Free Agency Cometh
The 2018 NBA Agency window will come open this Sunday, and while there won’t be the huge influx of cap money we have seen in the previous two off-seasons, there will be roughly eight NBA teams with major cap money to play with, if they so choose. There will be some teams looking to land big fish with big dollar deal, but it won’t be the same kind of windfall we’ve seen in previous seasons.
While it is unlikely we’ll see some of the silly spending of season’s past, there are some names to watch as free agency opens. Here are some of the more notable guys, and what the trending belief in NBA circles is suggesting may play out.
DeMarcus Cousins – New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans big man DeMarcus Cousins has been documenting his recovery from a January left Achilles tendon tear on social media, illustrating his process. His injury status is going to weigh big in his ability to command a huge contract offer on the open market for a couple of significant reasons. The biggest being that no one knows how the injury will impact his performance on the floor and he won’t be anywhere close to ready to workout or showcase.
The other major factor that looms over Cousins’ free agency is his rocky and tumultuous history. There are NBA teams that simply won’t consider Cousins because of his history despite having a pretty solid run with very few issues in New Orleans.
League sources peg the Dallas Mavericks as the likely suitor to set a price on Cousins, with New Orleans having the advantage regarding being able to exceed the salary cap and offer larger annual raises, even if a deal is shorter in length.
The prevailing thought in NBA circles is that Cousins may agree to an offer similar to what Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid agreed to, which is an elaborate deal with guarantee triggers and exit language if Cousins is not able to return to form.
There has been speculation about Cousins agreeing to shorter-term lower dollar deal to join a desired destination and prove himself on a winner, but league sources continue to doubt that’s what will play out.
If Cousins is genuinely[SK1] willing to accept fewer guaranteed years to re-establish himself as one of the league dominate big men, that could bode well, as the Pelicans are said to be more than willing to re-sign Cousins.
Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic
Several weeks ago, it seemed likely that the Orlando Magic would give pause to re-signing would-be restricted free agent Aaron Gordon on a massive deal. However, with the 2018 NBA Draft in the rear-view mirror, there are more and more indications that re-signing Gordon is simply a formality.
There is a chance that one of the cap space teams makes an aggressive offer to Gordon, but with the Sacramento Kings drafting Marvin Bagley III and the Phoenix Suns nabbing DeAndre Ayton with the top picks, two of the expected suitors for Gordon seem less likely, mainly because of the role each newly drafted rookie is expected to play.
One could argue Gordon could fit in next to those guys, but league sources say with marquee rookies in hand, the odds of a max level offer to Gordon seems remote and unlikely.
Sources close to the Magic have maintained for some time that re-signing Gordon was more likely than not, offering that the only limitation would be a max-level offer. With it seeming more and more unlikely that max money is coming Gordon’s way, the notion of Gordon being back in Orlando next season seems increasingly more likely.
Chris Paul – Houston Rockets
There were reports recently suggesting that would-be Rocket’s free agent Chris Paul and management in Houston were not on the same page regarding a new contract.
While the Rockets were always precluded from offering a deal beyond Paul’s current deal, most in NBA circles believe that Paul agreed to opt-in last summer with the implied understanding Houston would make good to him this summer with a whopper of a new contract.
The problem for Paul is that ownership has changed in Houston, and while the Rockets had a history of extreme spending when it made sense, there is a belief new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta may not be as open to what could be a massive $40 plus million final year on a max contract for Paul.
Since that story broke, sources near the situation have downplayed tensions between the Rockets and Paul, and that both were on course for a new deal.
Paul attended the NBA Award Show last night and had some fun with the notion there was a rift with the Rockets on social media. There are some realities to the contract situation, mainly that its highly unlikely anyone with cap space would offer Paul a full max offer, so why should the Rockets?
League sources see this situation playing out much as it did for Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry; neither got full max offers, but both got hefty new deals that shave a few million here and, in Lowry’s case, an extra year there.
Given Paul’s injury history, it may be hard for him to find an offer better than Houston is going to make, which is why league sources doubted the idea that he’d be anywhere but Houston next season.
Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers
The LA Lakers look to be the center of the free agent universe this summer, with what will likely be the most available cap space to offer, should they choose to renounce player rights.
