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NBA AM: Will They Keep The Restricted Free Agents?

The Bulls, Magic and Thunder have some potential free agents that may be hard to keep.

Steve Kyler

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The Future Restricted:  NBA teams have a window that opens in July and runs through the end of October to reach contract extensions with their rookie scale players entering their fourth season. For the most part, a small handful of deals get done every year and this year was no exception. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was the first to ink a deal, and several others followed.

There were, however, three players in very different situations that tried to reach a deal and ultimately did not, making them free agents in July. All three players are likely to receive the necessary qualifying offer sheets to make them restricted free agents. Here is where things stand today:

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls, $3.013 Million Qualifying Offer

The Bulls and Butler negotiated off and on all summer, ultimately arriving at an 11th hour offer in the $11 million range per season on a four-year deal. The contract talks were cordial and respectful; both sides genuinely tried to make a deal. Ultimately, Butler saw that the Bulls’ valuation was based more on his performance last year than what his potential going forward could be. Between having confidence in himself and what others in the marketplace started to receive in contracts, Butler decided to leave some $44 million in guaranteed money on the table and bet on himself.

So far, with his play this season, that bet is looking pretty good.

Butler is averaging 21.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 48.8 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent shooting from three-point range.

So what does that mean for the Bulls going forward?

Both sides still very much want to continue the relationship, so there is not a sense that Butler is going to try and find a deal Chicago won’t match. However, not reaching a deal does motivate Butler’s representation to find a significant offer.

While Butler likely gets issued the $3.013 million qualifying offer, he does carry a cap hold of $5.021 million. The Bulls are sitting on $60.16 million in guaranteed salaries, and will likely be a lot closer to $66-67 million in cap commits when they open free agency, meaning they will likely not have cap space.

This is important because not having cap space means the Bulls will get their two salary cap exceptions, which is important to their stance on Butler’s free agency.

If the Bulls opt not to match an offer sheet to Butler for whatever reason, the best they can do in finding a replacement player is the mid-level salary cap exception, set to be worth a bit more than the $5.3 million it is valued at today.

So, it will not be a case of giving the money to Butler or choosing to spend that kind of money on another player. They can either spend on Butler or try and replace him on the cheap if they cannot construct a sign-and-trade deal.

The Bulls as a franchise have been luxury tax adverse; however, matching a major offer to Butler does not mean the Bulls have to be a tax payer. They can, and likely would, look to reduce their tax exposure at some point in trade.

It’s pretty clear Butler made a good decision betting on himself. He is likely going to draw a serious $55-$65 million offer sheet in July. It’s very likely the Bulls will match such an offer sheet, but it’s far from a given.

The Bulls will have to decide if Butler is really worth the long-term salary he’ll command in free agency or if they want to try and replace him in free agency with an exception.

The good news for Bulls fans is there really is nothing stopping Chicago from matching an offer on Butler, even one all the way to the NBA’s max contract amount of $16.57 million in the first year.

The question is will they? That’s unclear at this point.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic, $$3.394 Million Qualifying Offer

Unlike Butler, Harris and the Magic never really negotiated. There was a single conversation that ended with the notion of talking again, and that never happened.

To be fair to the Magic, they really didn’t need to talk again as they have mountains of cap flexibility and a roster loaded with young players, many of which play the same position. They could afford to let Harris play out the season and see what he really means to them.

So far on the season Harris is posting career-best numbers across the board including 18.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on 47.6 percent field goal shooting and 43.4 percent three-point shooting.

Harris would have liked to have signed an extension to ensure he remained in Orlando. The Magic could have gotten something done with Harris in $12-$13 million per season range, but the Magic opted to wait and make sure that Harris is indeed that kind of player, not only in the marketplace but to them as a team.

The Magic will likely issue Harris the $3.39 million qualifying offer sheet to restrict his free agency. They have indicated as much to him.

Harris’ salary cap hold is worth $5.95 million. The Magic look to have $38.8 million in firm salary guarantees, and should enter free agency with a cap sitting at about $50-$52 million.

Unlike the Bulls, the Magic do have the cap space to decide if they want to spend what could be $13-$14 million on Harris on a different player. That is clearly an option for the Magic to weigh.

Harris’ camp is motivated to find an offer sheet in free agency and as one source pointed out, they are motivated to find an unfavorable offer sheet, as that would be the only way a team would issue one, knowing that Orlando might not match.

There is a sense that Orlando may play Harris’ restricted free agency in much the same way Phoenix and Detroit played the restricted free agency of Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe – by being extremely vocal that they would match anything offered.

Bledsoe and Monroe both struggled to get workable offer sheets because the other teams knew their home teams would match. Bledsoe ultimately reached a deal with Phoenix, while Monroe accepted the qualifying offer and is heading into unrestricted free agency, likely costing him $10-$12 million this season.

Harris and the Magic are saying all the right things. They both want the relationship to continue, but given how well Harris is playing, it’s pretty clear he’s going to land an offer sheet, likely in the $13-$14 million range. The question becomes will Orlando match something like that, or are they better served letting Harris walk and using their cap space later on down the road?

If that option is a serious possibility, then trading Harris before the February deadline has to be considered as well.

Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder, $3.222 Million Qualifying Offer

Jackson and the Thunder talked about a contract extension; however, they were unable to reach an agreement. Jackson’s camp wanted to see him compensated at the level of a starting point guard and based on the pacts that have gotten done, that’s a deal in the $10-$12 million per range. The Thunder opted to pass, not so much because they don’t believe Jackson is worth or worthy of being paid like a starter, but because they have their own cap constraints and believed the season was going to play out much differently than it has.

Jackson is posting career-best numbers across the board including 13 starts, 17.9 points, 6.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game.

The problem for Jackson is as good as he has been as a starter, he is showing some weaknesses, especially in the shooting department – logging 41.4 percent from the field and 24.3 percent from the three-point line.

Jackson has likely done well enough for himself to garner a serious offer in free agency; however, it’s unlikely that Jackson gets an offer on the high end of his positional range.

That could bode well for the Thunder, who do very much want to keep Jackson in the fold.

It’s highly likely that the Thunder issue Jackson the $3.22 million qualifying offer. Jackson carries a cap hold worth $5.51 million.

Much like the Bulls with Butler, the Thunder are very much a capped out team, so they will face the choice of matching an offer sheet in July or trying to replace Jackson with an existing roster player or with one of their salary cap exceptions.

There is an x-factor in this equation and that’s the uncertain future of Thunder star Kevin Durant. The Thunder already shipped off Durant’s good friend James Harden over a contract dispute. Jackson and Durant have become close; can the Thunder afford to ship off another friend the year before Durant can explore free agency?

The flip side to that, is do the Thunder want to be tied up with Jackson if Durant does the unthinkable and walks away?

This one likely comes down to what does Jackson get offered? If he gets the $8-$10 million kind of deal his play likely lands him, then that’s a deal the Thunder likely match.

If the offer becomes more significant, then there isn’t as much certainty on what Oklahoma City will do.

There is a sense that they want to keep him long-term, but given their cap position and where they are going forward tying themselves into Jackson on the wrong kind of deal might not make sense.

»In Related: Who Still Has Cap Salary Space? How About Cap Exceptions?

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, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

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: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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