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NBA Daily: A Summer Of Bizarre Proportions

Everyone has been pretty entertained by what has transpired this summer, but this may have the been the strangest offseason we’ve come to witness, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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When Dwight Howard agreed to return to the Los Angeles Lakers, it was just fitting.

It’s not fitting because Dwight fits with the Lakers’ needs. It’s fitting because it’s yet another in what’s been a longline of bizarre storylines this offseason. Seriously, it’s been one after the next.

No, it’s not bizarre only because of Dwight’s disastrous tenure with the Lakers from six years prior. It’s bizarre because a case could be made that they really didn’t need Dwight. Or another center if we’re being completely honest.

Anthony Davis may not prefer playing center, but 96 percent of his minutes last year was played at the five. Also, remember the year before when the Pelicans went on that 21-11 run following both Demarcus Cousins’ Achilles’ injury and the acquisition of Nikola Mirotic? That all came from Davis playing center full-time.

And here’s a question you’d never think anyone would ask- Is it possible Javale McGee’s not getting enough credit? Statistically speaking, the guy is coming off the best season he’s had in years, and one of the best in his entire career. He and Davis should be good enough as far as center depth goes.

The rationale behind bringing Dwight back was replacing the tragically oft-injured DeMarcus Cousins. It makes sense, but the Lakers may not have needed Cousins either.

And that’s what’s happened throughout the summer. A lot of stuff happened garnered the reaction of, “Yeah… Okay, but-”

It’s hard to decipher exactly where to begin with this bizarre offseason. The best way to start would probably be the lack of a “superteam.”

With Golden State’s death lineup dissolving and only one current superstar to support LeBron James in LA, the NBA no longer has that designated “Big 3” anymore for the first time since 2010. There are certainly some well-designed teams. Truthfully, with all that transpired this summer, the NBA has the most its parity its seen in years. With no superteams assembled, there is no villain.

In fact, we’ve seen players actively defy the construct of an elite trio. Kawhi Leonard could have gone to the Lakers and formed possibly the most talented trio to ever grace professional basketball. Instead, he went to the Clippers, a team that had more widespread talent than the Lakers do. Instead of chasing rings with LeBron, Kawhi chose to continue running his own show.

The peculiar aspect of this new development has nothing to do with Kawhi going to the Clippers. It stems from the fact that we have become so used to these star players joining forces since “The Decision” that seeing them opt not to is now an entirely new feeling. Remember how astonished we were when LeBron went to Miami to form the Heatles? That’s how it felt when Kawhi had the opportunity to do the same and did the opposite… to a certain degree. Ahem, Paul George.

Where this defiance to be on a superteam gets really weird is what happened with Jimmy Butler. Butler was recently on the most talented team he’s ever played with. In Philadelphia, he could have played a supporting role on a team that has a legitimate chance to make the NBA Finals for the next several years. As we all had speculated for months and has now been confirmed, that’s not what Butler wanted.

Jimmy wanted his own team. When you’re a multi-time All-Star, that makes sense. But of all the teams he could have chosen, Miami wasn’t exactly screaming championship with that team.

The HEAT were a team firmly stuck in no-man’s land before Butler’s arrival. Dwyane Wade may want to try a career in sales now that he’s retired, because it was awfully impressive of him to sell his good friend Jimmy on the HEAT knowing the state that they are in.

Even after adding Butler, they may be a shoo-in to make the playoffs, but they don’t measure up to the top of my conference. Outside of Jimmy Buckets, Miami’s roster – while having some nice young talent – is not all that special.

So for now, it looks like the days of the superteam are dead. In light of this, we’ve seen teams try to add their own variation of what makes a superteam. By doing so, these results have continued the theme of bizarre.

Let’s start with Houston.

Despite Daryl Morey vowing that Chris Paul was staying in Houston – in retrospect, Oklahoma City wasn’t in firesale mode at the time – he shipped CP3, plus a boatload of picks, for Russell Westbrook. A trade that everyone at the time smirked at.

Westbrook is overpaid, not the most reliable shooter, and he does not have a lot of playoff success tied to his name since Kevin Durant deserted him. Compared to Paul however, he has more years left of his prime, is a better athlete and James Harden wanted to play with him.

Paul wasn’t getting any younger, and with Golden State down for the count, the Rockets needed a boost. If they were going to be overpaying for a star point guard, it had to be for one that can stay the same for the duration of his contract. That wasn’t happening with Paul.

