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NBA Daily: Could Be A Tough Restricted Market

Steve Kyler takes a look at the impact restricted free agents who might be in store for a tough summer.

Steve Kyler

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Could Be A Tough Restricted Market

Last summer was a little brutal to some of the guys that bet on themselves and for teams that rolled the dice on restricted free agency. Most early cap projections have the 2018-19 NBA Salary cap increasing slightly from the $99.093 million it landed at this season to just around $101 million.

While the NBA is doing better than it ever has in the revenue department, the salary cap system is simply a mechanism to ensure the players, as a group, receive the agreed 49-51 percent of total Basketball Related Income. Part of the calculation to reach the cap figure is based on what’s already owed to players in salaries and benefits. Because NBA teams spent like drunken sailors when the salary cap exploded two seasons ago, the cap isn’t jumping up nearly as much as some expected when all the new television rights revenue started to pour in.

The end result is after two years of aggressive spending, most teams will be either over the cap or in some cases way over the luxury tax line before free agency even opens.

This will have an impact on the marketplace, especially for players hoping for a whopper of an offer sheet in restricted free agency.

Current cap projections peg the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, LA Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and possibly the Indiana Pacers as having meaningful cap space.

While they say it only takes one team to set a market, having so few teams with meaningful cap space could make for a tough summer.

It is important to point out that restricted free agency is a multi-step process which starts with the issuance of a qualifying offer. A player does not have to accept the offer, and the team can, at any point, pull that offer making the player unrestricted.

All pending restricted free agent players have two values to keep in mind – the qualifying offer value and a cap hold value. Cap holds are in essence cap placeholders which take up a fixed and defined amount of cap space. While teams can exceed the cap to re-sign their own players, there is always a placeholder on the cap until a new deal is reached or the team renounces that player.

Here are some of the notable pending restricted free agents and what we know today:

Jabari Parker – Milwaukee Bucks

[$8.85m Qualifying Offer – $20.3m Cap Hold]

The Milwaukee Bucks entertained a number of offers on Parker at the trade deadline and at least seriously considering moving him. This is actually really common for teams that may be struggling to understand a player’s worth on the market.

Given Parker’s knee issues the balance of the season will be important for setting a real price on Parker.

Most NBA insiders believe the Bucks are not only going to pay Parker, but they may not force him to play out of the Offer Sheet game.

The Bucks are going to be way over the salary cap, so there is zero reason not to retain Parker on a new deal, simply because they won’t get below the salary cap line with or without a new Parker deal, so in essence any money paid to Parker is money that’s only available to Parker and no one else.

There are Luxury Tax concerns, and that would be meaningful for a smaller revenue market like Milwaukee, but with a brand-new area ready to come online, the word is Bucks ownership isn’t worried about the cost of the roster.

Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic

[$7.26m Qualifying Offer – $16.51m Cap Hold]

Like Parker, the odds that Aaron Gordon is not re-signed in Orlando is pretty small; however, unlike Parker, the Magic may let the market drive the value of the next deal.

That’s not a reflection on how management views Gordon, simply that they are trying to shed cap dollars and get themselves right sided on a number of fronts and overpaying for Gordon is a concern.

The Magic are a team in transition, and there has been a growing sense that if Gordon did not want to come back, they might be open to a sign and trade, especially if the NBA draft yields a better fitting cornerstone player.

Like Parker, the Magic are going to be over the cap in a significant way, so money paid to Gordon is only available to him, and he would become tradable in January.

There is a scenario in which someone tries to poach Gordon with a max. level offer, but even then, the Magic would be smarter to match a deal unless it’s loaded with unfavorable terms to the Magic’s rebuild plan.

Dante Exum – Utah Jazz

[$6.61m Qualifying Offer – $14.97m Cap Hold]

Injuries have derailed Dante Exum’s NBA career, but there is a window this season for him to establish something of a market value in Utah with the team’s push toward the playoffs.

Unfortunately for Exum, he hasn’t done enough to live up to his draft hype, and he may be a player that takes the qualifying offer. In his case, one more year in Utah at $6.61 million, and the ability to veto any trades might be smarter than trying to find a deal that doesn’t tie him into a lower dollar deal.

The prevailing thought is the Exum will be back in Utah, but it would take something pretty spectacular to think its on a new long-term deal.

Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics

[$6.05m Qualifying Offer – $13.61m Cap Hold]

The Boston Celtics had numerous offers for Smart at the trade deadline and opted to hang on to him. That bodes well for him staying in Boston beyond this season; the question becomes does another team test Boston’s taste for luxury tax?

Smart seems to be a player that will get offers; the question is will anyone offer more than the $13.6 million cap hold?

It is going to be hard to pry Smart out of Boston at value—it’s going to take an offer sheet that’s more than Boston will match, which means something in the $12-$14 million per year range on a multi-year deal.

With Celtics guard Kyrie Irving’s future a little uncertain (Irving is eligible for a contract extension this summer) would the Celtics be wise to let Smart leave before getting an answer from Irving?

If there is a player on the list that reasonably could be elsewhere next season, it might be Smart, but that seems far from certain.

Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers

[$5.56m Qualifying Offer – $12.44m Cap Hold]

Randle’s future is squarely tied to the Lakers pursuit of marquee free agents. While there is little doubt Randle has emerged as a promising young star, the Lakers are going to have a hard time clearing the necessary cap space to pursue two max-level free agents and hang onto Randle’s Bird Rights.

While Randle’s $5.56m qualifying offer is an easy number for the Lakers, it’s his $12.44 million cap hold that handicaps things. Unless the Lakers can find a way to jettison the lingering contract of forward Luol Deng without taking anything meaningful back against the cap, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get to two max slots and retain Randle.

There are scenarios where it becomes possible to add players and retain Randle; it would simply require the added player to not receive max level money.

The danger for the Lakers is that there appear to be two early suitors for Randle that may force the Lakers’ hand. The Dallas Mavericks have had an eye on Randle for some time and is the team most expect to be on Randle’s doorstep at 12:01 am on July 1.

Another team to watch is the Sacramento Kings. After dumping George Hill’s contract off on the Cavaliers, the Kings could have some cap money, and Randle is a name linked to them as well.

The easy answer for the Lakers is to simply lock Randle up early, which means the front office will have to ask for quick decisions from would-be free agents before another team puts an offer in front of Randle he is willing to sign and start the clock on the matching rights of restricted free agency.

Elfrid Payton – Phoenix Suns

[$4.53m Qualifying Offer – $9.99m Cap Hold]

The Orlando Magic dealt Payton to the Suns at the trade deadline after finding very little interest from other teams. The Suns, according to sources, were high on Payton and wanted to the opportunity to try out the fit before committing.

So far, Payton has been productive enough to think the Suns may hang on to him.

The wrinkle to watch in all of this is what could be as many as three first-round draft picks (most insiders believe one of those later first round picks is going to be traded), and a boatload of free agent money.

Assuming the Suns don’t find a better option in the draft, there is a good chance Payton is back in Phoenix on a new deal, but its unlikely the Suns are going to break the bank for Payton – meaning he might be poachable.

Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls

[$4.42m Qualifying Offer – $9.60m Cap Hold]

There has been a lot of talk in Chicago about how much Zach LaVine is really going to command. Given the lack of cap money around the NBA and the Bulls ability to match anything reasonable, LaVine may be in a tough spot if he is expecting the marketplace to boost his deal.

Sources close to the situation said it would take a whopper of an offer for the Bulls not to match. The NBA has cautioned teams about declaring their willingness to match offers publicly, but Bulls sources that would comment on the subject found it laughable that LaVine wouldn’t be back in Chicago on a new contract, the question remaining is what’s the amount that gets it done?

Jusuf Nurkić – Portland Trail Blazers

[$4.14m Qualifying Offer – $8.84m Cap Hold]

It seems for some time that maybe the Blazers had cooled on Nurkić, as they explored trades for other centers for several weeks leading up to the trade deadline. In the end, the Blazers held firm and have gone a crazy run—enough to suggest that Nurkić might actually get a new deal in Portland.

The big issue facing both the Blazers and Nurkić is their proximity to the luxury tax. It’s possible the Blazers look to shed some contract money this offseason to clear up their cap, but with both Nurkić and fellow potential restricted free agent Shabazz Napier looking for new deals, the long-term may impact the short-term.

Blazers ownership has never had a problem spending money, but once a team rolls over the luxury tax line, it becomes harder and more expensive to make trades.

Given how well Nurkić has played (especially recently) it seems unlikely that Portland doesn’t retain him, especially considering how low both his qualifying offer and his cap hold are, the Blazers are in the driver seat on a new deal.

