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NBA Daily: Appreciating The Reigning Champs

With the new season set to begin, it’s time to give some attention to the story that seems to have fallen through the cracks this summer – the story of the 2018-2019 Toronto Raptors. Matt John dives in.

Matt John

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The offseason is finally done. Training camp is officially underway. The 2019-2020 NBA season is mere weeks away from starting. As usual, we’ve all been waiting a long time for this moment.

And why shouldn’t we? There are so many exciting storylines to tune into this season. The league’s new-found parity. The new LA teams. The downfall of the Warriors. The growingly restless Bucks and the Greek Freak’s extension. Those are just a few of the many plot threads that should make this a season possibly the most entertaining one we’ve seen in ages.

Lost in all the hoopla has been the story of the one team that, no matter what they lost this summer, is still technically the one that stands above the rest of the league – the reigning champions.

The story of the Toronto Raptors winning their first championship should have been revered as a team that built a winner the right way. No stars joining forces with each other. No tank jobs leading to homegrown superstars coming into their own. Just a team that built itself with enough talent and a solid identity.

Instead, the first thought that came to mind when talking about Toronto was, “Will Kawhi stick around?” Even though no one was to blame for this, it’s sad that what should have been the happiest time for the Raptors franchise was overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding Kawhi.

Now that he’s gone, the Raptors’ chances of repeating are next to non-existent pending any unexpected trades or player improvement. That being said, with the season approaching, it’s time we give the 2018-2019 Toronto Raptors the tribute that they deserve.

The Team That Had Lost All Hope

It was almost a year-and-a-half ago that Toronto – despite enjoying the most success the franchise had ever seen – had really hit rock bottom. For the third consecutive season, LeBron and the Cavs eliminated the Raptors, and pretty easily too.

The third time, though, was where it became more dumbfounding than ever. Cleveland came in at the height of its dysfunction with LeBron, and the Raptors looked primed for a trip to The Finals. When LeBron almost single-handedly swept Toronto, it was so embarrassing that the NBA Twitter decided to give the team the nickname, “LeBronto.”

It only got worse. They already had a long-standing reputation of blowing it in the playoffs, and this particular outing only asked more questions.

Was this far as they could go? At the time, there were no easy answers for Canada’s team. This writer argued that they should have kept it all together on the basis that they be patient a little longer with the roster, but after they fired Dwane Casey, it felt as though there were changes in order.

With Boston getting its best players back, Philadelphia’s young cornerstones another year older, and Milwaukee building the right team around Giannis, Toronto seemed primed to take a back seat to them.

But on July 18, 2018, their fortunes changed.

The Return of a Titan

Did you know that when Kawhi Leonard is an active player, the NBA is 150 percent more fun to watch? It’s a scientific fact. Just ask a dentist.

All jokes aside, many forget that at this time a year ago, the doubt surrounding Kawhi wasn’t primarily whether he was going to re-sign with the Raptors. It was whether he was going to be the same player we all came to know and love.

Following his disastrous fallout with the Spurs, Leonard was labeled as damaged goods, which is why other suitors like Boston opted not to pursue him as hard as they probably should have. Lucky for Toronto, not only did they have a good package for the former Defensive Player of the Year, they also had an offer that appeased the Spurs since DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl was a win-now package.

The Raptors swung for the fences when they acquired Kawhi, and this time, they went deep.

Kawhi was every bit the same player he was back when he was putting himself into the MVP discussion when he was a Spur. In fact, if he hadn’t missed 22 games – kudos to him for pioneering the term “load management,” which may or may not still be a thing for years to come – he probably would have had a better case.

It doesn’t matter though, because even though Kawhi put up some of the best all-around stats we’ve ever seen from him, what we got from the Klaw in the playoffs was a performance for the ages.

On his playoff resume, Kawhi already has outplaying LeBron in The Finals and single-handedly outplaying the super-Warriors (until he sprained his ankle) to boast. What he did for the Raptors may have topped everything he had done previously.

Over 24 games, Kawhi put up 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, almost 4 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks on 49/38/88 splits. When you compare those numbers to some of his other outings, some of those aren’t his career-best. That stat line is, however, one of the best individual performances we’ve ever seen from a player who went on an extended run, rivaling the likes of Michael Jordan’s performance in 1991, LeBron James’ performance in 2012, Shaquille O’Neal’s performance in 2000 and many of Tim Duncan’s performances.

Kawhi may have topped them all with his consistent dominance throughout the postseason, and to top it all off, he added one the most epic buzzer-beaters we’ve ever seen.

We already knew Kawhi Leonard was a future Hall of Famer. This performance cemented his legacy as one of the best of his generation and puts him in the discussion with the greatest of all time.