This would have been a bizarre trade if it was just Westbrook for Paul straight-up, but the picks added to it only puts more pressure on both Houston and Westbrook to stay a Western Conference power. Talent-wise, this makes sense. Fit-wise, it’s a little hazy. We know why Houston did this. We also know why this could backfire.

Then there’s the 76ers. Their offseason was bizarre, but not because they swapped Butler for Josh Richardson, or that they paid Tobias Harris superstar money. Their offseason continued the theme of strange because they used their available cap space to bring in Al Horford.

Horford at 33 is still a great player. This writer has gushed about him in the past because of all the skills he brings to the court. He would have been a good addition for anyone, but since he’s best used as a center at this stage in his career, his fit in Philly, or next to Embiid, is not a great one.

When teams give players max contracts, it’s usually because they want the skills that player has on their team. The Sixers signing him to that contract may not have been about helping them as much it was about hurting the Celtics. Horford established himself as an Embiid stopper last season, so by taking him away from Boston, it knocks a division rival out of contention.

This next part should make you a little suspicious. Horford’s best position is center, but he’ll be playing at power forward. Harris’ best position is power forward, but he’ll be playing at small forward. If you put those guys in their natural positions, this is a team that fits perfectly around Ben Simmons. Not so much with Joel Embiid.

There has been a lot of talk from media outlets that maybe those two aren’t the best pairing. Bringing Horford to the city of Brotherly Love could be a hint that the Sixers believe the same.

Enough about the teams that hauled in some talent albeit perhaps not the right talent. There are teams that went through pivotal changes who, on paper, would change their fortunes for better or worse.

Boston would be a team that in the wake of what it’s lost, should be worse next season. The Celtics don’t have the same level of talent with Kyrie and Horford both gone. Since they underperformed with high expectations, is it crazy to say that, in a weaker Eastern Conference, they could be much better with lower expectations?

It wouldn’t have much to do with adding Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. We could see major improvements from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward when you take their performances last season into account. Expectations surrounding Boston are nebulous, but as a whole, they shouldn’t be completely ruled out.

A team whose expectations are a little more certain is Brooklyn. It wasn’t too long ago that if you added players as good as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, you were the biggest winners of the offseason. Brooklyn’s ceiling should be much higher after adding those three alone.

But are the Nets going to be much better? Kyrie turned his back on a good situation for the second time in his career. Is he going to be a good soldier with the Nets? Kevin Durant is likely not going to be playing this season. Will he be back to normal when he returns? DeAndre Jordan has looked like a shell of himself over the last two years. Is he magically going to return to form?

Even though the organization took necessary risks, Brooklyn may not be in the clear from adding those three.

It sounds weird that Boston and Brooklyn could go in completely different directions than what’s expected of them. We won’t know if the moves they made were the right moves, but even for the teams who seemingly made all the right moves, there was a hint of bizarre for their summers turned out.

The Clippers may have been the biggest winners of the offseason from what they brought in and what they kept. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can be your two best players on a championship team. Patrick Beverley, JaMychal Green, Ivica Zubac and Mo Harkless are guys you can surround your best players on a championship team.

The only oddity is that they invested so much in what could be a two-year window. All of their picks belong to Oklahoma City from now until 2026. Even if they win the next two championships, should both Leonard and George leave, this could blow up in their face much like it did for the Nets in 2013. The Clippers made excellent moves, but they paid a hefty price even if they are the title favorites.

The Jazz did absolutely nothing wrong as far as offseason moves go. For a team that needed upgrades in the playmaking, shooting and depth department, the boys in Salt Lake made all the moves that they should have. It’s really just where their priorities were at that comes into question.

Utah may have signed Bojan Bogdanovic, who should be an excellent fit next to its top tier players, but remember that the original target was Nikola Mirotic. They were going to pay him good money, too. Everyone in the Utah area has known about the team’s long-standing interest in Niko, but paying top dollar for him following a playoff performance so bad that Milwaukee benched him before being eliminated might’ve backfired.

Utah should count its lucky stars that Mirotic opted for long-term security overseas. Sure, it worked out for the best since the team got the better player in Bogdanovic, but the team’s fascination with Nikola when Bojan was the better option is sort of a weird subplot to an otherwise excellent summer.

