With the first half of the NBA season firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look toward All-Star Weekend, the looming trade deadline and, ultimately, the high-stakes playoff chase. Although most of this year’s rookie class — minus one outstanding potential exception — won’t be headed to Charlotte for anything outside of the Rising Stars Challenge, there’s still the matter of sorting out this campaign’s edition of the All-Rookie squads. At this point, the sought-after Rookie of the Year honors will be headed in Luka Dončić’s direction, if not Deandre Ayton’s in the event of a major upset, but the others need not fret just yet!
If you’re in need of a refresher, the All-Rookie teams are voted on by the league’s head coaches, with the single stipulation that they are barred from choosing their own players. The rookies that earn the five highest point totals are selected to the first team, while the next set of vote-getters land on the second. Of note, building a true five-man lineup — ie, two guards, three frontcourt players — does not factor into the final result. So, while the idea of running out a real team of Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Jahlil Okafor and Devin Booker — or, in other words, the 2015-16 First Team — sounds insane in principle, it’s perfectly fair game for the All-Rookie results.
With that in mind, here’s how the two rookie teams might shake out by season’s end.
Honorable Mentions: Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls; Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks; Landry Shamet, Philadelphia 76ers; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers; Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves
Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
What’s there to be said about Dončić that hasn’t been gushed about profusely already? He’s the current odds-on favorite to be Rookie of the Year, while also maintaining his remarkable edge as the third-highest voter-getter in the entire NBA for next month’s All-Star Game. Even if he’s not chosen as a starter, Dončić’s resume is incredible and he may just make it as a reserve selection through the head coach vote anyway. If Dončić does go to Charlotte for the Sunday fireworks, he’d be the first rookie to earn those honors since Blake Griffin in 2011 and, before that, Yao Ming in 2003.
Which is to basically say, for lack of a better term at this point: Whoa. Dončić has started all 43 contests for the Mavericks, averaging 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 three-pointers over 32.1 minutes per game. Craziest of all, he’ll turn just 20 years-old in February — talk about a sky-high ceiling. So, yes, Dončić is a shoo-in for the All-Rookie First Team, if not some even bigger and grander achievements before long.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
If Dončić is the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year, Ayton is a fantastic consolation prize. Selected at No. 1 overall, Ayton has been a truly special player for the Suns and the 7-foot-1 center has tallied an impressive 16.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and a block over 31 minutes per game. In a strange way, Dončić’s extremely fast rise to stardom has somehow reflected poorly on Ayton, as if the Suns missed on their evaluation of the two youngsters. But make no mistake: Ayton is a star in the making and the Suns will have likely found their franchise cornerstone for the next decade-plus as well.
In a tight battle against the Nets in December, Ayton dominated Brooklyn to the tune of 26 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks on 81.3 percent from the floor — what else could you want? Paired alongside the superhuman scoring efforts of Devin Booker, the duo currently combines for 41 of the Suns’ 106 points per game — of course, Ayton is just 20 years of age, while Booker is 22. There’s a wait-and-see approach to Ayton’s defense but he appears to be a show-stopping shot blocker at the very least. As with all of the names on this list, there’s plenty of time for Ayton to improve on that below-par front too. But for now, it’s just best to sit back and enjoy the talents of another First Team lock.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
It’s been a wild ride for Jaren Jackson Jr. through the first three months of his professional career and it’s about to get far more interesting from here on out. After starting the season as surprise postseason candidates, the Grizzlies have recently lost 10 of their last 11 games and sunk to 14th in the conference standings. Should Memphis become sellers at the deadline, Jackson’s usage could balloon between now and April — that alone would make Grizzlies games worth tuning into. At 6-foot-11, Jackson has the chance to be the class’ very best defender and he’s always exhibiting that rim protecting prowess down low.
