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NBA AM: Who’s Got Next? – The GM Edition

As many as six NBA teams may look for new leadership this summer. Who might be called next?

Steve Kyler

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Who’s Got Next – The GM Edition

Every year for more than a decade I have quizzed a pool of agents, front office executives and even a few in the ownership circle of the NBA on which names should be considered as the “Next Guys” on both the NBA coaching and NBA front office front.

This year, more than any other, there is a growing sense that as many as six NBA teams could be looking for new leadership this summer. While six front office changes seems aggressive, even if only half make a change that could still be a big shift in the NBA, especially if the next hires come from existing teams.

Here are some of the names to know, as the topic of front office change starts to take center stage in the coming months.

Adam Simon – Miami HEAT

Simon is widely regarding in NBA circles as a quality evaluator of talent and a NBA-lifer, having spent more than 22 years in the HEAT organization, literally working his way up from an intern position. Simon has been a key driver in helping the HEAT discover talents like Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and a myriad of other diamond in the rough players the HEAT seems to find year-after-year. With a solid reputation in the agent community, a strong understanding of the collective barging agreement and the inner workings of the NBA, Simon continues to be one of the most frequently mentioned guys to watch in the “next GM” conversation. The HEAT have continued to put more responsibilities on Simon’s plate, so stealing him away from South Beach won’t be an easy conversation, but he is one of the names to know.

Tony Ronzone – Dallas Mavericks

Ronzone has been in the NBA for almost two decades, serving various roles with teams like the Pistons, the Timberwolves and currently the Mavericks. Ronzone is regarded as one of the more connected guys in the NBA, both domestically and internationally. With a vast network of relationships reaching into virtually every basketball league in the world, Ronzone embodies the “connected” concept; he knows everyone. Ronzone has served as Director of International Scouting for TEAM USA and has personal relationships with some of the top players in the game, as well as a solid reputation with the agent community. Known as a guy that can get things done. Ronzone has coached in China, was the National team coach for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. When it comes to X’s and O’s in the front office, there might not be a better “basketball guy” of the bunch. Ronzone makes the list of more insiders than not.

Matt Lloyd – Orlando Magic

While Magic Assistant General Manager Scott Perry gets a lot of press as a possible front office hire, the name more insiders mention is Matt Lloyd. Arriving in Orlando with current GM Rob Hennigan, Lloyd has a solid resume having worked his way up in the Chicago Bulls organization from a game-day staffer in the PR department to a senior manager position in the basketball operations department. In Orlando, Lloyd has developed a reputation as a hard worker, a solid and informed deal maker with agents and he’s as visible as almost anyone in the Magic front office, while scouting and evaluating talent. In terms of the “next guy,” Lloyd might be a sneaky play for an opening this year, especially if there is the expected upheaval in Orlando. Lloyd is well regarded in NBA circles and fits the young up-and-comer mold.

Marc Eversley – Philadelphia 76ers

Eversley makes this list every year, and is usually one of the unanimous names from virtually everyone sampled. Eversley started his basketball career with Nike on the sports marketing side before landing in Toronto with Bryan Colangelo. Eversley has held executives role with the Raptors, the Wizards and most recently with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he literally oversees the day-to-day of the team on many fronts. Viewed as a savvy and smart talent evaluator, Eversley has a reputation for putting in the work. He is visible at virtually every significant scouting event and regular attendee at the Sloan Sports Conference in Boston. Eversley might epitomize the profile of the “next GM.” He recently accepted a pretty solid role with the 76ers to anchor Bryan Colangelo’s staff, so he might not be obtainable this go around.

Tommy Sheppard – Washington Wizards

There may not be a nicer guy in basketball than Tommy Sheppard; “well regarded” does not give him credit. He is almost revered in NBA circles. Sheppard’s name comes up with almost every front office opening in the league and he has interviewed for a few of them. Sheppard has been with the Wizards for almost 15 years and is the guy that handles the day-to-day of the team, including managing the salary cap, deal making, scouting and running the draft process for Washington. Sheppard has a pretty solid gig in Washington, so it would take something special for him to consider leaving, especially with the Wizards on an upswing again. There may not be a more balanced and proven guy currently not completely running a team, which is likely why his name comes up anytime you discuss the topic.

Larry Harris – Golden State Warriors

Harris has held a GM position before running the Milwaukee Bucks. Harris, like many on this list, came up from the bottom, starting out as a video coordinator in Milwaukee before rising to assume almost every role on the operations side of the business. Harris joined the Warriors in 2008 and was an assistant coach for a year in 2008, before shifting to the scouting side. Harris has been the lead guy for the Warriors on the draft for a number of years, and while the Warriors make decisions as a group, Harris played big roles in landing Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and even current Warrior rookie Damian Jones. Harris has a strong basketball background and is well regarded in NBA circles. He has been grinding since the Bucks gig and is considered one of the more experienced options of the bunch. Harris has a solid and established gig with the Warriors, so it might take a solid situation to poach him away from a perennial Finals contender.

Troy Weaver – Oklahoma City

Weaver has a long history in basketball, starting his operations career as an assistant coach in college basketball before joining the Utah Jazz as a lead scout, eventually working his way up to Director of Player Personnel. Weaver joined the Thunder in 2010 and has served as Sam Presti’s right-hand guy ever since. Viewed as a “grinder” by many of his peers, Weaver has been mentioned and interviewed for a couple of opening over the last five years. It’s hard to assemble a list of “next guys” without Weaver on it. There is a prevailing thought that it would take a whopper of a situation to pry Weaver out of Oklahoma City, but his name should be on any list on this topic.

Jeff Weltman – Toronto Raptors

Weltman has a great front office resume, serving in roles for the Clipper, Pistons, Nuggets and Bucks before moving to Toronto with Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Weltman carries the title General Manager and handles all of the day-to-day for the team including the salary cap, scouting, working with agents and fleshing out the roster. Well regarded in NBA circles as a proven operator, it would take a great situation to pry Weltman out of Toronto. Regarding proven and polished guys that are ready to go, Weltman might be one of the best on the board.

Michael Zarren – Boston Celtics

Like Weltman, Boston’s Mike Zarren is considered one of the best and brightest. The problem with landing Zarren is he has a great gig with the Celtics and is widely considered to be Danny Ainge’s replacement if and when Danny decides to step back from the game. Zarren has interviewed with teams in the past only to pull out of consideration. It’s not out of the question that Zarren gets asked to interview, but it’s pretty unlikely he’d consider leaving the Celtics, where he has something of a cult following among the analytics community. While Zarren is known for his role in crafting the NBA Draft “wheel” concept, he is also a savvy dealmaker and negotiator and serves a General Counsel for the Celtics and does most of the contract and cap work in the front office.

While there are likely a dozen more names that could make a list like this including former executives like long-time Pacers and Bucks executive David Morway, recently released Laker GM Mitch Kupchak and long-time executive Jerry West [who may move on from the Warriors]. These names are the ones current insiders in basketball view as the next guys.

We’ll do the same exercise on the “next coaches” next week.

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, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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NBA Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk

Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.

Lang Greene

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In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.

There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.

The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.

The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.

But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.

Think about this for a moment.

While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.

Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.

Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.

Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.

At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.

Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.

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NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available

Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.

As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.

The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.

Available Restricted Free Agents:

Clint Capela

Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.

Rodney Hood

Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents:

Dwyane Wade

The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.

“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.

Honorable Mentions

A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.

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NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense

In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.

Dennis Chambers

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The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.

Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).

While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.

After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.

On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.

At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.

Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.

On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.

DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.

From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.

Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.

Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.

All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.

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