The next abnormality in this summer came from teams that lost their best player(s). Usually losing an All-Star caliber talent or two is the worst fate possible in the summer. The following teams proved otherwise.

New Orleans lost Anthony Davis, the most talented big in the West. They lucked out when they won the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, but in order to avoid the same mistakes they made in the Davis era, new GM David Griffin chose to both rebuild and retool.

On top of Williamson, the Pelicans brought an ocean of promising youth in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. On top of that, they brought in solid veterans who should serve as good locker room mentor in the young guys like JJ Redick and Derrick Favors.

Losing a talent as generational as Anthony Davis would usually destroy a franchise, but for the Pelicans, they couldn’t be excited to move on. Should it also be brought up that they own the Lakers’ future too?

Oklahoma City lost both Westbrook and George. With them gone, this will be the worst Thunder team in a decade. Even if it’s not a contender, this team is currently in pretty decent shape.

CP3 may be declining, but he should be a good influence for Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. Danilo Gallinari will be in a contract year, and Steven Adams is still one of the toughest bigs in the league. As far as roster changes go, it could have gotten a lot worse for OKC.

Best of all, now Sam Presti is swimming in draft picks from LA, Houston, Miami and even Denver. No matter what direction they go in, we all know Presti’s reputation with draft picks. If we see him do his magic again, it shouldn’t be long before the Thunder are back in business.

Memphis lost Mike Conley Jr. not too long after losing Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies didn’t get the same returns that New Orleans and Oklahoma City did for their stars, and yet it had one of the better offseasons that it’s had in years.

The Grizzlies now have a ton of cap flexibility, accumulated a lot of draft assets, and if their summer league championship is indicative of anything, its that this new youth movement in Grind City could have something promising on its hands.

They may have effects from the Jeff Green trade still looming over their heads, but the Grizzlies can take solace in that- though Grit-and-Grind is dead – the future is alive and well in Memphis.

In a rare change of pace, the teams who had to trade their superstars seem to have embraced the next chapter in their franchise. The journey they took to get to this point may not have been the way they would have wanted, but their prospects look a lot better than anyone could have expected.

The final stamp of this bizarro offseason is looking at the reigning NBA champions. With the Toronto Raptors, we also saw something we’ve never seen in possibly the entire history of sports. We’ve never seen a player leave a team after leading one to a championship like we just did with Kawhi Leonard.

We’ve seen LeBron leave teams after making The Finals on two separate occasions. We’ve seen Michael Jordan retire from basketball after winning the finals on two separate occasions. We knew Kawhi had interest in going back home. It just seemed preposterous that he would leave Toronto after winning it all there.

Now that he’s left, the Raptors are going to be the weakest defending champion since the 2006 Miami HEAT. Canada can’t complain because Kawhi gave it his all for the Raptors and it paid off, but we may never see something like this happen again.

The NBA has never been immune to odd storylines. In the past 10 years, we’ve had the Chris Paul vetoed-trade, the DeAndre Jordan backstabbing in Dallas and even last year, we had the Colangelo drama in Philly. We’ve never seen the level of weird dialed up as high before.

Bizarre can make for some good entertainment. What we’re going to find out this season is if these changes will fit under “good bizarre” or “bad bizarre.”

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NBA Daily: Reacting To Bubble Headlines

Almost two weeks into the Bubble, Matt John gives his own take on some of the bigger headlines that have sprung up.

Matt John

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All of a sudden, we are almost at the end of Week Two inside the Bubble. We’ve actually had some pretty epic games, wouldn’t you say? We’ve also had some telling and high stakes games too. Now that our regular season is finally at its end, things are taking shape a little. Because of that, we’re seeing some major stories hit the newsstands over the past 11 days.

Instead of repeating last week’s formula, let’s focus on reacting to some of the more recent headlines we have seen since the

“Something Might Be Wrong With The Lakers!”

In their last seven games, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone only 3-4 and, upon deeper examination, they’ve only come up victorious twice since beating their crosstown rivals on Jul. 30. Since the Bubble commenced, they’ve put up the second-lowest offensive rating in the league – scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, only .1 points ahead of Washington. Additionally, they have the lowest net rating among teams that have clinched a playoff spot at minus-5.6.

LeBron James specifically has not looked like himself. Even when the Lakers beat the Clippers, he didn’t put up the best stat line – and since then, he hasn’t played at the same MVP-caliber pace. In his seven games, he’s averaged 22.8 points on 45/33/63 splits while coughing up 3.2 turnovers. Even at 35, we all know that’s a far cry from the numbers he was putting up during his MVP-worthy campaign.

