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NBA Daily: Early Winners and Losers of NBA Free Agency

Shane Rhodes looks at winners and losers so far in the NBA’s free agency process.

Shane Rhodes

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The NBA offseason continues to intrigue. From an active draft, the league quickly moved into a free agency period that started with a bang. LeBron James made the move to Los Angeles, the Golden State Warriors managed to improve the best roster in basketball and over $1 billion in contracts have been signed.

There are still plenty of free agents left on the board. But who are the winners so far? The losers? Let’s take a look.

Winners:

Los Angeles Lakers

When you land the biggest fish in the pond, of course you are going to come away a winner. The Los Angeles Lakers did just that when they snagged the biggest name on the market, LeBron James.

Not only did they get him, but the Lakers got a long-term commitment from the King — three seasons and a fourth player-option — and, while they were quickly upstaged by another squad (more on that later), they instantly transformed their roster into a contender. While another year with just the kids would certainly have made the Lakers an interesting team, James’ arrival vaults them into the upper echelon of teams, even in the brutal Western Conference.

With James in the fold, not only will the LakeShow find its way back to the postseason, but they are now primed to attract numerous big-name players in the summer of 2019; Jimmy Bulter, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving are just a few of the names that could find themselves on the open market. Outside of James, the Lakers have maintained their financial flexibility this offseason, signing numerous players to one-year deals, and they should easily be able to carve out another max-contract roster spot alongside him.

DeMarcus Cousins and the Golden State Warriors

If the Lakers won the first day of free agency, the Warriors were definitely the day two victors.

Coming off back-to-back titles and three in four seasons, the Warriors didn’t need to do anything to their roster, outside of retaining some of their own free agents (which they also did). With a foursome of Stephen Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, they likely would have walked their way back to the Western Conference Finals.

But complacency can often lead to an undesirable outcome.

And so the Warriors front office, being the forward-thinking group that they are, went out and signed the best center in basketball, DeMarcus Cousins.

For just taxpayer midlevel exception, this is a no-brainer for Golden State. While Cousins is coming off a torn Achilles, the Warriors are more than equipped to deal with his injury as well as his volatile personality and he represents a low risk, very high upside reward for the team. If he can return to even 60 percent of the player he was pre-injury, he is an upgrade, something that should scare every team trying to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

If things don’t work out, Cousins can easily be moved off the roster and the team will still dominate.

Likewise, this is a smart move for Cousins. The big-man can take all the time in the world on his rehab. Cousins can rebuild his value and look to cash in big next offseason all while winning a ring for his troubles. It’s a win-win.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Last offseason the Oklahoma City Thunder made a gamble, trading two still-developing, promising players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Indiana Pacers for a potential one-year rental of Paul George. Sam Presti and Co. bet on themselves, on the culture they had built in Oklahoma City, that they could do enough to keep George around long term.

And they did.

One year later, and George and the Thunder have agreed to a long-term commitment, keeping him in Oklahoma City for at least the next three seasons (four with a player-option).

Had George left, the Thunder would have been left in an awkward position. With Russell Westbrook as their lone star they could remain competitive. But, as we saw two seasons ago, they wouldn’t be much to reckon with come playoff time. With George sticking around, the Thunder can compete now and could look to attract more talent to pair with their dynamic duo, both now and in the future.

And, while Oklahoma City has a massive tax bill staring them in the face, that is something that can be dealt with (and already is, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young of ESPN). And, if they could do it over, the Thunder would likely foot the bill again if it meant keeping George long term.

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have done nothing of note during the free agent period, yet they still managed to come away winners.

With James off to LaLa Land, the Eastern Conference is Boston’s for the taking. After coming minutes from an NBA Finals berth, they will return All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the starting lineup. The market for restricted free agent Marcus Smart has all but dried up, effectively deflating the value of his next contract and keeping him more affordable for a team with its back up against the salary cap.

While injuries often seemed like they were derailing Boston’s promise last season, things, for now, appear to be breaking in their favor this time around.

Losers:

Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards are not in a great place.

The roster has been topped out, the majority of their cap tied into John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. While James’ reign over the Eastern Conference is over, is that trio good enough to reach the NBA Finals? Good enough to challenge the likes of the Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers, or even the Toronto Raptors?