For Lakers forward Julius Randle, this could be telling and important. League sources have said it is likely the Lakers will issue the required Qualifying Offer to secure Randle as a restricted free agent. The problem for Randle is the Lakers can and likely would pull that offer if they get the sense they need the cap space.
There has been a long-running belief that the Dallas Mavericks are more than prepared to set an aggressive free agent price on Randle, one that would make it nearly impossible for the Lakers to match and add two max-level free agents.
The lynchpin in all of this is Randle. While teams can make an offer, Randle is under no obligation to accept it, although he would run the risk of a team offering that money to someone else.
The prevailing thought around Randle is that his first choice is to be back with the Lakers, but he understands the situation and may be willing to give the Lakers a day or two into the process before he makes a decision.
What’s been said a few times is that Randle is not going to miss his window to secure his long-term future waiting on the Lakers, so there is a timing factor to all of this.
While Randle can verbally accept another team’s offer, he can’t physically sign it until July 6. The Lakers would have three days from receipt of the signed offer to decide to match or not match. So there is some time for all of it to play out if a major free agent like LeBron James takes his time deciding.
Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder
It was recently announced that Oklahoma City Thunder free agent Paul George was going to chronicle his free agent process in a behind-the-scenes way in a three-part series.
In early May there was a growing vibe that George might be leaning more towards a return to the Thunder than making his expected jump to the Lakers.
The narrative around that talk was that Paul has for the first time in a while had a supporting cast with other proven stars that didn’t require him to carry the full burden of the franchise. Despite getting bounced early in the post-season, the talk emanating from the situation was George believed the Thunder could be special, especially if they were able to get their players back healthy.
That was the talk in early May.
Now that the dust has settled, and the emotions of the season are in the rearview, there are more and more players that have been in George’s world saying the pendulum has swung back to the Lakers, and that signing a long-term max deal in LA with the Lakers seems more likely than not.
The Thunder are said to be open to structuring a deal in whatever way makes sense for George, including a one-and-one if he genuinely wants to try and make the Thunder work.
Its far from a lock that George is signing with the Lakers, but it does seem its more likely the Lakers or Thunder than any third team or scenario.
LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
Let’s be real about LeBron James’ future: No one really knows. If you talk to enough people, you will hear some very convincing arguments and opinions, but no one really knows.
In previous years when James was pondering his future, there were at least credible rumblings about his interest; this time around, none of it is coming from James’ side of the fence.
Word from NBA teams hoping to get a meeting is that the process will be very closed and very private. LeBron is unlikely to take many if any face to face meetings. There was talk of some conference calls if James wants to do that, but that most of the offers and situations would flow through James’ agents and he would make his decision.
No one is expecting a quick decision from James, and most teams are more than ready to wait out the process for a shot at the franchise changing talent that James is both on and off the court.
One thing that continues to surface regarding James is the understanding that regardless of what team he chooses, that team will be rebuilding around James in a win-now scenario. The idea of James playing mentor and teacher to a roster full of young guys for a year or two is misplaced.
The teams that would comment about James (and some wouldn’t touch it even on background) said no matter where he landed the next job, that front office would have to be ready to assemble an immediate contender, at whatever cost.
That may not sit well with fans of teams loaded with promising youth, but that’s the reality of getting in business with James, and that doesn’t look to be changing this go around either.
As we get closer to the opening of the floodgates, Basketball Insiders will have you covered with minute by minute coverage of all the deals the rumors, news and deals that get agreed to in our annual NBA Free Agency Diary. It will drop on Friday and be updated all the way through the moratorium.
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NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong
Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.
The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.
Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.
Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).
In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.
In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.
Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.
Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.
“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”
Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.
“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.
When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.
“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”
Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.
Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.
Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”
Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.
After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.
“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”
As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.
Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.
Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.
“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”
The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.
NBA Daily: Potential 10-Day Contract Players
Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few players who could be prime candidates for 10-day contracts.
January 5 was an important deadline in the NBA in that it marked the first day teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts.
Usually reserved for younger, unproven talent looking to get their first shot in the NBA, recently NBA veterans have started going the 10-day route to refresh their careers and get back in the league. For example, Corey Brewer just recently signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
These contracts are very beneficial for teams in that there’s essentially no risk, and the potential for a high reward. It’s a relatively cheap tryout for teams to get a quick look at players who can potentially be helpful. Best case scenario, they end up finding a solid contributor. If not, then the player is no longer with them after 10 days.