The Sudden Uprise of a New Star

Kawhi Leonard proved himself to still be one of, if not, the best player in the NBA, but even the best of the best need help. He alone would not be enough. That’s where more spectators became more skeptical of the impending Raptors who intended to be more impenetrable.

Kyle Lowry had yet to show that he had what it took to be one of the leading men of a championship team. If they just had someone else who could take the role of the No. 2 and run with it, their chances would suddenly get better. Nobody knew it at the time, but we’d come to find out that they had it all along in Pascal Siakam.

Siakam had already exceeded expectations when he went from throwaway draft pick to solid role player for Toronto the previous season. Finding an average player in the late first-round is satisfactory for anyone. What Pascal has become is something that was beyond Toronto’s wildest dreams.

A man who was once a backup wing suddenly became one of the better young power forwards in the game. In just his third season and at just 25 years old, Siakam evolved into an excellent all-around wing, averaging 17 points, almost seven rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game on 55/37/78 splits while also playing enough like a pest to garner him some All-NBA Defense recognition.

Toronto has seen its young talent shrink when the playoffs come around. Such was not the case with Siakam. While his three-pointer became a little less consistent, Pascal kept his production up, averaging 19 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on 47/28/76 splits. Kawhi may have had an all-time playoff performance, but even those can be wasted – just ask LeBron in 2015. Pascal delivered for Toronto when they needed him to.

He became the Pippen to Kawhi’s Michael Jordan. Perhaps now we’ll find out what Pippen would have been like without Jordan now that Siakam is Toronto’s alpha dog.

The Breakthrough of a Diminished Star

At the front of Toronto’s failures leading up to 2019 was Kyle Lowry. He wasn’t solely responsible for the team’s past issues, but Lowry would routinely share the gist of the blame for the Raptors coming up short time and time again.

The addition of Kawhi Leonard put more pressure on Lowry to be the second-in-command, which was tough to ask from a guy who was going to be 33 when the playoffs came. Luckily, both Kawhi’s presence along with the uprise of Siakam minimized Lowry’s duties.

If you look at his stats from last season, you’ll see that both Lowry’s scoring and shooting numbers took a noticeable turn for the worse. However, because there wasn’t nearly as much of a demand for Kyle to score the ball, Lowry had his best season as a distributor, averaging 8.7 assists per game, which easily topped his previous career-high of 7.4 in 2014.

The Raptors’ offense was plus-10.4 when he was on the court, and he also was in the top-10 in charges drawn during the regular season. He may not have put up his usual All-Star numbers, but he still made an All-Star-like impact, which probably factored into how he made his fifth consecutive All-Star team.

Lowry again did not have the best outing in the playoffs, averaging 15 points on 44/36/80 splits while also averaging 6.6 assists and almost five rebounds per game. But again, the Raptors didn’t ask him to be their go-to scorer. They asked him to keep playing his game, and he did just that. He distributed the ball while also playing tough defense, even leading the playoffs by far in charges drawn.

By having a lesser role, Kyle thrived more for the Raptors by doing all the little things. His story proves more or less that a guy who can really be at his best when he’s in his wheelhouse. For Kyle Lowry, less was more for him.

The Offensive Re-Serge-Ence

This was also a nice little twist for the Raptors. Serge Ibaka was seen as a player on a rapid decline coming into the season. So much went right for Toronto that we overlooked that Ibaka had one of his best seasons in recent memory.

With the exception of his three-point shooting, which Toronto didn’t go to as much this past season, Ibaka put up some of his best offensive numbers since 2014. He put up 15 points per game while shooting 53 percent overall from the field and also corralling 8.1 rebounds per game. Those are numbers that rival the career-highs that the man put up with the Thunder. The only difference is that, in Toronto, he puts up those stats in six less minutes per game.

Serge’s defensive impact is probably never going to be what it once was when he played in Oklahoma City, but it’s not like Toronto was expecting him to do that.

When the Raptors added some more grit in the front at the trade deadline, Serge wasn’t nearly as impactful, but his efficiency for the season remained. Ibaka’s numbers weren’t something that Toronto necessarily asked for, but the fact that they got that kind of contribution from Serge when everyone though his best days were done is something that deserves more attention.

The Last Piece of The Puzzle

On February 7, the Raptors weren’t in dire need of making any drastic changes. They ranked in the top-10 in both offensive rating (112.3 – seventh overall) and defensive rating (107.4 – eighth overall), and had an excellent record of 39-16. Yet, it felt like something was missing.

As good as they were, the Raptors knew that facing the likes of Joel Embiid and/or Nikola Vucevic – two of the better centers in the game – was a likelihood if they wanted to go the distance in the postseason. Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas wasn’t the worst center rotation in the world, but that pairing could have used an upgrade.