Probably not.

While they were able to move Marcin Gortat off the roster, his replacement, Dwight Howard, isn’t exactly the BEST lockerroom presence. And, while he impressed last season — Howard averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds, both his best since the 2013-14 season — he isn’t the type of player that he used to be. He certainly doesn’t put the Wizards over the top.

With few means to improve their team outside of short-term, low-cost contracts, the Wizards look the part of a team that won’t make much noise come playoff time. Short of some major roster manipulation, expect a season similar to their 2017-18.

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets made the move they needed to make and retained Chris Paul.

And that’s about all they’ve done.

After a franchise-best 65 wins a season ago, the Rockets appear to be resting on their laurels. While keeping Paul was of paramount importance, it is hard to see them improving on the team they ran out on the court last season.

Houston has already lost a steady contributor in Trevor Ariza and they continue to play around with restricted free agent Clint Capela. In the meantime, their main competition, Golden State, has improved while another team, the Lakers, has risen up to challenge them for Western Conference supremacy.

Cousins, if right, can cause major problems for Houston defensively. James and the problems he poses are evident. And the Lakers are now another team the Rockets will have to fight back before facing off with Golden State.

Unless something changes between now and the beginning of the season, it’s looking more and more like the Rockets could struggle to push the Warriors as much as they did last season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans find themselves in a poor, yet familiar, position.

With Cousins and Rajon Rondo gone, the Pelicans are missing two key contributors from last season’s squad. While they added Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle, they are, at best, in the same spot they were last season. And, with much of the Western Conference improving this offseason, that doesn’t bode well for their playoff chances.

And that doesn’t bode well for their relationship with Anthony Davis.

While the chatter around the All-NBA forward had quieted down in recent months due to the Pelicans success last year, that could all come flooding back should they falter next season. And while Davis has affirmed and reaffirmed his commitment to New Orleans time and time again, at some point a player has to stop and think about what is best for them and their future.

If the Pelicans continue along this path, Davis’ future may no longer be in New Orleans. A free agent in 2021, Davis could look to take that future into his own hands.

LeBron James

James is a winner because he is where he and his family are happy and where they want to be.

In terms of basketball, however? James is a loser.

The Lakers seem content to burn a year of James and have made a series of head-scratching moves. While they have maintained their cap flexibility for next offseason, they have signed or retained numerous non-shooters; Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. James has proven that a team that surrounds him with shooters can dominate, so they aren’t exactly the best fits.

They also have failed to pair James with a second superstar. And while James, going on 34 years old, can still carry the team to the postseason, he is no match for the Warriors alone. There are intriguing talents on the roster — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, etc. — but none of them are on the same level as Kawhi Leonard and stars the Lakers could potentially go after.

James can only be at the peak of his powers for so long. And the Lakers waiving the white flag before the season even starts probably isn’t the best feeling for the King.

Not everyone can have a successful offseason — things out of a team’s control can have adverse effects on their future success. Still, with plenty of offseason left to go, many of these teams and or players could find themselves in a different position, good or bad, come October. Either way, the 2018-19 NBA season is shaping up to be one of the most fun in recent memory.

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G-League

NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong

Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.

Jordan Hicks

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The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.

Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.

Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).

In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.

In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.

Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.

Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.

“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”

Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.

“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.

When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.

“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”

Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.

Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.

Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”

Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.

After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.

“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”

As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.

Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.

Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.

“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”

The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Potential 10-Day Contract Players

Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few players who could be prime candidates for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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January 5 was an important deadline in the NBA in that it marked the first day teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts.

Usually reserved for younger, unproven talent looking to get their first shot in the NBA, recently NBA veterans have started going the 10-day route to refresh their careers and get back in the league. For example, Corey Brewer just recently signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.

These contracts are very beneficial for teams in that there’s essentially no risk, and the potential for a high reward. It’s a relatively cheap tryout for teams to get a quick look at players who can potentially be helpful. Best case scenario, they end up finding a solid contributor. If not, then the player is no longer with them after 10 days.

Here’s a look at a few players who could be candidates for a 10-day contract.