Rodney Hood – Cleveland Cavaliers

[$3.47m Qualifying Offer – $7.16m Cap Hold]

The prevailing thought around the Cavaliers is that Hood is not a rental. The Cavs made the deal to acquire Hood not only for the short term, but to re-sign him this summer.

While the future of LeBron James is going to weigh on every decision the Cavs make, the belief if even if James leaves,Hood is a good future piece to build around making his next deal something of a formality.

There is a window in which another team could try to poach Hood with a hefty offer, but given where the Cavs are cap wise, there is zero reason not to match, even a crazy offer.

As some on this list, the money paid to Hood is really only available to him, as the Cavs won’t get anywhere near cap space in the next couple of years.

Clint Capela – Houston Rockets

[$3.42m Qualifying Offer – $7.0m Cap Hold]

The cap hold on Capela makes it nearly impossible that he won’t be back in Houston. While the Rockets do have big dreams of what could be possible this summer, they can make all of their moves and still exceed the cap to re-sign Capela.

There is always the chance a team tries to force the Rockets hand and timing, but at the end of the day, just because a team makes an offer doesn’t mean Capela has to accept it.

It’s pretty safe to say the only uncertainty on Capela is how many years and how many dollars.

There are other players who could be restricted free agents based on being a second-round pick, being undrafted or simply signing shorter-term deals. As we get closer and closer to free agency, we’ll look at these in more depth.

Until then you can check out all the 2018-29 Free Agents here.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Grading the Offseason – New York Knicks

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the New York Knicks.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA offseason is dramatically different than it was as recently as a decade ago. In the past, the offseason began following the conclusion of the NBA Finals. And save for a few exciting happenings (e.g., the NBA Draft), the sports world moved on to other items of interest.

But presently, the first half of the summer is still very much the NBA’s. Until mid-July, that is. With the NBA finally ready to enter a lull in activity, we can safely begin assessing teams’ offseason moves. And with that, Basketball Insiders continues its “Grading the Offseason” series.

Spencer Davies kicked things off by assessing the Cleveland Cavaliers and David Yapkowitz graded the moves made by the Chicago Bulls. Next up is possibly the most polarizing team in the league – the New York Knicks.

Overview

The Knicks entered 2018-19seaason with low expectations. However, there was hope for the future with 7’3” unicorn-esque center (Kristaps Porzingis), their three rookies (Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier) and a boatload of projected cap space on the books.

Fast forward to the Summer of 2019 and the Knicks are in a surprising spot relative to last year. Their assumed core of the future was dealt a blow when it became clear that Porzingis wanted out of New York, resulting in a trade to Dallas. And while they failed to land a major free agent – despite freeing up the cap space for two max free agents – there is actually reason for optimism for the Knicks.

Offseason

Despite finishing the 2018-19 season with the worst record in the NBA, the new lottery structure led to the Knicks landing the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Fortunately, the third pick in the draft was a no-brainer regardless of who was making the selection. RJ Barrett – guard/forward from Duke – is a talented scorer and playmaker who will instantly become the best Knick at drawing fouls and creating off the dribble. Barrett can struggle with his efficiency and other aspects of his game, but he will show flashes of greatness throughout the upcoming season.

But that’s not all the Knicks did on draft night. As I discussed last week, the Knicks traded up in the second round to select Ignas Brazdeikis, a forward from Michigan. Brazdeikis entered NBA Summer League with a lot of questions around him, most notably his lack of foot speed and athleticism, and he answered them in a big way.

Brazdeikis proved he can contribute to an NBA team immediately. His shot-making, shooting ability, strength and motor all shined through in many of the team’s Summer League games. The Knicks may have hit another home run in the second-round, which makes them two-for-two in as many years (Mitchell Robinson was selected by the Knicks with the 36thoverall pick in 2018).

Speaking of Robinson, he flashed his potential throughout Summer League, too. He demonstrated good progress, posting 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 25 minutes per game — and winning first-team All-Summer League honors. Robinson has a lot to prove this season, as expectations have changed dramatically for the 21-year-old, but at least the Knicks have their center of the future.

Free agency didn’t go quite as well for the Knicks. Many experts felt that the team had a good chance at signing Kevin Durant and a second major free agent. But the Knicks struck out on superstar free agent signings.

And what’s more, the Knicks signed a number of players shortly after the start of free agency, which prevented them from absorbing unwanted salary in exchange for future picks (e.g., the Los Angeles Clippers received a future first-round pick for taking back Maurice Harkless from the Portland Trail Blazers). The narrative quickly became that the Knicks failed at free agency.