Maybe he and the Lakers are mailing in the rest of the season, or maybe there is something more to these recent unwelcome struggles.

Do you know what the big conclusion to draw from this is? Yawn. If you know James, then you know that reports like these aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. We all should have gotten the picture with the King by now. No matter who he plays for, no matter how good his team is and no matter how much worse this episode looks compared to the last one, every year there’s always going to be some sort of drama going on. And how much does this impact LeBron’s team when the going gets tough? Nil.

It’s part of the LeBron deluxe package. There are going to be concerns. There are going to be questions. There are going to be doubts. That’s what it’s been like for the past 10+ years with any team led by the likes of LeBron James. The Lakers, as fantastic as they have been, were going to face it eventually. It just happened to be with the playoffs around the corner.

No matter because, with the exception of last year, LeBron’s teams have always made their way through the fire as he carried them over the hump. There’s no reason to think it won’t be the same with LA. Besides, how much did the Lakers honestly have to prove in the Bubble? There were really only two tasks at hand for them once the hiatus ended.

1. Beating the Clippers: Mission Accomplished
2. Getting the No. 1 seed in the loaded Western Conference: Mission Accomplished

After that, what else was there to play for? The drama could very well play into the playoffs, but LeBron’s been through this merry-go-round enough times that he practically owns a timeshare in it.

The Lakers are going to be fine, and you probably already knew that. What everyone needs to realize is that this is a regular occurrence for LeBron-led squads. We should have gotten so used to it by now that it would have been more shocking if the season had ended drama-free for the boys in purple and gold.

But Danny Green shooting only 7-for-25 from three-point land? That might be something to be concerned about.

“Nate McMillan Is On The Hot Seat”

This little tidbit came from a podcast last week between Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe. While we have yet to determine the level of heat on such a rumor, let’s go over McMillan’s tenure as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

Through a black and white scope, McMillan definitely hasn’t brought Indiana to the same heights that his predecessor Frank Vogel did when he took over as coach back in 2016. The Pacers haven’t been out of the first round since 2014 and they’ve only mustered three playoff wins since with McMillan calling the shots over the last four years. When you see things through that lens, McMillan would seem like the usual candidate.

But that’s not the case with McMillan. There’s a reason why his name has been thrown in the Coach of the Year discussion for three years running now. Let’s start with how he’s developed a reputation for player development. Think of the players that have really stood out for Indiana since they moved on from the Paul George era.
Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and, most recently, T.J. Warren. What do these players have in common? None of them ever reached the heights in their career that they did once they played under McMillan before coming to Indiana.

McMillan even managed to breathe life back into Lance Stephenson’s career for a year or two there. The one failure on McMillan’s part has been Myles Turner, who is still basically the same player as he was when Indiana had a total makeover back in 2017. The fact that McMillan has done this with this many players in such a short amount of time demonstrates that he knows how to put his players in the right position to succeed. Coaches like those don’t grow on trees.

Fate dealt a cruel hand with Oladipo’s knee blowing out, but McMillan certainly can’t be the fall guy for that. Again, no one knows how seriously we should take this rumor. It may be quickly swept under the rug as soon as tomorrow. It’s just that if McMillan were to be shown the door, Indiana would be making a rather puzzling decision after making pretty much all the right moves over the last three years.

“Michael Porter Jr Was Well-Worth The Wait”

There shouldn’t be much of a counterpoint to this. Michael Porter Jr has looked like the dynamic scorer many believed he could be dating back to his high school days. So much so that a fair amount of teams are probably going to second-guess passing him up in the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter’s rise in Florida has to make Denver – who was already a top team in the Western Conference before he got there – so much more optimistic about their future.

Putting up nearly 24 points on 57/46/96 splits in the Bubble has got to make the Nuggets incredibly giddy. He’s got great size for a scorer and an awesome shooting stroke. He’s also a great cutter, which means more highlight-reel assists for the Joker, too. All the Nuggets needed to complement Nikola Jokic was a go-to-scorer to get to the next level. Soon, they are going to pay Jamal Murray to be that guy, but Murray’s production, while not bad, has stayed relatively the same over the last three years. At 23, there’s still hope for him to make the leap, but now with MPJ coming into his own, the Nuggets have a safety valve in case that doesn’t happen.