Jackson has turned in 18 multi-block games — including 12 of three or more — in 45 games and his scoring ability is already beyond what most thought he’d display during his rookie campaign. In one late November contest, Jackson swatted seven shots and went 4-for-4 from deep — so look for no further proof that the 19-year-old might be another unicorn in the making. Within another less top-heavy draft class, Jackson would be the clear crown jewel — alas, he’s still a piece that the Grizzlies can be thrilled about building around for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
So far, Kevin Knox’s initial foray into the NBA has been forged from some incredible highs, not every-night consistencies. Knox has tallied below his season average of 12.5 points on 17 separate occasions — and failed to reach double-digits scoring in 13 of those — but the Knicks’ newcomer looks like a keeper nonetheless. In a couple of inspired efforts, Knox dropped 31 points and seven rebounds in a slim loss to the 76ers; then, last month, the former Wildcat recorded 26 points and 15 rebounds in stat-stuffing fashion. And although he’s had his fair share of rough performances, Knox has also knocked down two or more three-pointers in 20 games already. Useful in spots all over the floor, Knox just needs to improve his efficiencies before he becomes a household name in the demanding New York market.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic as the Knicks also tout Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and another incoming top-five draftee headed their way, plus the possibility of a max contract free agent. But whether or not the Knicks land a Kevin Durant-level player or add a blue-chipper like Zion Williamson seems less important by the game — Knox might be that good. Those in New York keep checking the horizon for their franchise savior but, the thing is, they may already have him in blue and orange.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Dončić is an incredible player, obviously, so, until very recently, any time Trae Young was mentioned, even in passing, it came back to the Hawks’ decision to make that draft day swap. Perhaps unfair, and then made even worse by Dončić’s transcendent start, it left Young with little coverage outside of that initial status as a footnote. If those days weren’t far behind already, they definitely will be now. In his own right, Young has blossomed as of late for Atlanta, even notching 16 or more points in all but two games since Christmas.
Furthermore, Young’s 7.2 assists lead all rookies by a large margin, including Dončić’s second-best mark of 5.1. Actually, it’s even better than that as Young’s impressive rate currently lands him in the top ten league-wide, only bested by perennial All-Stars and the breakout stud of the season, De’Aaron Fox. Efficiency has not always been Young’s best friend, but he’s adjusted to the stronger defenses and professional schemes as well as one might hope for such a high-usage college standout. Naturally, Young has not reached the massive summits that he did during his single season at Oklahoma — no 48-point explosions just yet — but it feels like the best is still to come here.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Once touted as a possible Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Collin Sexton has settled into a positive, reliable role for the Cavaliers. Although he’s not torching opposing defenses, Sexton has held his own against stiff competition since the New Year — a list that now includes Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and Victor Oladipo. Sexton has averaged a solid 14.6 points and 2.8 assists on 41.7 percent from the field so far, all while shouldering a massive load of responsibility for one of the NBA’s worst teams. While it’d be a real shame to miss out on the potential of a Sexton and Kevin Love-led duo, snagging more future assets to put around their 20-year-old centerpiece is a tantalizing thought.
Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
Young isn’t the only talented rookie in Atlanta and Kevin Huerter has been an excellent Robin to the point guard’s Batman. Huerter wasn’t even the starter until late November but he’s proving why he soared up draft boards during combine season. In the last month, the Hawks have turned the reins over to their wonderful class of prospects and, in turn, have won more games in the last 30 days (eight) than they did in the first 60 (six). Undoubtedly, Huerter’s microwavable scoring has been a large reason why. Known as a certifiable bucket-getter, Huerter still contributes offensively beyond just points, even registering three or more assists on 22 instances in 2018-19 already. Whether or not he turns into the next Klay Thompson, Huerter absolutely fits into the mold of the modern NBA — he’ll be on the Second Team come springtime at the very least.
Rodions Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets
Without a doubt, Rodions Kurucs has been a hot-ticket item as of late — and for good reason. The second-rounder out of Latvia has earned an increase in playing time since Dec. 14 and Nets instantly became better, that much is clear. Since Kurucs joined the starting lineup, Brooklyn has only gone 13-5, no big deal. The No. 40 overall selection has scored double-digits in four of the Nets last six games, including a 24-point breakout performance against the Boston Celtics. For a 20-year-old that was banished to the bench in Barcelona, his early contributions are out of this world. Kurucs may be raw, but he’s aggressive, fills his role and exhibits an ability to hit from long range or off the rebound. If he keeps this up, it’ll be really hard not to reward Kurucs with a well-deserved spot on the Second Team.
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
At this time, the spectacular is not exactly in Marvin Bagley III’s wheelhouse — but for what he lacks in gaudy statistical lines, the power forward makes up in off-the-bench consistency. Bagley has grabbed 10-plus points in his last four contests — paired with solid rebounding numbers of seven, nine, 11 and eight to boot — all over an average of just 23 minutes per game. Before a back injury knocked the rookie out for nearly a month, Bagley was still finding his feet as a reliable scorer but he’s worked well with Harry Giles, Sacramento’s other promising frontcourt asset. The Kings have gone 3-1 since his return to the rotation, so the surprise franchise could start leaning on the 19-year-old as they push to get back in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture. If Bagley gets his assumed second half bump in minutes, there’s a great chance that he’ll have the numbers and growth needed to earn these rookie honors.
Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
With yesterday’s news that Wendell Carter Jr. would miss the next 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery, Mikal Bridges slides seamlessly into his spot as the Suns’ two-way standout. Bridges is feeling things out as an NBA scorer, but he provides stellar defense and contributes in ways that don’t always show up in the box score. The former Villanova star won’t pour it in, especially when playing alongside the high-usage Booker, but Bridges ranks second in steals per game (1.37) and sixth in three-point percentage (34.7) among all qualified rookies. Bridges’ high BBIQ often translates into easy thefts, exhibited by his 20 multi-steal performances through 46 career contests. Bridges hasn’t begun his professional journey with as much noticeable star power as many others in his draft class, but there’s bankable potential here in no uncertain terms.
It’s only late January, so the fates of these talented rookies are nowhere close to sealed — with the exception of a generational few, of course. Competition for the two All-Rookie squads are always fierce, but more importantly, they’re not an indication or guarantee of future successes. So whether or not your favorite first-year makes the cut in April, this draft classes looks to be as good as advertised. Between Doncic gunning for an All-Star Game berth and the unexpected abilities of a second-rounder in Kurucs, the first-year narratives have been wholly entertaining — no matter where voting lands at season’s end.
NBA Daily: Raymond Felton’s Career Will End On His Own Terms
Spencer Davies speaks with longtime basketball veteran Raymond Felton about the ups and downs of his career, why he’s not done playing, the NBA bubble and more.
For all of his life, Raymond Felton’s never been a tattoo guy.
Jermichael Wright, his best friend, makes a living in the world of ink design as an artist with his own shop.
Together at Latta High School in South Carolina, the two won back-to-back state championships in 2001 and 2002. With career averages of 39 points, 9.1 rebounds 8.9 assists and 5.6 steals per game, Felton led the Vikings to a 104-9 record over four seasons and earned the Naismith Prep award his senior year among future household names, including upstart junior LeBron James, before making a memorable run at the University of North Carolina.
But it wasn’t the accolades and personal accomplishments that stuck with Felton; it was the message he and Wright lived by that made it possible — GBMS, the very phrase the longtime NBA veteran had tattooed on his right arm this past year.
“It means God Bless My Success,” Felton told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive phone interview. “It’s an everyday thing for me. Every dang day.”
One week ago today marked a full year since Felton became a free agent. Following a two-season stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he didn’t end up signing with a team. It’s the first time that the recently-turned 36-year-old hasn’t played professionally since entering the Association in 2005.
That’s quite an adjustment for somebody who’s been around hoops his entire life; however, his everyday regimen hasn’t really changed. Felton is not done with the game yet. Still residing in Oklahoma City, he’s been training, staying in shape and, most importantly, maintaining a healthy diet as he gets older.
“It was tough, mentally, not being able to do something that you love to do and have a passion for,” Felton said of missing the action. “I love basketball. I’d do it even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it. But me, understanding that I’m 36 and getting towards the end of my career, I just didn’t want it to end like that. So that’s why I’m not retiring.
“I feel like I can still play. If I get to the point where I feel like I can’t move the way I used to, then that’s letting me know that it’s time for me to let it go. Even if I’ve got to go across the world, I’m going to play basketball for another two years to satisfy myself and how I want to end it.”
This past spring, erroneous reports surfaced that Felton was signing with Czech Republic Second Division club GBA Jindrichuv Hradec to continue his playing career. So what happened?
Felton spoke with a trainer for the team, who happens to be a friend of his from North Carolina. The trainer tried to persuade him to come overseas and join them for a tournament, so Felton did some research out of curiosity. It didn’t go far. He was offered money and had a conversation with the general manager of the club, but terms were never agreed upon, nor close to agreed upon. In fact, his agent didn’t even speak with the team’s management.
“I started getting all kinds of phone calls from people saying, ‘Hey man, you signed with the Czech Republic and you can’t even go to the Czech Republic,’” Felton said. “I’m like, ‘No, I’m at home. I’m not going anywhere.’ I don’t know. It was just a big mix-up with that.”
The closest Felton came to playing was last summer. He was working out with the Houston Rockets frequently and felt the organization would offer him a contract. They didn’t even invite him to training camp in the fall. Ideally, Felton would love to pick up where he left off in the NBA with a team that values his presence.
“I still feel like I’ve got a lot that I can offer, but you know how that goes sometimes in the league now. They want to go young. They want to do different things. It can be unfortunate sometimes.”