But perception and reality are not always one and the same. Ultimately, the Knicks were able to attach a second-year team option and/or signed free agents to one-year deals for six of their seven free agent acquisitions (with the seventh free agent being Randle, for whom the Knicks own a third-year option).

This means that very little – if any salary – is guaranteed beyond 2019-20, making all of the aforementioned players attractive additions to contenders come the trade deadline – many were likely attractive as of June 30, but most contenders didn’t have the requisite cap space to sign players like Portis, Payton or Morris after making major investments in superstars.

All of the Knicks free agent additions can contribute at a relatively high level – save for Bullock, whose health is still in question following a recent back surgery — for both the Knicks as well as a contending team down the line. And the Knicks can liquidate most of their roster and free up significant cap space to chase the likes of Anthony Davis and others in 2020 if so desired – and they may even get themselves additional assets in the process. So the Knicks’ 2019 free agency period could be viewed very differently at this time next year (or 2021), depending on if they are able to convince a star player or two to join their young core.

PLAYERS IN: RJ Barrett, Ignas Brazdeikis, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Marcus Morris

PLAYERS OUT: Kadeem Allen, Mario Hejonza, Noah Vonleh, Luke Kornet, Emmanuel Mudiay, DeAndre Jordan, Lance Thomas, Henry Ellenson and Billy Garrett

What’s Next?

The Knicks’ offseason is probably over considering they added nine players and will return six – with one exception being potentially working on a reunion with the recently-waived Lance Thomas.

The Knicks signed seven quality free agents who can all hypothetically be traded for assets or waived following the 2019-20 season. They also added two NBA-quality rookies, both of whom should carve out a role on the team. The team’s challenge will be picking a direction. Scott Perry recently scoffed at the notion that Knicks will tank in 2019-20. Thus, they may hang onto most of their signees for the entire season in hopes of getting their young nucleus playoff experience.

While playoff experience is great for any young player, it will be challenging for David Fizdale and the rest of the coaching staff to carve out a rotation that features all of the team’s young players. The Knicks will have to create lineups very deliberately, pairing youth with veterans so they don’t experience too much falloff when shifting from one lineup to another.

Another unresolved item remains: Frank Ntilikina. Rumors circulated in the lead up the 2019 NBA Draft that the Knicks were going to trade their former lottery pick, but Ntilikina remains with the team. Ntilikina’s time in New York might be nearing an end unless he shows significant improvement early this season. It is worth mentioning that Ntilikina showed up earlier in the offseason on social media sporting a smoother and more natural-looking shooting form.

One final improvement the Knicks will look to build on is their leadership. Credibility trickles down from the very top of an organization. While James Dolan has made questionable decisions over the years, the rest of the Knicks’ management is operating more thoughtfully than it has in years.

The team’s leadership and coaching staff remained entirely intact for the first time in what feels like decades – the Knicks have had five coaches (six tenures) and three Presidents (four tenures) in the past eight seasons. And while players win games, they are attracted to situations that appear stable and supportive. The Knicks and Scott Perry, Steve Mills, and David Fizdale began laying the foundation for this type of situation. They now need to demonstrate progress on the court to take the next step and possibly start to build themselves up as a free agent destination (outside of simply being the Knicks). Lastly, they need Dolan and the team to remain out of the news for negative reasons as much as possible, such as being in the news for a lawsuit against the City of Inglewood around contractual issues pertaining a new Clippers arena.

This wasn’t the offseason that Knicks fans were hoping for, but it wasn’t the disaster some portray it as either. The Knicks have the means to take a positive step forward this season and set the stage for bigger things in the future.

Offseason Grade: B-

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NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Wins Big In Vegas

Jordan Hicks had the chance to catch up with Summer League MVP Brandon Clarke, who discussed his transition into becoming a pro, his play during the tournament and skills he’s been working on.

Jordan Hicks

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No player had a better Summer League than Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Not only did his team win the Las Vegas Summer League championship, but Clarke was the Finals MVP and MVP of the tournament. In six games of action, he averaged 14.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.8 blocks. He dropped 15 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the championship game. He was dominant on both sides of the ball throughout the tournament. and there wasn’t really anyone playing that was capable of stopping him.