1. Willie Reed

The veteran big man has had his taste of the NBA. He began last season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. With the emergence of other players, however, his playing time decreased and he was ultimately traded to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade.

The Pistons then shipped him off to the Chicago Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and the Bulls proceeded to cut him. He ended up being the first overall pick of the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League.

This season with the Stars, he’s been one of the best big men in the G League. Reed has put up 20.1 points per game on 66.5 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s still a quality rotation player and could help a playoff team in need of some size off the bench.

2. John Jenkins

Another NBA veteran, Jenkins developed a reputation as a sharpshooter during his early years in the league, but didn’t do much else. His last appearance in the NBA was last season when he was brought to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks.

He ended up being one of the Hawks’ final cuts before the end of camp, and he subsequently chose to play overseas. He returned stateside this season, where he joined the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate.

Jenkins has had a very strong season thus far, putting up 24.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting, 42.8 percent from the three-point line, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Perhaps the biggest changes in his game have been his playmaking ability and his development into a more versatile scorer. Any team in need of some bench scoring should give him a look.

3. Anthony Bennett

Keeping with the trend of NBA veterans using 10-day contracts to get back to the league, the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft has begun to put people on notice this season.

Bennett last saw NBA minutes two season ago with the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t that bad during his stint in Brooklyn, but the Nets cut him almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. Aside from a brief stop overseas, Bennett has been playing in the G League.

This season with the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett has looked like he’s ready for another shot in the NBA. He’s been averaging a modest 13.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. One of the biggest additions to his game though has been his expanded shooting range. He’s knocking down 43.6 percent of this 5.1 three-point attempts. He’s worth another look for a team in need of a stretch big man.

4. Bruno Caboclo

Another player with NBA experience, it’s probably not fair to call Caboclo a veteran seeing that he rarely saw playing time in the league. When he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, his selection caused quite a bit of confusion, leading to Fran Fraschilla’s now famous quote of him being, “two years away from being two years away.”

Caboclo toiled on the Raptors’ bench for about four years before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He finally was able to see some minutes with the Kings, but still didn’t show much. The Houston Rockets invited him to training camp but ultimately cut him.

Caboclo joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate, and has since been showing that he may very well be worth a 10-day contract. He’s averaging 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. When he was drafted, the expectation was he’d develop into a 3&D wing but that didn’t happen. He’s looking much closer to that now. For a team in need of a wing defender who can shoot from distance, he’s worth a look.

Again, 10-day contracts have become a very valuable and inexpensive way for NBA teams to try out potential contributors. If the player pans out, then you have a relatively cheap guy in the rotation. If they don’t, you cut your losses after 10 days. It should be interesting to see if these vets are able to parlay their G League success into a path back to the NBA.

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NBA Daily: Capela’s Injury is a Massive Setback for Houston

Clint Capela’s thumb injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Spencer Davies looks at the massive loss, who may get opportunities and what moves the Houston Rockets could make in response.

Spencer Davies

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James Harden has a real challenge on his hands.

The Houston Rockets’ remarkable stretch from mid-December to the New Year behind the reigning MVP helped put them back in the middle of the playoff picture.

But he had a right-hand man—the same right-hand man who has emerged as a dominant two-way interior presence over the last three years under Mike D’Antoni—and that is Clint Capela.

Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Capela would be out for at least the next month with ligament damage in his right thumb. There’s a chance that the 24-year-old big man could get a second opinion from a hand specialist following the MRI he took Monday.

Before sustaining the injury in Orlando, Capela was having a career season with the Rockets on the offensive end, significantly up-ticking his previous year averages to an impressive 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in over 34 minutes per game.

At the bottom of the barrel in defensive rebounding (and 29th in total rebounds per game), Houston already struggles on the glass as it is. However, they are doing a solid job of preventing their opponents from crashing the boards. Taking Capela out of the equation hurts because of his fundamental ability.

According to NBA.com, the Rockets rebound the ball as a team 89.9 percent of the time when Capela boxes out under the basket. He averages six of them per game and the vast majority of those are coming on the defensive end. It’s a simple part of the game, yet such an important aspect for a group that struggles in that area.