It’s not the first time that Felton’s been on the wrong side of lady luck. After four losing seasons with the then-named Charlotte Bobcats, the team made the playoffs and appeared to be set on a franchise turnaround; it didn’t work out the way he thought it would.
Felton went on to sign with the New York Knicks in the summer of 2010, a move that turned out to be outstanding for both the team and himself. Through 54 games, Felton was averaging career-bests in points (17.1), assists (9) and free throw percentage (86.7), all in over 38 minutes per contest.
Led by All-Star big man Amar’e Stoudemire, young talents like Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and promising rookies — Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov — the Knicks were in the middle of the playoff pack with a 28-26 record and things were looking up in The Big Apple.
On the other hand, the organization had an opportunity to strike gold with a hometown superstar, Carmelo Anthony, aching to play for New York. The Knicks went with the latter option and made a blockbuster three-way trade to acquire ‘Melo from the Denver Nuggets. Felton, along with several key contributors and young talents, was made expendable. It’s a scenario that begs the question: “What if?”
“I’ve got the same question you got,” Felton chuckled. “’What if? What if y’all just waited?’ ‘Melo was gonna come anyway. He was gonna come anyway in free agency that summer. Just like…I don’t know man. To me, that team was special and I thought it could’ve been really special. I would like to have seen what we could’ve done, but that’s how the league goes sometimes.”
After finishing the year out with the Nuggets, Felton was dealt yet again to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he spent one short season thanks to a lockout. He returned to New York in the 2012 offseason via another trade and ultimately played with the man he was moved for. Under new head Mike Woodson and alongside new teammates, Felton was a part of the best Knicks team since the late ‘90s. Felton thought that group had a “big chance” at a title, and despite a series loss to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the postseason, it was a great year.
Following his second go-round with New York, Felton bounced around with three teams over five years. When the Knicks sent him to the Dallas Mavericks in June 2014, an injury forced him out of the rotation his first season there. In spite of receiving DNPs for the first time in his career, he credits Rick Carlisle for being upfront with him about his initial role. Felton worked his tail off to earn a spot the next season and did so; he gave key performances for the team in the playoffs. Again, he assumed he’d sign back with the Mavericks when his contract expired, but it fell through the cracks.
So his next decision was signing with the Los Angeles Clippers to back up Chris Paul. It wasn’t a bad call, as Felton received over 20 minutes of playing time per night over 80 games (plus the playoffs). Even in his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder the following year, Felton had a consistent role and appeared in every game. He re-signed with them two summers ago thinking he’d have the same duty. That didn’t happen.
“I had already signed back as a free agent,” Felton explained. “Then [OKC] made that trade later in the summer when they got rid of ‘Melo to go to Atlanta and then they got Dennis Schroder over there. Then they kinda just basically told me that they were gonna play him as the backup point guard. And it was just like, well, okay, kinda wish I would’ve known that going into free agency before I signed back.”
No hard feelings from Felton, though. He made great friends in his Thunder days and still keeps in touch with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Steven Adams and Schroder, the young guard that overtook his former role.
He’s learned the way the league works and the unlucky breaks that come with being a part of it, firmly believing that the ability to adapt is the only path to longevity.
It was as recent as the 2019 NBA Playoffs where Felton showed his abilities in spurts, most notably a quick stint in Game 4 between the Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers. He scored eight points in rapid fashion and ignited a run that spurred the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a frenzy, a moment he felt showed teams, and the world, that he hasn’t lost a step.
Felton isn’t lost of confidence, and he won’t ever be. He knows he can impact winning — shooting, defense, being a floor general — in whatever amount of minutes are given to him, as well as in a mentorship role.
“You get put in a situation where a lot of teams who are winning teams or are veteran teams that kinda already have their team set, and me going to a young team would basically be another coach, a player-coach. So you go into a situation like that and you already know you’re not gonna be playing ’cause they’re rebuilding. They’re trying to handle their young guys.
“And I’m to the point now where I just want to be around the game. I’m willing to do that. I’m willing to be a player-coach to help young guys and help them develop their skills and help them learn the game, mentally. Because pretty much everybody has the physical attributes, but a lot of them miss the mental part of it that’s really important about being an NBA player. So I’m willing to be able to help in that aspect and still just be ready if my number is called.”
