small. Without the worry of being on borrowed time, Ferrell was able to train, learn the system and embrace of the city of Dallas during the offseason.

“The offseason was pretty good, I played summer league with some of the young guys,” Ferrell said. “It was great to work every day and get to know the coaches better, the area of Dallas better. Headed into training camp, I just wanted to work on my game and I had lot more confidence.”

One of those coaches he’s gotten to know better is Rick Carlisle, an old-school guard that has found success as both a player and coach. Under Carlisle, Ferrell is averaging 9.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 42.5 percent from the floor — numbers slightly below his Yogi-Mania marks, but he’s consistently reliable in a way the Mavericks so badly need. Additionally, Ferrell has garnered 28.3 minutes per game so far as a sophomore, good for the third-highest total on the entire roster. Ferrell, who was in the G-League at this time last year, has merited more playing time than any other point guard on the team — a list that includes rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (28.1), J.J. Barea (22.5), and the aforementioned Harris (18.9).

For Ferrell, much of his second-year successes have come from simply putting Carlisle’s words of wisdom into action.

“He’s just always telling me to be a threat,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders of Carlisle. “First of all, be a threat to score because that’s what opens up everything else. If you’re pushing the pace and getting in the paint, attacking, especially for somebody like myself in my position. You want to just cause 2-on-1s and kicks and find whatever the defense gives us.”

While Yogi-Mania was built off of an electric career-altering hot streak, Ferrell has been a contributor this season in a more dependable, experienced way. Building off the All-NBA Rookie Second Team berth Ferrell earned in just 36 games with Dallas last season, the point guard is now often one of the first guards off the bench, a role that Barea has long excelled in. The comparisons between Ferrell and Barea are all too obvious, the latter being another 6-foot-nothing guard that carved out a 12-year career after going undrafted in 2006.

During the Mavericks’ championship-winning playoff run in 2011, Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists, including massive back-to-back 15-plus point outings in Dallas’ series-defining Game 5 and 6 victories. While tearing up the NBA Finals is undoubtedly a long-term goal for Ferrell, he’s just thankful to have teammates like Barea and Harris to learn from on and off the court.

“I always say that I like watching them, especially how they play,” Ferrell said. “I try to mimic the older guys, Devin and J.J., they’re so synced together when they play, it’s something special to watch. I just try to go out there and mimic what they do, they’ve been successful at it and been in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to learn from guys like them.”

* * * * * *

Precisely, it’s been 370 days since Ferrell was first waived by Brooklyn and found success at the NBA level that little believed was possible. Not one to let an obstacle get in his way, Ferrell went undrafted and still managed to earn a multi-year contract before he even hit 20 career appearances. For his dominating stretch in the G-League last season, Ferrell was named an All-Star — although he was too busy with Dallas to attend the festivities — and he still went on to earn a spot with the All-NBA Rookie Second Team as well.

Overcoming roadblocks and adversity at every turn, it’d be easy to now exhale and relax — after all, his contract is currently guaranteed and he’s got a solidified role in an NBA rotation — but Ferrell, forever hungry, isn’t ready to stop there. Staying motivated isn’t difficult for Ferrell because he knows that much of his journey is still left in front of him and he’s ready to keep climbing upward.

“I’m a winner, I came from a winning program,” Ferrell said. “My mentality is still to prove that I belong here. I just want to win, that’s it.”

For Ferrell, this isn’t the end of an underdog story — this is just the beginning of something even greater.

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