Now, teams will get more game film on him, so odds are we’ll see a slump from Porter as time passes. Even with that, this shouldn’t be seen as a tease.

Porter should be a future star if he stays on the court and that’s the one hang-up. We still have to go back to the fact that 13 teams passed on him for a very real, very frightening reason. No one doubted the talent this kid had. It was his injury problems that put his future in doubt. Denver’s been meticulously careful making sure that Porter doesn’t get put on the shelf, but there’s no way of knowing if he can do this over a full season, and we won’t know for quite a while.

Injuries were what ruined Michael Porter Jr’s stock in 2018, so hold your breath. As exciting as it is to see him prove all of his doubters wrong, Brandon Roy did the same thing only 13 years ago.

With the NBA’s latest and greatest regular season bubble set to wrap up this week, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch. Are the Nuggets even better with Porter Jr.? Do the Lakers have what it takes?

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NBA Daily: Ivica Zubac Rounding Into Form For Clippers

David Yapkowitz writes about Ivica Zubac and his strong bubble performances for the Los Angeles Clippers – is he the key for a deep postseason run?

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers have no shortage of star power. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George form one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA, and both Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are averaging close to 20 points a game each while coming off the bench.

But there is one player on the roster who might be the team’s X-Factor, one player who could hold the key to being able to withstand the imposing frontline of the Los Angeles Lakers – and that’s Ivica Zubac.

Zubac was once a Laker before he was casually tossed aside to the Clippers at last season’s trade deadline. He had shown flashes of his capabilities with the Lakers but spent most of his first couple of seasons in the league with the Lakers’ G League affiliate. Upon his arrival to the Clippers, he immediately became a key player and has since settled into the starting center role.

His arrival to the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando was initially held up as he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has since joined the team after a mandatory quarantine period and is looking ready to help the team as they gear up for a playoff run.

He admitted that although he only experienced mild symptoms from the virus, he still felt winded and not quite up to speed as he tried to ease himself back into regular game flow.

“It’s much better, it’s much better than when I got here. I can feel it getting better with each practice, each game,” Zubac said on a recent conference call with media.

“After I first started getting back in shape, after I was cleared, I felt like I was out of shape. My chest was a little tighter when I would do some stuff. But I feel great right now. I don’t feel anything. I’m getting back into shape, I’m almost there. It’s going to take some more time.”

Zubac feeling like his old self again has been evident with each passing game. He started slow, only finishing with two points and three rebounds against the Lakers while being outworked by Anthony Davis. Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he looked a bit better, especially with his effort on the glass.

In the Clippers’ third game of the restart against the Phoenix Suns, Zubac put up 18 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 77 percent from the field. He followed that up with his best bubble game to date with 21 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks.

Zubac equated his increased production with gradually regaining his conditioning and mobility and getting the feel again for regular game speed.

“I’m getting the feel, I’m starting to remember what guys like, what are the best spots on the court for me. My conditioning is getting better each practice, each game,” Zubac told media after the Mavericks game. “I’m feeling like I can stay on the floor for a while, I can run the floor, I can fight in the post with guys, I can rebound. Everything with my conditioning getting back, I can get on another level in every aspect of my game.”

Before his performance against the Mavericks, Zubac had a pretty solid game against the Suns – but the center was obviously still readjusting to his teammates and being able to make the right reads and be in the correct spots on the floor. He played solid defense on Deandre Ayton, but he also ended up having a costly turnover late in the game that set up Devin Booker’s eventual game-winner.

Following the Suns game, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had mentioned there were a few areas that Zubac could use improvement in, and he was much more effusive in his praise after his performance against the Mavericks.

“He was phenomenal. We talked about it, he did all the things we needed, he really ran the floor, that didn’t show up statistically, but what it did, it created space, it created mismatches,” Rivers told media after the game.

“I loved that our guys were looking for him. I thought his rebounding was fantastic. Really coming off the way we ended the game the other day with Zu, then coming back, playing like that, that was fantastic for his confidence.”

Throughout the season, Zubac has been a player that doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He does have a soft touch around the rim and can establish a strong position in the post, but he does a lot of damage when he’s rolling to the rim, cutting and moving without the ball and catching lobs from his teammates.