Here’s a look at a few players who could be candidates for a 10-day contract.
1. Willie Reed
The veteran big man has had his taste of the NBA. He began last season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. With the emergence of other players, however, his playing time decreased and he was ultimately traded to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade.
The Pistons then shipped him off to the Chicago Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and the Bulls proceeded to cut him. He ended up being the first overall pick of the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League.
This season with the Stars, he’s been one of the best big men in the G League. Reed has put up 20.1 points per game on 66.5 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s still a quality rotation player and could help a playoff team in need of some size off the bench.
2. John Jenkins
Another NBA veteran, Jenkins developed a reputation as a sharpshooter during his early years in the league, but didn’t do much else. His last appearance in the NBA was last season when he was brought to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks.
He ended up being one of the Hawks’ final cuts before the end of camp, and he subsequently chose to play overseas. He returned stateside this season, where he joined the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate.
Jenkins has had a very strong season thus far, putting up 24.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting, 42.8 percent from the three-point line, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Perhaps the biggest changes in his game have been his playmaking ability and his development into a more versatile scorer. Any team in need of some bench scoring should give him a look.
3. Anthony Bennett
Keeping with the trend of NBA veterans using 10-day contracts to get back to the league, the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft has begun to put people on notice this season.
Bennett last saw NBA minutes two season ago with the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t that bad during his stint in Brooklyn, but the Nets cut him almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. Aside from a brief stop overseas, Bennett has been playing in the G League.
This season with the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett has looked like he’s ready for another shot in the NBA. He’s been averaging a modest 13.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. One of the biggest additions to his game though has been his expanded shooting range. He’s knocking down 43.6 percent of this 5.1 three-point attempts. He’s worth another look for a team in need of a stretch big man.
4. Bruno Caboclo
Another player with NBA experience, it’s probably not fair to call Caboclo a veteran seeing that he rarely saw playing time in the league. When he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, his selection caused quite a bit of confusion, leading to Fran Fraschilla’s now famous quote of him being, “two years away from being two years away.”
Caboclo toiled on the Raptors’ bench for about four years before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He finally was able to see some minutes with the Kings, but still didn’t show much. The Houston Rockets invited him to training camp but ultimately cut him.
Caboclo joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate, and has since been showing that he may very well be worth a 10-day contract. He’s averaging 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. When he was drafted, the expectation was he’d develop into a 3&D wing but that didn’t happen. He’s looking much closer to that now. For a team in need of a wing defender who can shoot from distance, he’s worth a look.
Again, 10-day contracts have become a very valuable and inexpensive way for NBA teams to try out potential contributors. If the player pans out, then you have a relatively cheap guy in the rotation. If they don’t, you cut your losses after 10 days. It should be interesting to see if these vets are able to parlay their G League success into a path back to the NBA.
NBA Daily: Capela’s Injury is a Massive Setback for Houston
Clint Capela’s thumb injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Spencer Davies looks at the massive loss, who may get opportunities and what moves the Houston Rockets could make in response.
James Harden has a real challenge on his hands.
The Houston Rockets’ remarkable stretch from mid-December to the New Year behind the reigning MVP helped put them back in the middle of the playoff picture.
But he had a right-hand man—the same right-hand man who has emerged as a dominant two-way interior presence over the last three years under Mike D’Antoni—and that is Clint Capela.
Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Capela would be out for at least the next month with ligament damage in his right thumb. There’s a chance that the 24-year-old big man could get a second opinion from a hand specialist following the MRI he took Monday.
Before sustaining the injury in Orlando, Capela was having a career season with the Rockets on the offensive end, significantly up-ticking his previous year averages to an impressive 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in over 34 minutes per game.
At the bottom of the barrel in defensive rebounding (and 29th in total rebounds per game), Houston already struggles on the glass as it is. However, they are doing a solid job of preventing their opponents from crashing the boards. Taking Capela out of the equation hurts because of his fundamental ability.
According to NBA.com, the Rockets rebound the ball as a team 89.9 percent of the time when Capela boxes out under the basket. He averages six of them per game and the vast majority of those are coming on the defensive end. It’s a simple part of the game, yet such an important aspect for a group that struggles in that area.