With Capela sidelined, Houston loses its rim protector. While it may be true that he’s not having as much success as last year defending in the paint, he is one of only four players in the league seeing at least seven attempts per game within five feet or less. More importantly—anywhere on the floor—the Swiss center is a top five shot contester among all of his peers.

Offensively speaking, Harden might be the most disappointed. He and Capela have developed an incredibly impressive two-man game through the Beard’s ability to finish at the rim.

Using the pick-and-roll to their advantage, the opposing big often chooses to help his man cover Harden, leaving Capela there for the easy high-handoff. It’s a play this duo has literally executed at will, and it’s been made deadly over the last few seasons.

Couple that with the athleticism and precision both have—few teams stand a chance at stopping it. And, back to the battle of the boards, Capela pulls down five offensive rebounds per game and provides second chance opportunities consistently.

If you don’t get the picture, we’ll leave it at this—the Rockets have to do something to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. The postseason hunt cannot solely rest on the shoulders of Harden. He has accomplished unfathomable feats in his career and was the NBA’s 2017-18 Most Valuable Player, but this is another type of challenge.

Houston’s players are dropping like flies. Sure, Chris Paul is on the mend and likely to return soon, and the same could be said of Eric Gordon, but there is little depth in the frontcourt . They’re down to Nene, Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein as men in the middle. The rest are versatile forwards with the ability to play multiple positions, but not the one they need desperately at the moment.

We all know what Nene is capable of. That said, he’s not going to play 34 minutes per night at his age. In fact, the veteran has only eclipsed the 20-minute mark four times total in the last two seasons. There’s no doubt that he’ll give Houston a solid boost in spurts, but that’s likely not sustainable throughout the entirety of a game.

This writer is curious to see what Chriss does with the opportunity in front of him. It is fair to say that his athletic ability matches, or even supersedes, Capela’s, so the alley-oops will be there for him. However, these important questions remained unanswered: Can he screen? Can he rebound? Can he take the challenge?

Chriss was a top 10 draft pick not even three years ago. There’s a ton of potential that can be tapped into here. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they’re going to need to see growth and development quickly with little leeway for mistakes. They probably can’t depend on a raw 21-year-old prospect to steadily produce the way Capela has.

Hartenstein offers more size than both of those two and has played in 22 games this season. Still, he has only appeared in one contest since December 3. Hartenstein has taken advantage of his floor time, but the sample size is extremely small. Again, not nearly enough to fill the Capela void.

There are a few names out there that Houston general manager Daryl Morey could pursue.

Purely out of speculation, Bulls center Robin Lopez might be a good fit for a veteran squad and the organization is reportedly refusing to negotiate a buyout, so that may be worth paying attention to.

Hawks big man Dewayne Dedmon has quietly put together two impressive seasons in Atlanta. He’s a consistent player who fights for rebounds and gives a solid effort on the defensive end. And an extra attractive quality for D’Antoni—his expanded shooting range. John Collins has stated his own case for extra playing time with stellar play, so Dedmon probably won’t fit into the plans too much longer.

Tristan Thompson is giving his all with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He just returned from a foot injury and is getting back to the pre-injury version of himself. The 27-year-old is matching his career-high in points per game and is grabbing a career-best 11.2 rebounds per game to boot.

Like Capela, he is a monster on the offensive glass and excels at the fundamentals of the game with pick-and-roll situations and box outs. The only drawback to Thompson is his hefty, fully guaranteed salary, but he’s only on that deal for this year and the next.

With Cleveland looking to take on “bad” contracts with future assets attached, the Rockets should most definitely consider moving Brandon Knight or some other package along with a pick or two.

This is just a matter of spitballing a few names that might fit the bill for Houston. Heck, even if it’s a minor depth move, going out and getting an underutilized player like Skal Labissiere in Sacramento would make a difference to ensure the others aren’t winding themselves down with a huge increase in playing time.

Whatever the Rockets decide to do, the road to the playoffs has become a whole lot bumpier. Harden is going to have his work cut out for him LeBron James style a la 2017-18. We’re all anxious to see how he responds to such a challenge.

The past is the past—and CP3 was incredible for Houston last postseason—but it sure would be nice to have Montrezl Harrell around now, wouldn’t it?

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