If you’re expecting to see Felton in an NBA uniform anytime soon, it probably won’t be during the league’s restart this month. Like many, he has concerns with the bubble environment at the World of Disney in Orlando. From who he’s spoken to, there have been “iffy” feelings toward the plan itself. Between the surge of coronavirus cases in Florida and the fight against racial injustice and police brutality, Felton isn’t sure if the players will be there from a mental standpoint.
“I kinda wish they would’ve just like canceled the season, just really cancel it and just focus on the draft and focus on that upcoming season and just let this one go,” Felton said. “And I know it’s never been done; it’s been a long time since that ever happened, but it’s been a long time since the world’s been dealing with what we’ve been dealing with right now, too.
“Even the guys who feel the way I feel, we miss the game too. I miss it like crazy. I ain’t played in a whole year, so I would love to go play. I would love that, but not to risk getting sick or risk my life or risk something happening to my kids or my family. Nah, it’s just…not to finish a season. (If) we talkin’ about starting up a whole new season, then okay, that’s a different story. But to like finish and do this format that they’re trying out right now, nah. Not in my opinion. That’s my opinion, but not everybody feels that way, so.”
Despite his feelings on the comeback itself, Felton does feel his friends and players across the league will use their platform in a positive manner to affect change. He shared poignant thoughts on the issues happening in our country and our world.
“Anything can help at this point,” Felton said. “What we’re dealing with right now is just something that just needs to stop. It ain’t no racial thing. It ain’t no blacks against whites. It ain’t that. It’s just that these cops, these bad cops — ’cause not all cops are bad, I will say that; I have cop friends — but the ones who are doing something that other cops need to step up and make a stand and say, ‘Look, this is not how we’re supposed to do things.’ You know, you’re not supposed to put your knee down on that man’s neck for that long and they end up passing out and dying. You’re not supposed to shoot a man because they’re running away from you and you shoot ’em in their back. It’s just too many instances where these things are happening, and it’s just like, it’s got to stop.
“And I’m glad that everybody’s protesting and doing the things they’re doing because it’s like…these things are happening, but nobody’s doing nothing about it. It’s getting brushed up under the rug, and it’s like, no. Enough is enough. We tired. We done. We done with this. I shouldn’t have to answer a question to my son asking me like, ‘Daddy I’m scared. Daddy, I’m scared to be black.’ And it’s like, what? When I hear my kid say something like that, now I’m angry, now I’m mad. It’s just things that gotta stop man. We’re dealing with a lot in the world right now with the (coronavirus) and then all this stuff that’s going on with Black Lives Matter, too.
“It’s just tough times right now,” Felton continued. And I still feel like we’re all gonna get past this, we’re gonna get through this. Change is gonna happen because we’re gonna demand change. We’re gonna demand change. And then with the (coronavirus), it’s just something that we just gotta stay strong as a country and just wait this thing out, man. Just be safe and everybody keep practicing the things we need to practice — social distancing, hand sanitizer, keep your mask on, do the things you gotta do during these rough moments. It’s tough, man. These times like this, you just wanna be close to your family, close to your kids and just try to keep ’em safe. You know, it’s kinda hard to concentrate on basketball when there’s so much going on in the world that you can’t ignore.”
While Felton and Wright carry GBMS on in their respective lives, the two have envisioned starting up a clothing line together. Felton’s already got the shirts and sweatsuits, and people have always asked him about the apparel he wears. It’s a love that motivates him to go through with it down the line.
When asked about his future in basketball once his playing days are over, Felton seems unsure. He does know he wants to be around the game. Still, it’s not the time to talk about that right now. There’s unfinished business left to take care of in his eyes.
Felton’s path to this point has been filled with peaks and valleys. He’s had his fair share of moments at the top and at the bottom.
“I feel like you’ve got to make mistakes and do things in life in order to be a better person and learn how to be a better person and a better man in your life,” Felton said. “Whether it’s (as) a father, a husband or a teammate or a friend or a son or a whatever it is. You have to do some wrong in order to learn.
“So I don’t really know if I have too many regrets because I really can’t complain with my life. Yes, I’ve been through some things — I’ve been through some tough things off the court — but I’ve stayed focused, I’ve always kept God first and believed in God and believed that he’s gonna help me get through this. Mentally, physically, whatever. It’s always been that way. I’ve always gotten through everything that I’ve went through.”
Through it all, Felton wouldn’t change a thing about how he got here.
NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Small Forwards
Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by checking in on a thin small forward class.
With professional basketball on the horizon, all eyes have turned toward Orlando – but here, we’re trying to peer into the future too.
Frankly, the news of pending basketball seems small in comparison to some long-overdue changes. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.