The Raptors knew with Kawhi expiring and LeBron out of their life, this was a rare opportunity as ever to win it all, so they had to seize it at every avenue. At the trade deadline, they added the finishing touch to their roster by trading Valanciunas, Delon Wright and CJ Miles for Marc Gasol.

Toronto didn’t want Gasol to be the two-way superstar he was in Memphis. All they wanted him to do was fill in the remaining gaps. Those gaps included spacing the floor, making the right pass and defending the post. The Spaniard’s numbers fell down the tubes, which at first glance would make trading for him look like a failure. If you watch Gasol when he was on the floor, you knew he gave them so much more flavor than they had before.

There were other stories worth mentioning, like Nick Nurse being up to the task of coaching a title team as a rookie head man in charge, or Fred VanVleet fall and subsequent uprise, or Danny Green’s steady influence or Norman Powell’s return to the rotation. Those guys definitely played a part in Toronto’s first title, but the previously five mentioned storylines were worth expanding on more. Feel free to disagree.

As inspiring as this team’s story was, one could argue that the stars aligned for the Raptors. They were lucky that San Antonio happened to be selling off Kawhi at the exact time Toronto had enough to trade for him. They were lucky that Memphis happened to be blowing it up at the exact time Toronto needed an upgrade in the frontcourt. They were lucky that Golden State, upon entering its fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, were fatigued to the tenth degree when they faced off.

And who knows if they would have gotten as far as they did if Pascal Siakam had remained as just a rotation player?

Luck is part of the equation for every championship team. You’re lucky if certain offseason twists go your way. You’re lucky if your team stays healthy throughout the whole season. You’re lucky if you get the favorable matchup in the playoffs.

More than anything else, the 2018-2019 Toronto Raptors rise to the top felt organic. They were a team that made the right moves. They took the necessary risks. They even parted with players they grew attached to in the name of reaching their final destination, and it all paid off.

This season, there won’t be nearly as high expectations what with Kawhi now a Clipper and all, but ask anyone – whether it be a fan or an employee of the team or anyone – who is involved with the Raptors how they felt about the Leonard trade knowing what they know now, and they’ll say the same thing.

Totally worth it.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Southeast Division

Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series with a look at the best names coming out of the Southeast Division.

Shane Rhodes

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It may seem like it, but, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA world never truly stopped turning, even Bodog Canada is still running.

Yes, in a time of some much-needed, sports-related distraction, the play has been put on hold. But the Association has continued to chug along as the draft and free agency still loom large.

At this point, a resumed season and or expedited postseason would seem more likely than not. But, if the remainder of the 2019-20 season is forgone, players and teams must continue to prepare for that worst-case scenario. And that’s exactly what they’ve done, albeit under awkward circumstances given recent living and travel constraints; players have had to get creative with workouts, while teams have been forced to adopt a much more film-centric approach to the draft.

With that in mind, Basketball Insiders has continued to work as well. In recent days, we’ve looked at several players, spanning the Northwest, Central, Atlantic and Pacific divisions, that could hit the open market once the world gets back on track. Today, we’ll look at the Southeast Division.

It may not be the cream of the free-agent crop, but there are plenty of players coming out of the Southeast that should garner serious interest and that could make a serious impact next season, either with their current team or elsewhere.

Best of the Bunch

Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards — Unrestricted — $7,000,000

While he wasn’t moved, Bertans was a hotly contested commodity at the trade deadline. That won’t change come free agency.

The 6-foot-10 Latvian is the new “normal” for the NBA power forward — a long-armed sharpshooter that can open up the paint rather than bog it down. And, in a league where frontcourt spacing is at a premium, Bertans is set to earn a nice new deal as one of the best shooters, regardless of position.

In 54 games with the Wizards, Bertans shot a blistering 42.4 percent from beyond the arc on nearly nine attempts per game. He set career marks in points (15.4), rebounds (4.5), three-pointers made (3.7) and attempted (8.7) per game, among other stats.

Those numbers are impressive in their own right and should need no qualifier. But, just to drive the point home, Bertans is just one of five in NBA history to play at least 50 games and shoot at least 40 percent on eight or more three-point attempts per game. He would also be the only player on that list to spend the majority of his time at the four-spot.

Even among a “sexier” group of free agents, Bertans’ skillset and potential fit with a variety of different contenders would have him at or near the top of plenty of free agent lists. So, in a relatively weak class, expect his camp to try and break the bank.

And don’t expect it to take very long. Washington may push hard to keep him to appease Bradley Beal, but the sheer amount of potential interest could leave the Wizards out in the cold.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic — Player Option — $17,150,000

After six seasons, 2020 may be the year Fournier and the Magic part ways.