Accolades aren’t anything new to Clarke. In his lone year at Gonzaga where he transferred to after playing two years at San Jose State, Clarke was First Team All-West Coast Conference, WCC Defensive Player of the Year and WCC Newcomer of the Year. His play during Summer League could have very well earned Clarke significant minutes for the upcoming season.

So why did Brandon Clarke drop so low in the draft? Many had him pegged as a sure-fire lottery selection, but to the surprise of many dropped all the way down to 21 before Memphis traded up to get him.

Most point to the fact that he’s the size of a traditional wing in the NBA, but plays the four or even the five. He stands 6-foot-8 and matches that with a 6-foot-8 wingspan. In college, length doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does in the NBA. Still, after the way he showed out in Las Vegas, many teams are likely scratching their heads wondering why on earth they didn’t pick him up.

Due to the nature of the trade, Clarke wasn’t able to join the Grizzlies until it became official after July 6th.

“It’s getting off all the rust that I kind of had on me,” Clarke said. “Like I’ve said previously, it was tough at the start because I couldn’t practice, I couldn’t really do much with the team, but now I can play again and get used to playing team basketball.”

The rust wasn’t as obvious to the onlooker. There wasn’t really a single game during the 10-day event where Clarke looked fatigued, but his play definitely improved as the tournament went on.

The semi-final game against the New Orleans Pelicans was a tough matchup and eventually went into overtime. Clarke sealed the win with a go-ahead dunk in the closing seconds. When asked about the end of that game compared to a big, close college game, Clarke responded: “It felt pretty similar. The crowd really got kind of loud there in the end. I feel like it was pretty similar to what I’d feel in a big-time college game.”

Shortly after, Clarke was asked about his desire to actually win the tournament.

“It’s just basketball,” he said. “Every time that I play basketball I want to win so I think that we all feel that as a team. Even though it’s not a real NBA tournament, well it is, but it’s not [versus] the big-time NBA dudes. We all still want to win.”

He wasn’t just messing around, either. Clarke went back the following day and led his team to a W.

One thing that really differentiates Clarke from most other rookies drafted in the first round is his age. A lot of players that get drafted early on are younger. Teams draft them as projects based on their playing profile, size, abilities, etc. Clarke – thanks in part to his two years with San Jose State and one redshirt year with Gonzaga – will turn 23 this fall.

When asked if his age gives him an advantage, Clarke agreed.

“Yeah, I would probably say so. If I was playing right now and I was only 18 or 19 I could see why it would be tougher,” he said. “But me being almost 23, I feel like I played in many games that were just like this one tonight.”

There’s no doubt that Clarke’s large volume of collegiate experience will give him an advantage during the long NBA season. He’s played against high-level talent for three seasons in total and had almost four years to develop his various skill sets.

Clarke talked a bit about the process of ending his college career, the draft, and then summer league.

“It’s been a long journey really,” he said. “Lot’s of workouts, lot’s of time put in. But I’m here playing, it’s been super fun and I’m just really happy to get this feel of what NBA games are actually like. Just trying to get that feel back and get better at playing team basketball for the Grizzlies.”

Clarke could truly be considered the ultimate anomaly in today’s NBA. Sure, he’s super athletic, smooth around the rim, and has elite finishing abilities (he led the NCAA in field goal percentage last season). But he’s a big trapped in a wing’s body. There’s one skill that, if developed, could really bring his game to the next level.

“My shooting. That’s been something I’ve been working on a lot. If I can add that to my game I feel like I’ll be a much, much better player,” Clarke said. “There’s just so much I’ve added, but I’d probably say shooting is the biggest part and there’s still lot’s of steps I need to take.”

The fact that Clarke understands that already puts him ahead of the pack. Many players spend too much time developing skills that won’t give them longevity in the league. Clarke really has almost a complete package skills-wise, but becoming a better shooter would take his game so far.

The Memphis Grizzlies are 100 percent in rebuild mode. They have special pieces in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, but don’t sleep on Brandon Clarke. He could very easily emerge as a central piece to any success the Grizzlies have down the road.

Athleticism aside, it is clear that Clarke has all the intangibles of a great leader, and that alone could pay huge dividends to both himself and the Grizzlies organization in the seasons to come.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next For Chris Paul

Left in the lurch, there are few feasible options for Chris Paul headed into the 2019-20 season, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s official, we have hit the dog days of the NBA offseason.