If you can donate, consider doing so. If you can’t donate, educate yourself. Even if you donate, continue to read, learn and listen.
Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something, donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.
We’re approaching the halfway point in our examination of potential upcoming free agents – today, the ball keeps on rolling with the small forwards.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485
Across all positions, Brandon Ingram will be a top option for any franchise with oodles of cap space and a need for consistent scoring. Even then, Ingram seems destined to stay in New Orleans, no matter the cost.
Since he arrived from Los Angeles a year ago, Ingram has quickly turned into the type of stone-cold No. 1 option that can transform a roster. The 6-foot-7 youngster averaged 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 2019-20, numbers that eventually netted Ingram his first-ever All-Star Game appearance. And now, the budding star will likely see any forthcoming offer matched.
Paired with Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have developed an ideally dynamic and flexible duo to carry them into the next half-decade and beyond. With more volume and efficiency from three-point land, Ingram is evolving at a ridiculous rate – all right at home in New Orleans’ high-tempo offense. Capped off by a 49-point stunner back in January, it’s clear that future All-Star berths are just his floor.
Although the salary cap is sure to suffer after the stoppage, the 22-year-old’s future paycheck certainly won’t – he’s that good.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics — Player Option — $32,700,690
Before Hayward even potentially hits free agency, he’s made waves within the NBA’s restarted bubble. On a call last week with Boston media, Hayward announced that he’d leave Orlando should his wife go into labor – whether or not the Celtics are still in the postseason.
The news seems to have passed through the Northeast without major drawback – although, surely, let’s revisit if the franchise is in Eastern Conference Finals when he departs – but could that be the end of the road in Boston? It’s nobody’s fault, of course, but the arrival of Hayward hasn’t gone as planned – and now, both the franchise and player are likely stuck at a hard fork in the road.
Hayward, naturally, has the easier, initial decision: Does he want to opt-in for $30 million-plus? On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. Getting paid a small fortune and competing for a championship is achievable NBA paradise – currently, he’s got it. But after that season, Hayward would be unrestricted, 31 years old and playing fourth fiddle to Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
If Hayward is concerned with his overall fit with Boston – while the Celtics themselves must give careful consideration to how it’ll all work money-wise with Walker and Brown re-upped, alongside glue guy Marcus Smart – then opting out and securing a new multi-year deal might be on the table.
Given his injury history and any presumptive salary cap fluctuations, however, reaching the $30 million range seems far out of his reach. Either way, Hayward, finally, appears to be healthy and confident again, even averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. The Celtics’ will surely miss the scorer should he leave the bubble, but this partnership is likely to last at least another year.
Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $22,615,559
After entering the season as potential trade bait for a Thunder roster that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari fulfilled his status as a go-to scorer and all-around menace. The Italian played so well that Oklahoma City kept the veteran at the trade deadline even though he’s about to hit unrestricted free agency.
At the time of the shutdown, the Thunder were 40-24 and owners of the No. 5 postseason seed. Much of the attention was given toward the rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Gallinari has been a healthy revelation too. Ultimately, keeping the core together for this run was worth it, even if he doesn’t land back in the midwest this offseason.
Despite the incredible campaign, Gallinari’s injury history should be a red flag for any franchise ready to hand out a lucrative deal. Since 2008, Gallinari has played 70 or more games just twice (2009-10, 2012-13) and can struggle to return once he goes down. In any case, regardless of any past ailments, he’s handled back-to-back career seasons – first in Los Angeles with the Clippers and now, obviously, with the Thunder.
At 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 three-pointers on 41 percent from deep, he’s been an excellent fit with Chris Paul and the young roster – but at 32 years old, is there still room to grow over a new multi-year deal?
After Ingram and Hayward, both of whom may not even hit the open market, Gallinari is the crown jewel of available small forwards, so watch this space.
Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916
Understandably, Dario Saric has become a bit of an afterthought. And that’s unfortunate because the Croatian is still useful – he just needs to find his right team.
At 26, Saric is no longer a spring chicken, but his multi-positional playmaking on the cheap will surely elevate a playoff-ready roster down the line. The 6-foot-10 forward is mobile for his size but struggled to fit next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, two touch-gobbling scorers. Saric has a unique NBA skillset and he often does the little things right – but his below-average three-point percentage has hurt him.
For a brief moment, Saric had fallen out of the rotation in early February, but his all-out effort and flexibility made him tough to leave out for too long. While Kelly Oubre Jr. has not been entirely ruled out of the Orlando bubble, Saric is the ready-made replacement for the starting lineup. As the forward will likely become a restricted free agent in the offseason, these upcoming games are vastly important to prove he belongs in Phoenix.
Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $2,159,029
Last but not least, there’s Carmelo Anthony.
After being booted from the league for a year, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has been a solid, reputable source of scoring for Portland. At 15.3 points per game, it’s not Anthony’s most high-tallying performance – duh – but it’ll be enough to secure him another gig in 2020-21. At 36, he’s still a decent option, even if efficiencies may often tell another story.
His stints with Oklahoma City and Houston withstanding, Anthony can still score. And in the NBA these days, that’s worth a stab. Anthony will no longer demand multi-year contracts or salary cap-sponging money, so he’s a low-risk, medium-reward type of player at this point. What team couldn’t use that? The legend has excelled in big moments and brings boatloads of experience – so whether he lands in a veteran-laden locker room or one that needs his guidance hardly matters now.
Bring back Carmelo Anthony in 2020… or else.
With the bubble close to resuming, we’re still unsure if two of the top players on this board are even available. Does Hayward’s eventual leave of absence impact his decision? Would the Celtics look to retain him if he opts out? And, more importantly, is there even more than two seconds of consideration before New Orleans matches whatever max offer sheet Ingram signs? Surely, if a franchise misses out on these two – if they’re out there at all – then the small forward market shrinks tinier than it already is.
Gallinari and beyond, we’ll just have to see how the season of one thousand plotlines and twists continues to unfold.
NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Shooting Guards
Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency tracking series by taking a look at the notable shooting guards potentially hitting the market this summer.
Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency Tracker. We’ve already gone over the top point guards entering free agency this season. Now we’re taking a look at their backcourt counterparts- the shooting guards.
To be honest, this crop of free agents period isn’t exactly a loaded one compared to years’ past. The shooting guards don’t have a great free agency class, but they are among the deeper positions in free agency. There aren’t currently any elite ones potentially going on the free market — DeMar DeRozan once was considered elite, but not now — but there are some shooting guards out there who can make a difference in a playoff series.
What’s odd is that among the highest-paid shooting guards that could go on the market are in similar situations for different reasons. Let’s start with the two best at the respective position that could potentially hit the open market once the season concludes.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs — Player Option — $27,739,975
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic — Player Option — $17,000,000
How can a no-win situation get worse? Ask DeMar DeRozan. It was already tricky enough for him to decide what to do with his player option. He can either stay in San Antonio, whose present is a sinking ship that DeRozan is not reportedly happy to be on, or he can risk losing millions of dollars by playing the field in an offseason with hardly any teams to offer the contract a player of his caliber would demand.
And that was before COVID-19 dismantled the league’s salary cap. DeRozan is one of the league’s premier bucket-getters, and the evolution in his all-around game offensively doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Sadly for him, there are two things he’s not particularly good at that the NBA needs from max contract players now more than ever: shooting and defense.
DeRozan got away with this during his days as a Raptor because he was one of their top dogs on a well-crafted team built for him to thrive. But, since moving to San Antonio, being at the forefront of the Spurs’ downfall over the last two years has made his blemishes stand out now more than ever. Because his style of play grows more and more outdated by the day, both sides seem prepared to move on from each other. Unfortunately for both of them, in an upcoming, uncertain free agency period where available money will be scarce, it may not be the best idea for DeRozan to walk away from upwards of $28 million.
He never deserved this. He gave his all to Toronto to put them on the map. He did his best to fill in the void left by Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. He’s being punished when all he did was show his utmost loyalty to begin with. That’s one of the worst non-injury fates a basketball player can endure. Not many players in NBA history have had to go through a decision as tough as DeRozan will — stay with a team you don’t have a future with, or potentially take a massive pay cut?
Should DeMar DeRozan leave San Antonio? Of all the rhetorical questions in the NBA right now, this is definitely among the rhetorical-est. Then, there’s Fournier.
2016 really was a different time. Back when pretty much every team thought they could do no wrong no matter who they added. When you look at the moves the Magic made at that time — and they made some bad ones — they definitely were one of those teams. Among all the ill-advised moves they made, Evan Fournier was one of those guys that was paid just right for his services. Paying $85 million over five years for a complementary scorer such as he is an adequate price. It’s really quite astounding that he was given a fair pretty deal when you see what other players were paid then.