Fournier has been on Orlando’s chopping block for what seems like forever; going back to 2016, the Magic have just never seemed committed to the Frenchman. Staring at a second-consecutive eighth-place finish in the East and an inevitable shake-up coming this summer, why would that attitude change now?

Likewise, for Fournier, the Magic have struggled to sustain success during his tenure. In the midst of a career year, a career-high 18.8 points per game to go along with strong shooting and competent defense, a contract comparable to his $17,150,000 option shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Fournier lack for suitors; why wouldn’t he test the waters?

So, what exactly does a potential team get in Fournier? A talented offensive guard and arguably the best available (pending DeMar DeRozan’s player option) in this free-agent class.

Fournier isn’t going to carry an offense, but any interested teams should already have an established star to pair him with. Think of him as a potential Khris Middleton to Team X’s Giannis Antentokounmpo; a talented player in his own right, but one that would buttress a team’s top option rather than shoulder the load himself (something he has been tasked with in Orlando).

Should he indeed look to leave the Sunshine State, the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors could prove perfect candidates for Fournier’s services. Likewise, any aspiring up-and-coming squads that are looking to add a veteran while keeping the roster relatively young could do worse than the 27-year-old.

Serviceable Veterans

Goran Dragic, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $19,217,900

At 33-years-old, 2020 is probably Dragic’s last chance to earn a sizable, long(ish)-term contract. And, with rumors that the HEAT only plan to offer a one-year (albeit bloated) deal, it may come with a team other than Miami.

Regardless of the team, Dragic should continue to provide above-average offense next season and, amid a resurgence after an injury-riddled 2019, he should earn a pretty penny doing so. Even with a move to the bench, Dragic has continued to produce. In 54 games (53 off the bench) he averaged 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists to go along with a 37.7 three-point percentage, his best clip since 2016.

Whatever his decision, Dragic would likely emphasize winning as he’s made the postseason just three times in his 14-year career. Even on a one-year deal, Miami may be his best bet in that regard, though teams with prior interest — the Dallas Mavericks, mainly — could serve to lure him away.

That said, should an up-and-coming roster offer him a starting opportunity (a la Ricky Rubio and the Phoenix Suns a season ago) along with a large enough salary or more in terms of long-term security, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dragic jump at it.

Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks — Unrestricted — $19,000,000

A Teague addition isn’t going to inspire much confidence in any fanbase. Nor is he going to move the needle much toward title contention.

But at 31, Teague is still capable of solid production from the point guard spot, especially as a passer. In 59 games split between the Hawks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Teague averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 assists and shot 43.6 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three. A season ago, while he was limited to just 42 games, Teague averaged more than eight assists.

So, while he may not “wow” many teams, it’s clear there’s some potential there. Ideally, Teague would slot into a reserve role on a contender, an assist man and outside shot coming off the bench, but could also serve as a nice stopgap or bridge option for a team assessing their future at the position — think the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, etc. Likewise, Teague is a quality leader and role model that almost any team would benefit from bringing in.

It just probably won’t be in Atlanta.

Of course, with Vince Carter expected to retire, the Hawks could always elect to bring Teague back to maintain that veteran presence in the locker room. But, with Trae Young locked in as Atlanta’s starter amidst a bevy of other talented young guards on the roster, the fit is just a bit too awkward.

Potential Bargains

Jae Crowder, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $7,815,533
Meyers Leonard, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $11,286,515
Kelly Olynyk, Miami HEAT — Player Option — $12,667,885

Crowder has bounced around the NBA, having played for six teams in his eight seasons. But, at every stop, he’s proven at least a capable contributor and, more importantly, to have a team-first attitude.

His stats don’t jump out of the boxscore — 10.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals across 58 games between the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami — but Crowder is without a doubt a crucial building block. He may not win you the Larry O’Brien trophy, but the energy and passion that he can bring to the table go a long way in competing for one. Better yet, Crowder should make that impact for little in terms of compensation.

As for Leonard, any team priced out of the Bertans bidding should look to make him a top target. Aside from the fact that he’ll cost next to nothing in comparison, Leonard has proven a capable marksman in his own right; a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter, Leonard shot 42.9 percent from deep on 2.4 across 49 games with Miami. Like Crowder, Leonard is also a we-before-me personality and could prove a capable leader in a locker room in need of one.

He’s capable enough on the defensive end that he won’t kill you on a regular basis and athletic enough that, when his confidence is there, he can make a serious impact on offense. Should Leonard get lost in the shuffle as the HEAT look to pair a third star with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, expect another team to scoop him up quickly.