He’s also a good rebounder who gets points off of offensive putbacks, and he’s a solid defender who acts as the team’s interior defensive anchor. He’s also usually on the bench at the end of games when Harrell is in with the starters. But depending on potential matchups, perhaps against the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic, or even the Lakers and Davis, Zubac could find himself finishing some games.

What is certain though, is he’s proving his importance to the team and he’s showing that come playoff time, he could end up being the X-factor. He knows that his teammates are going to look for him and he’s ready for that.

“It’s just communication on the floor, knowing what Kawhi and P.G like, knowing how to get a better angle on a screen, just the plays we run, got to have a better understanding what’s good at the time. It’s mostly communication on the floor,” Zubac said. “It feels great to get rewarded by my teammates after doing all the hard work.”

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Free Agency Update: Changes In The Bubble

Drew Maresca explores the free agency implications of the first week of play in the bubble as the NBA continues its return to post COVID-19 play.

Drew Maresca

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Free agency is always a fun time for the NBA and its fans, but particularly so in 2020. Most free agents have usually earned their next deal by the 65th game of any given season – but this year is far from typical. Instead, the NBA has returned, sans its eight worst teams, meaning that competition is consistently better. And with limited competition for our attention, every game is a major event that draws more eyes and has a greater effect on the paydays of to-be free agents.

We’re still only three or four games into the official return of the NBA, but there have already been some changes to how we perceive some players. Take T.J. Warren, for example, who’s averaging over 39.7 points per game through three contests. Or Michael Porter Jr., who looks more like the focal point of a team than a player in his first year of professional action.

This article will focus explicitly on the changes in perception of free agents to-be as a result of their play in the bubble in Orlando.  We understand that the players listed below can still hurt their standings and that teams rate free agents differently. While the sample size is small, we’ve seen deals made based on an equally small body of work (e.g., Jerome James to the New York Knicks).

One caveat to keep in mind is the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing the NBA and its club in 2020. Not only will the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably hurt the 2020-21 salary cap, but there’s also still a conclusion to be had with the preseason China situation.

With all of that in mind, let’s explore the players that have made the loudest cases for a payday come this offseason.

The Stars

Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz – Player Option

Conley Jr. has a player option for 2020-21 – but he played poorly enough through March, relative to what we’ve come to expect from him, that it was more than reasonable to assume he would opt-in at $34.5 million.

But wait, there’s a chance that Conley does us all a favor and makes free agency 2020 more interesting. Conley’s averaged 19.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, way, way up from 13.8 points and 4.3 assists per game prior to the stoppage in March. If Conley keeps this going – and especially if he performs well in the playoffs – he might want to test the market considering the lack of elite talent that’s anticipated to hit it – assuming he’s unhappy in Utah, that is.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – RFA

Ingram’s looked similar to the guy we saw in 2019-20 before the play stoppage – he’s averaging 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game when playing 30 or more minutes. While he was less effective in a loss against the Clippers (14 points and two rebounds in 24 minutes), he’s demonstrated growth in how decisively he makes his move and how seamlessly he then scores on the move.

Ingram was probably going to get max offer as of the All-Star break – especially after reaching his first All-Star team at 22 – but COVID-19 probably altered the ability for teams to dole out lucrative deals. But then play resumed and Ingram picked up right where he left off – and with a confidence to use it liberally. Ingram is nearly a lock for a max deal now.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors – UFA

VanVleet started off his time in the bubble with a solid performance (13 points and 11 assists), but he really showed out in his second game against the Miami HEAT. VanVleet led the Raptors to a win against Miami with a career-high 36 points. And then he got right back to being Mr. Consistent for Toronto by posting 21 points and 10 assists in a win against Orlando.

So ultimately, VanVleet has led the Raptors to a 3-0 (re)start, and he’s either scored a career-high or dropped 10-plus assists. James Dolan and Leon Rose are somewhere together – albeit socially distanced, we’re sure – drooling – as are all of the teams in need of a lead guard, like Detroit. VanVleet can only increase his value from here. He’s not assumed to be a max-level player, but if he plays well enough through the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see just how high he can reach.

 DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option

It’s hard to imagine DeRozan’s value increasing much at this point in his career. After all, he’s an 11-year veteran that has been named to the All-Star Game four times and an All-NBA team twice.