What began at such a frenetic pace has inevitably sputtered and slowed, as deals have been made, unmade and some of the biggest names in the NBA have moved house. Everything that could have happened seems to have and now, with Summer League over, basketball is left with almost nothing to occupy the seemingly infinite amount of time between today and training camp.

And, unfortunately for Chris Paul, it may feel even longer than that.

Despite the Houston Rockets’ declaration to the contrary, Paul has since been traded, stranded on an Oklahoma City roster that has no business competing in a stacked Western Conference next season.

Between his contract – more than $124 million over the next three seasons – and his regression a season ago, Paul’s removal from the Rockets’ roster was a necessity; it’s a business, and the point guard was a hinderance to Houston’s championship aspirations.

But the situation hasn’t changed for Paul – he is still unwanted, a (very) pricy veteran miscast on his current roster.

So, where does that leave him? There are but a few teams that could afford to take on the massive amount of money owed to Paul and even fewer that would want to. There is no doubt that, given a clean bill of health, Paul could recapture some of his prior form next season but, still, would it be worth his price tag?

Probably not. And that should only limit Paul’s options further.

The Thunder reportedly want to get a deal done “as soon as they can” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, but discussions are “parked” for now. They could always opt to retain him; who better to serve as a mentor for the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than the Point God himself?

But would Paul want to serve in that role? There would be a clear opportunity to rebuild some value and open up potential landing spots. But, Paul, 34, is a soon-to-be 15-year veteran with a single Conference Finals appearance to his name. Surely, if he were to step back into a secondary role, he would rather do so for a contender.

And, of course, the money would be an issue as the Thunder, despite the recent roster reconstruction, are still expected to pay a heavy luxury tax penalty next season. Given their current situation, it should be obvious that keeping Paul on his current deal isn’t the best move.

The Lakers serve as another potential destination — don’t forget, Los Angeles tried to acquire Paul back in 2011, but the deal was subsequently nixed by then-commissioner David Stern.

While there is almost no connection between that iteration of the Lakers and the current one, it is still an interesting option. Los Angeles is an obvious fit because, for lack of a better option, the Lakers are set to start LeBron James at point guard next season. With Paul in the fold, James could serve in his normal role and reduce his workload with time off the ball.

The prior relationship between James and Paul could also serve to benefit the Lakers’ chemistry and may allow for an easier roster transition.

But, again, Paul’s contract looms large. The Lakers opened a max-slot in their salary cap earlier this summer, hoping to land recently-minted champion Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard spurned them for their in-house neighbor, the Clippers, they made use of that space to fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players.

Now, a buyout would be necessary to facilitate any deal before the start of the season. Otherwise, the Lakers would have to wait until December, when those players that signed new contracts would become eligible to be traded.

And then, of course, there are the HEAT. Miami is almost always mentioned when a big-name is available, whether as a free agent or via trade, and the rumors proved true this offseason in the case of Jimmy Butler.

Despite the awkward fit in Philadelphia alongside other stars such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, Butler proved his worth and, at times, looked like the 76ers’ best player during the postseason.

Now in Miami, Butler should almost certainly bolster their future outlook, but they are far from done with the roster. Without a subsequent move, they aren’t a championship contender — could Paul be the one to take them a step further?

The reported mutual interest, according to Brian Windhorst, should only fuel the flames, but a deal involving Paul could be as much of a necessity for Miami as it was for Houston.

The HEAT were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago and Butler is a major upgrade, but the rest of the roster is underwhelming at best. While Butler and Paul could prove an awkward fit basketball-wise, there is no doubt that the two of them together would significantly elevate the HEAT’s ceiling above that level. Miami, unlike many of his other potential suitors, would also have the salary to match Paul’s incoming deal.

But a dispute over draft compensation seems to have tabled discussions until further notice.

Beyond those scenarios, it’s hard to imagine Paul anywhere else next season.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Paul is anywhere other than Oklahoma City to start next season, barring a change of heart (either from Paul regarding a buyout or the HEAT and Thunder regarding potential compensation), anyway.

And so, the long wait for Paul will continue. It would be foolish to doubt him now, after 14 seasons in the NBA, but it’s hard to imagine that Paul will come close to providing adequate value relative to his contract. Ultimately, a potential move may be out of his hands, left up to the teams to determine whether or not Paul is an asset worth acquiring.

So far, it would seem the NBA has deemed him not worth it.

But, it is the NBA and if the offseason thus far is anything to go by, anything could happen.

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