Now, should a team swing-and-miss on Bertans and Leonard, Olynyk may have what they’re looking for

Like Leonard, Olynyk can knock it down from distance and should prove a capable reserve wherever he may find himself next season. Unlike Leonard, however, Olynyk has a player option for next season, one that he may not be able to pass up. If a team is interested enough, they’ll need to convince him to pass on more than $13 million next season. It’s not unthinkable, should an interested party promise Olynyk more than the 18 minutes per game he averaged with the HEAT this season, but they would need to strike the right balance between pay and play.

The Unlikely Reclamation Project

Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Player Option — $25,565,217

Let’s just get this out of the way: Batum is probably spending one more season in Charlotte.

Through two seasons, the Batum-Hornets relationship looked promising, as the forward averaged 15 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a steal per game. After that… you know the rest. A combination of coaching changes, injury and just general poor play has turned the formerly productive Batum into the world’s highest-paid cheerleader.

With more than $27 million left on the table, it would be hard to fault Batum for sticking out the last year of his deal. He won’t — or at least he shouldn’t — find anything close to that number on the open market, even more reason to opt-in.

That said, should he catch wind of a potential opportunity, would Batum be willing to walk away? While an opt-out may be out of the question, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Batum opt-in, force Charlotte into a buyout and jump at a fresh start.

This isn’t last summer; the free-agent frenzy won’t be nearly as exciting. That said, and most fans would agree, any basketball action would be welcome right about now — a scratch for that incessant itch that has lingered since the NBA put the season on pause. While we hope that play can resume as quickly and safely as possible, we at Basketball Insiders also hope that, in the meantime, our continued coverage can serve as a nice reprieve to everyone.

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NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Pacific Division

David Yapkowitz ventures west to continue Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series with the Pacific Division.

David Yapkowitz

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Basketball is postponed indefinitely, and while there’s no exact timetable on when the NBA season may or may not start up again, there is certainly plenty to still talk about.

This week at Basketball Insiders, we’ve got you covered. Regardless of what ends up happening with the season, free agency is certainly going to be a major talking point. Now, there isn’t much star power that will be available this offseason, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players here or there that could move the needle a bit for some teams.

Moving right along with our free agent series, here’s a look at some of the top free agents that could be available in the offseason.

Difference Makers

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $6,000,000

Admittedly, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Montrezl Harrell isn’t in a Clipper uniform. His career has exploded since arriving in Los Angeles, and he’s an integral piece to any championship hopes the Clippers have. He’s good enough to start for many other teams, and he often finishes games.

There’s no doubt that he’s lined himself up for a nice payday. There will be other teams interested in his services. The Clippers will need to be prepared for the offers he’ll receive. He’s a legit double-double threat who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He’s an improved defender and incredibly mobile.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has said he’s willing to open up his wallet for a contender. This will be his first major test in keeping the core of this group together. Harrell’s role is part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous, and they can’t afford to lose him.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Player Option – $27,093,018

Davis is another player whom it’s difficult to see leaving his current team. There are only a few teams projected to have cap space this summer, and none of them are anywhere close to being the contending team Davis wants. Nonetheless, he’s been adamant about exercising his player option and entering free agency.

He declined an extension with the Lakers back in January, but that’s not something to read too much into. He is eligible to sign for more money as an unrestricted free agent than if he would’ve signed the extension.

One team, however, that is projected to have cap space is the New York Knicks. If you recall, when Davis initially released a short list of teams he wanted to be traded to, the Knicks were on that list. His hometown Chicago Bulls should have space as well. Don’t hold your breath on him leaving the Lakers, but stranger things have happened.

Key Pieces

Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916

Saric is in an interesting situation. He was once touted as being part of “The Process” in Philadelphia, but now he’s become more of an afterthought in the league. The Suns have the option to tender a qualifying offer which would make him a restricted free agent and give Phoenix the option to match any offer.

He’s a useful player who could help a number of teams. A mobile big perfect for small ball offenses who shoots the three at a decent percentage. He had fallen out of the rotation in Phoenix earlier in the season, but prior to the NBA being put on hold, he had managed to work his way back into the lineup.

He’s still relatively young at 25 years old. There will most likely be interest around the league. It’s up to Phoenix to decide how much they’re willing to invest in him — and if they potentially have his replacement already on the roster in someone like Cam Johnson.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings – Restricted – $8,529,386

Bogdanovic drew some heavy interest at the trade deadline, and the Kings rebuffed any offer. They clearly see him as one of their core players. He was having a solid year, especially during the second half of the season when he was placed in the starting lineup.

He’s a combo guard who can play a little small forward as well. He’s a good shooter and a willing passer. The Kings have already let it be known that they intend to match any offer he receives. That’s not to say other teams would be dissuaded from making an offer.