But still, there’s always been presumed limitations to his game, namely his inability to shoot three-pointers. Since being traded to San Antonio, he’s fallen out of the national spotlight a bit. As a 31-year-old capable of reaching unrestricted free agency, DeRozan is at a major inflection point in his career. He could attempt to a final big deal or snag a smaller one if the market for his services doesn’t meet expectations. Or he could just opt-in.

But DeRozan has done his part to remind everyone that he has loads of high-quality basketball left in him. He tallied 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting on Tuesday in a close loss to the 76ers and he’s averaged 22.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game since the Spurs resumed play last Friday. While those averaged mostly coincide with what he did this season, it also represents a decent boost in assists. But more importantly, it solidifies that DeRozan should still receive a serious look as a lead star. And he’ll probably get interest from a number of teams.

The Known Commodities

Marcus Morris Sr., Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

While Morris Sr. is a known commodity, teams could use additional poor performances against him in negotiations. He’ll probably still have the option to sign for a veterans minimum or mid-level exception with a contender like the Clippers or Lakers. But if he’s eyeing another payday that pays him an annual salary equal to what he made in 2019-20, it would behoove him to make his mark on the stat book. 

Making A Case

Trey Burke, Dallas Mavericks – UFA

Burke hasn’t been overly consistent since NBA play resumed last week. But he did have a huge breakout game against the Rockets, scoring 31 points on 8-for-10 for three-pointers in only 30 minutes, while also dishing six assists.

Yes, Burke is averaging just 5.5 points in 18 minutes in the two games since, but the fact that he scored 31 in an NBA game will be enough to get looks as an off-the-bench scorer. And it’s a narrative that can be supported by his past work, too. Remember, Burke is still just 27-years-old  and he has a 42-point career-high. He’s also exploded for 30 four times and eclipsed the 20-point mark on 38 occasions in his 389 career games. So even if it’s just a reminder, it’s good to know that Burke can still get it done offensively – and teams are always looking for ways to manufacture offense.

Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz – UFA

Clarkson’s shot only 40 percent from the field since play resumed last Thursday, with an even worse 20 percent from three-point range. Still, scorers are as valuable as ever. It’s what made J.R. Smith so much money in this league, as well as Lou Williams and countless others – and rightfully so. Ultimately, it’s about putting the ball in the hoop. And with that being said, a franchise is going to pay Clarkson and they’ll end up paying more than they would have as of March.

Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

Jackson has less to prove than most guys in this part of this list – but given his injury history, he does have to make a statement.

On the whole, Jackson has looked good – but not necessarily great. He averaged 12.5 points, seven rebounds and two assists in his first two contests, but he regressed in the Clippers’ most recent game against the Suns. But on a positive note, Jackson received only 23 minutes on Tuesday versus Phoenix and his 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals accumulated in just 20 minutes.

If Jackson continues to be a contributor to the contending Clippers, someone will overspend on him. After all, good point guards are few and far between.

The Unknowns

Harry Giles III, Sacramento Kings – UFA

Giles III only played four minutes in the Kings’ first game back against the Spurs and he didn’t fare much better over 12:55 versus the Mavericks on Tuesday. But when you’re a fringe player that had injury concerns throughout your young career, any positive outings are good – especially those that come in a contract year. Giles tallied 23 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes against the Orlando Magic – a significant jump from his 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds averages this season.  And that’s probably enough to generate interest amongst a number of teams.

The Kings curiously declined Giles’ fourth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent as of the end of this season. That’s an interesting decision because the option was relatively cheap given that he was only the No. 20 overall pick (2017). Further confusing matters is the idea that by passing on the fourth-year option, they also lost matching rights – so Giles won’t even be restricted.

To make matters worse, the Kings can’t even bid more than $3.9 million to retain his services. So the Kings ultimately wasted a first-round draft pick on Giles for a grand total of 14.5 minutes per game across 99 games – and he’ll walk before they even know what they had in him.

But this all works out nicely for Giles, who will absolutely get an opportunity elsewhere – and he’ll be paid more than he would have received in Sacramento for it. How good is still an unknown, but he’s shown enough for a team to take a flyer on considering his size, skill set and versatility. He was the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school according to ESPN just four short years ago.

Free agency is going to be different than ever before and, up until very recently, that was assumed to be a bad thing. But with some of the above players changing the narratives around them, it could become even more exciting than it’s been in the recent past. Add in the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Davis Bertans, Christian Wood – and we’re looking at an under-appreciated free-agent class.

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