With Capela sidelined, Houston loses its rim protector. While it may be true that he’s not having as much success as last year defending in the paint, he is one of only four players in the league seeing at least seven attempts per game within five feet or less. More importantly—anywhere on the floor—the Swiss center is a top five shot contester among all of his peers.
Offensively speaking, Harden might be the most disappointed. He and Capela have developed an incredibly impressive two-man game through the Beard’s ability to finish at the rim.
Using the pick-and-roll to their advantage, the opposing big often chooses to help his man cover Harden, leaving Capela there for the easy high-handoff. It’s a play this duo has literally executed at will, and it’s been made deadly over the last few seasons.
Couple that with the athleticism and precision both have—few teams stand a chance at stopping it. And, back to the battle of the boards, Capela pulls down five offensive rebounds per game and provides second chance opportunities consistently.
If you don’t get the picture, we’ll leave it at this—the Rockets have to do something to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. The postseason hunt cannot solely rest on the shoulders of Harden. He has accomplished unfathomable feats in his career and was the NBA’s 2017-18 Most Valuable Player, but this is another type of challenge.
Houston’s players are dropping like flies. Sure, Chris Paul is on the mend and likely to return soon, and the same could be said of Eric Gordon, but there is little depth in the frontcourt . They’re down to Nene, Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein as men in the middle. The rest are versatile forwards with the ability to play multiple positions, but not the one they need desperately at the moment.
We all know what Nene is capable of. That said, he’s not going to play 34 minutes per night at his age. In fact, the veteran has only eclipsed the 20-minute mark four times total in the last two seasons. There’s no doubt that he’ll give Houston a solid boost in spurts, but that’s likely not sustainable throughout the entirety of a game.
This writer is curious to see what Chriss does with the opportunity in front of him. It is fair to say that his athletic ability matches, or even supersedes, Capela’s, so the alley-oops will be there for him. However, these important questions remained unanswered: Can he screen? Can he rebound? Can he take the challenge?
Chriss was a top 10 draft pick not even three years ago. There’s a ton of potential that can be tapped into here. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they’re going to need to see growth and development quickly with little leeway for mistakes. They probably can’t depend on a raw 21-year-old prospect to steadily produce the way Capela has.
Hartenstein offers more size than both of those two and has played in 22 games this season. Still, he has only appeared in one contest since December 3. Hartenstein has taken advantage of his floor time, but the sample size is extremely small. Again, not nearly enough to fill the Capela void.
There are a few names out there that Houston general manager Daryl Morey could pursue.
Purely out of speculation, Bulls center Robin Lopez might be a good fit for a veteran squad and the organization is reportedly refusing to negotiate a buyout, so that may be worth paying attention to.
Hawks big man Dewayne Dedmon has quietly put together two impressive seasons in Atlanta. He’s a consistent player who fights for rebounds and gives a solid effort on the defensive end. And an extra attractive quality for D’Antoni—his expanded shooting range. John Collins has stated his own case for extra playing time with stellar play, so Dedmon probably won’t fit into the plans too much longer.
Tristan Thompson is giving his all with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He just returned from a foot injury and is getting back to the pre-injury version of himself. The 27-year-old is matching his career-high in points per game and is grabbing a career-best 11.2 rebounds per game to boot.
Like Capela, he is a monster on the offensive glass and excels at the fundamentals of the game with pick-and-roll situations and box outs. The only drawback to Thompson is his hefty, fully guaranteed salary, but he’s only on that deal for this year and the next.
With Cleveland looking to take on “bad” contracts with future assets attached, the Rockets should most definitely consider moving Brandon Knight or some other package along with a pick or two.
This is just a matter of spitballing a few names that might fit the bill for Houston. Heck, even if it’s a minor depth move, going out and getting an underutilized player like Skal Labissiere in Sacramento would make a difference to ensure the others aren’t winding themselves down with a huge increase in playing time.
Whatever the Rockets decide to do, the road to the playoffs has become a whole lot bumpier. Harden is going to have his work cut out for him LeBron James style a la 2017-18. We’re all anxious to see how he responds to such a challenge.
The past is the past—and CP3 was incredible for Houston last postseason—but it sure would be nice to have Montrezl Harrell around now, wouldn’t it?