A big part of the Dewayne Dedmon deal with the Atlanta Hawks was having an eye towards clearing up potential cap space to re-sign Bogdanovic. To show that they’re on the right path, the Kings must re-sign him and match any offer he gets.

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $15,000,000

Morris has fit right in with the Clippers since arriving at the trade deadline from the New York Knicks. He gives them another scoring threat as well as a solid defensive presence. Before the trade, he was enjoying a career-year in New York and had other teams willing to trade for him.

Depending on what happens with Harrell, could Morris be priced out of the Clippers range? The Clippers have also let it be known that they would like to re-sign Morris as well, but part of that might depend on what other offers are out there.

Morris can help a lot of teams, and the Clippers would definitely be better with him than without. But they shouldn’t break the bank on him if that’s what it’s going to take in order to re-sign him.

Aron Baynes, Phoenix Suns – Unrestricted – $3,481,986

Not a lot of fuss was made when the Boston Celtics traded Baynes to Phoenix last summer. But when Deandre Ayton was suspended at the beginning of the season, not only did Baynes step in to fill the void, he was also on his way to earning a solid payday in the offseason.

He’s a tough, physical player who plays strong defense and is active on the glass. This season, in particular, he showed off a new ability to shoot from three-point range. Unfortunately for him, he suffered injury problems and then saw his role decreased when Ayton returned to the lineup, putting a damper on his production.

It’s hard to tell if any potential contract offer would be hindered based on his performance in the second half of the season, or if teams will look at his early play as evidence of what he could do with extended minutes and more of a defined role. Ayton is the future though at center for the Suns, and unless Baynes is willing to sign for less and play a backup role, the Suns should allow him to walk.

Potential Bargains

Kent Bazemore, Sacramento Kings – Unrestricted – $19,269,662

Bazemore is due around $19 million this season. It’s highly likely he doesn’t get a contract that big this offseason. He was talked about as a potential buyout candidate after the trade deadline, but Sacramento opted to keep him.

His overall production has gone down from when he initially signed his deal with the Atlanta Hawks, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a serviceable player. In 21 games with the Kings, he put up 10.3 points per game while shooting 38.6 percent from three.

He can help a team, especially a playoff contender, off the bench. At this point, the Kings have younger options at his position and will need to re-sign Bogdanovic. He could end up being a steal for a team.

Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings – Unrestricted – $2,578,800

Giles was once one of the most highly touted prospects in the country. Unfortunately for him, he suffered injury setbacks and hasn’t quite been able to carve out a role in the NBA. His time with the Kings has marred by setbacks, and the team declined his fourth-year option before the season began.

As per the CBA, the Kings are limited in only being able to offer Giles a one-year, $4 million contract. Other teams are free to offer whatever they want. When he was given playing time after the trade deadline, he finally looked like he was turning the corner and becoming a productive NBA player, and then the season was put on hold.

The last couple months of the season would’ve been huge for Giles’ contract outlook. If he would’ve maintained that level of play, there would be no doubt he would have earned himself a new contract. For now, he’s going to have to hope that will be enough. He’s still extremely talented and extremely young. It’s not going to break the bank to sign him and any team looking to take a flier on a potential low-risk, high-reward player, this is their opportunity.

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NBA Daily: 8 Free Agents – Atlantic Division

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent series with a look at the best free agents from the Atlantic Division.

Drew Maresca

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To say the events of the past three or so weeks were irregular would be the understatement of the year. And during an already tragic year for the NBA, the league made the tough choice to postpone the season, prior to government intervention, on Wednesday, Mar. 11.

In the two-plus weeks since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent shutdowns, players have continued to entertain the league’s fans in creative and interactive ways. But watching our favorites play Call of Duty is no substitute for NBA action. Considering the remainder of the 2019-20 season isn’t a given at this point, Basketball Insiders has instead shifted its focus on the next guaranteed league-wide event – free agency.

Ben Nadeau covered the best free agents from the Northwest Division on Tuesday, while Spencer Davies identified the best free agents available from the Central Division yesterday. Next, let’s shift our focus to the Atlantic Division.

The Atlantic Division’s class is lacking true star power. There is no Anthony Davis, Mike Conley or Paul Milsap, either – and most of the established talent in the Atlantic is locked up well beyond 2020. But what the division lacks in established free agents, it makes up for in promise. A number of the following players are younger guys who have yet to fulfill their full potential and there might even be a few future All-Stars listed below.

So, for the next five or so minutes, forget about everything going on outside and dive into a rundown of the best free agents the Atlantic Division has to offer.

Most Likely To Be Priced Out Of His Current Team

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $9,346,153

Without question, VanVleet will be the most sought-after free agent from the Atlantic Division this offseason, whenever that is.

VanVleet turned 26 years old last month and was originally signed by the Raptors after going undrafted in 2016. He’s accumulated approximately $20 million in career earnings. While that’s better than more than 99% of us, his next contract will probably feature two commas and eight zeroes – that’s the kind of money most of us can’t fathom. And while there should be at least one more big payday for VanVleet after this one, the uncertainty of recent events might convince himself to secure his family sooner rather than later.

All indications point to VanVleet’s satisfaction with Toronto, too. He had this to say about his impending free agency last October in an interview on Sportsnet’s Tim & Sid: “But, I mean, I’ve been on record about how I feel about this place,” the fourth-year guard said. “This organization knows how I feel about this place. So in a perfect world, we know what would happen.”

But in light of the volatility in global financial markets, does Toronto still believe that it can successfully build a contender around VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, knowing that it might be impossible to add more top-tier talent?

VanVleet is arguably the best point guard prospect in the 2020 class. While some teams will feel like paying more than $25 million per season for VanVleet is overkill given his height and limited athletic ability – others will see his season-to-season development, scrappiness and clutch play as more than worth it.

Most Likely To Look Elsewhere Due To Coaching Change

Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets – Unrestricted – $7,666,667

Harris’s situation is similar to VanVleet’s. Harris was the 33rd overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft by way of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite being in the league for two more years than VanVleet, they’ve made approximately the same total amount in career earnings.

Harris’ star has also never been brighter, except for maybe last season. He posted career highs in points (13.9), rebounds (4.3) and minutes per game (30.9) in 2019-20. He also shot a more-than-respectable 41.2 percent on 5.9 three-point attempts per game this season, down from a ridiculous 47.4 percent in 2018-19. And he did all this inside the flow of the offense.

So why would the Nets let Harris leave, you ask? They won’t, if it is up to them. Harris is an unrestricted free agent, so where he plays next year and beyond is entirely up to him.

Why, then, might Harris explore leaving the Nets, a team with whom he would almost certainly compete for a championship next season? He probably wouldn’t have – until Mar. 7, when the Nets mutually parted ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson was the Nets coach for Harris’ entire tenure with the team, while the latter was a huge supporter of the former.

Additionally, there are the inevitable disruptions that playing alongside megastars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will bring – like decreased role and increased media scrutiny. Still, Brooklyn gave him a home after he was unceremoniously dumped in the G League — so, for now, only time will tell.

Most Likely To Prefer A Fresh Start  

Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks — Restricted — $3.551,100

Judging by Trier’s body language and decreased availability in the Knicks’ locker room in 2019-20, it’s safe to assume that he was less-than-pleased in New York this season.

He entered the NBA last season as an accomplished scorer whose draft stock took a hit after testing positive for Ostarine, a performance-enhancing drug. And despite inconsistent playing time, Trier’s rookie campaign reinforced the idea that he was more prepared to score at the professional level than scouts and executives thought. He averaged 10.9 points over 22.8 minutes per game during his rookie campaign and most people around the team felt he would develop into a dependable sixth man capable of providing off-the-bench punch.

But Trier’s role changed this year and he has played in 24 of the Knicks’ 66 games and posted just 6.5 points in 12.1 minutes per game.

Trier is already 24, older than most sophomores. But he’s also played for the Knicks, whose rotations have impeded the progress of a number of other younger players in the recent past (see: Frank Ntilikina). It would be shocking if new team president Leon Rose prioritizes a long-term deal for a player that’s been out of the rotation all season when the Knicks have so many other holes to fill.

But fear not, Iso-Zo fans, someone will take a chance on Trier. And he’ll look significantly better on a playoff roster, capitalizing on the spacing that talent affords.

Most Likely To Seek One Last Payday

Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $23,271,604

The Raptors are a tough team to peg. In spite of many proposing a rebuild in the days post-Kawhi Leonard, Toronto played out 2019-20 with their roster as is. As of the most recent day of the season, the Raptors were 46-18 – good for the third-best record in the entire league.

But like most great minds, team president Masai Ujiri is probably motivated by succeeding at seemingly impossible challenges – like a full-on rebuild. And this might be his best shot. The Raptors have a number of players entering unrestricted free agency, including headliners like Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet.

While the VanVleet situation is probably out of the team’s control, Ibaka and Gasol are realistic returnees – so long as it’s desired by the Raptors.

Gasol fits the profile of someone that can be brought back on an inexpensive deal. He’s already 35 and would dictate far less on the open market than Ibaka. On the other hand, Ibaka is somehow only 30 and played incredibly well in 2019-20, averaging 16 points and 8.3 rebounds over 27.5 minutes per game.

While his defensive prowess isn’t what it once was, he’s still more than serviceable and makes up for any regression with three-point shooting (39.8 percent) and versatility.

With tough financial decisions ahead, the Raptors will probably let Ibaka walk without making too strong of a recruiting pitch. But what team offers him the kind of money that lures him out of Canada is anyone’s guess.

Most Likely To Leave Early To Cash In On A Weak Class

Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics — Player Option — $32,700,690

This one is probably a stretch. Elfrid Payton is more likely to be cut loose by New York, as is Bobby Portis and Wayne Ellington. Further, Brad Wanamaker is more likely to leave Boston than Hayward. But it’s infinitely more fun to consider the possibility of Hayward fleeing Beantown, isn’t it?

This concept is complicated by two key points: Hayward won’t command anywhere near the $34 million he’ll walk away from next season, while he’s probably never been happier with a coaching staff considering coach Brad Stevens was also his college leader at Butler.

But there’s a key incentive driving this hypothetical, too –  if Hayward opts out, he can guarantee himself a multi-year contract worth more in 2020 than he’ll be able to negotiate in the competitive class of 2021. And in the eternal words of DJ Quick, if it don’t make dollars, then it don’t make sense.

It may even be the right time for Hayward to seek a new contract, too. He’s scoring 17 or more points per game for the first time since 2016-17. Better, he’s proven to be healthy, score in bunches and make players for those around him. The long-time Jazz-standout is now averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 33.4 minutes per game – all as he shoots 39.2 percent on three-pointers and slightly above 50 percent from the field.

And if Boston is unwilling to spend because it understands future needs like Jayson Tatum must be met, the situation between Hayward and the Celtics can become contentious.

Most Likely To Split For A More Defined Role

Glen Robinson III, Philadelphia 76ers — Unrestricted – $1,882,867

Dust-ups happen and teams and players do their best to publicly make nice afterward for the greater good. Basketball Insiders’ own Spencer Davies broke the news in February that Robinson III was confused with his role in Philadelphia.

The 76ers are well-stocked at the wing position and, as a 26-year-old journeyman, Robinson III certainly knows that he’ll only get so many opportunities to cash out in the NBA. The Athletic recently reported that Robinson III is not ruling out a return to the Warriors despite the presence of Andrew Wiggins, and he’ll obviously explore other situations, too. Already though, his time in Philadelphia looks like a thing of the past.

Robinson III finally broke double-figures in scoring this season at 11.8 per game. He also set career highs in assists (1.6 per game) and rebounds (4.3), while hitting a career-best 48.6 percent from the field. Wherever he signs, Robinson III will be a relatively-inexpensive and serviceable bench player who could develop into a regular part of a rotation.

Most Likely To Chase The Biggest Opportunity

Alec Burks, Philadelphia 76ers — Unrestricted — $2,320,044

Burks is the most established of the remaining free agents on this list. He averaged 10.7 points per game this season — but he’s proven he can do more, like the year he put up 16.1 over 48 games with Golden State in 2019-20. Burks is an inconsistent defender, but he’s shown flashes of competency on that side as of late. Still, what he adds offensively typically outweighs his defensive limitations.

Burks has been set back by a series of injuries and he’s already 28 years old, so it’s unlikely he’ll expand past much more than he’s done thus far. But that’s more than enough for a number of contending teams in need of scoring off the bench.

He can always fall back on Philadelphia given their need for depth, but his scoring punch should enable a deal beyond the likes of that franchise can afford. If he’s stuck between offers, Burks will probably go with whichever team offers him the biggest role.

Maurice Harkless, New York Knicks — Unrestricted — $11,011,236

The eight-year NBA veteran has averaged 7.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1 steal per game throughout his entire career. Beyond that, Harkless’ per-36 numbers are surprisingly consistent year-to-year, which, long story short, means that you know what you’re getting in the established wing.

But that’s not a bad thing as Harkless is an above-average defender. He’s long and versatile, possessing the ability to switch in most pick-and-roll scenarios. Further, Harkless doesn’t require touches, but he can score when needed.

The February trade that landed Harkless in New York probably threw a wrench in his already up-in-the-air plans. He didn’t spend enough time with the Knicks to gauge the rotations, while it’s assumed that the coaching and overall roster will undergo a major revamp this offseason regardless. In that case, Harkless will probably leave New York and he’ll have a number of suitors.

The Atlantic Division’s free agents might lack star power, but there are some big-time role players available. Some will walk with big money, whereas others will be forced to settle for less than they’d hoped — but that’s what free agency is all about right, isn’t it?

Regardless of who gets what, we can all agree that the world is a better place when basketball is being played. Stay tuned as Basketball Insiders continues our free agent series tomorrow.

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