Now he’s got the option to pocket $17 more million or test the open market. The salary cap falling off a cliff will probably make the decision easier for him than it would have in any other year of free agency. That’s a shame because this season’s easily been his best as a pro — averaging almost 19 points on 47/41/82 splits — but with the lack of funds available, there’s really no reason for him to risk leaving that money on the table, and being in Orlando isn’t a bad situation… right?
Really, it’s his long-term prospects that he has to think about. At 27 years old, Fournier is now entering his prime as a player. His career has been a fun story to watch unfurl because he was originally viewed as a throwaway asset when he was first traded to Orlando six years ago. We’ve seen pretty much ever since that’s definitely not the case with him, but Fournier’s contributions have led to five playoff games in Orlando. He has to ask himself if it’s worth it to stay as a secondary scorer on the most average team in the entire league.
In a normal offseason, DeRozan and Fournier would similarly opt-out but for different reasons. DeRozan would opt-out to find another team that has better use for him, while Fournier would opt out looking for a deserved raise — but because the money they are looking for isn’t going to be around, expect the opt-in.
There is another pair of highly-paid shooting guards who, much like DeRozan and Fournier, are in similar situations but are in completely different stages in their career.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks — Player Option — $18,975,000
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Player Option — $27,130,435
There is literally just one similarity between these two players. Even before COVID-19 hit, they were going to take that player option because there was no way either of them was getting that kind of cash on the open market (thankfully, the salary cap hangover from the insanity of 2016 and 2017 is almost over). Besides that, these two couldn’t be more different.
Putting all money aside, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been awesome for the Mavericks this year. At least for what they’ve asked of him. As the designated third wheel next to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Hardaway has thrived in his new role. His numbers dropped just as they were expected to — from 19 points to 16 — but the man is putting up his best effective field goal percentage (55.4) and best true shooting percentage (58.1), which has no doubt come from both playing with Luka and under Rick Carlisle.
A man of Hardaway’s talents is tailored more for being the complementary scorer on a rising playoff team like Dallas rather than being the top dog for a young team looking for direction like the New York Knicks. It’s amazing how anyone with eyes can see that except the Knicks themselves. Of course, guys can just score and it means absolutely nothing, but Hardaway actually has the best net rating in Dallas, as the Mavericks are plus-6.1 when he’s on the floor. Not bad for someone who was supposed to be a throw-in from the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
Literally the biggest problem with his game right now is that he’s being paid more than he’s worth and…that’s about it. It may sound ridiculous, but there is such a thing as being so overpaid that it makes you underrated. That’s exactly what Hardaway is. Of course, Dallas would probably prefer to have the cap space, but at least they overpay for someone who actually does something for them on the court. Charlotte can’t say the same with Nicolas Batum.
It’s not Batum’s fault that Charlotte basically paid him like a franchise player back in 2016. If money like that is on the table, how can you say no? At the height of his game, Batum was arguably the league’s best glue player. His lanky arms and skinny physique make him somewhat of an all-around terror in all phases of the game — defense, shooting, rebounding, and oddly enough, passing. Or at least it did back when Charlotte played him consistent minutes.
Batum’s impact has died a slow and painful death in Charlotte that over the last two years, he’s basically just been accumulating healthy scratches. Even after the team waived Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Batum hasn’t managed to play one single minute in the NBA since Jan. 24. Over 22 games, he’s put up 3.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3 assists a.k.a. stats that make you scream, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, NICOLAS BATUM?!”
Maybe playing in the league for 12 years has taken its toll on Batum’s body, but the veteran forward is only 31. That’s why there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for both him and the Hornets — besides the fact that he’ll be off their payroll this time next year. With him likely to opt-in, we might get to see the old Batum resurface with the new contract coming up. Whether he does or doesn’t, the quicker the Hornets move away from this era of basketball for them, the better.
So in case you were wondering, the highest-paid shooting guards to hit free agency are probably going to opt-in. Others who play the same position are primed to get their first payday in the NBA. There actually aren’t too many shooting guards entering restricted free agency, but the best ones who are are names you should be familiar with.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings — Restricted — $9,000,000
Malik Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves — Restricted — $1,958,379
There’s really not much to say about Bogdanovic’s free agency that we didn’t already know. He’s one of the league’s premier hybrid playmaker/scorers among NBA second units. Unless there’s something going on behind closed doors, there shouldn’t be anything stopping the Kings from paying him what he wants this offseason. Especially now that they’ve offloaded Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza from their cap. Seriously, why did they bring those guys in again?
The only detail worth questioning is: How much will they give him? Bogi certainly deserves more money, but the lack of cap room going around may limit how much money interested parties are willing to offer for him. The Kings should show him how much they value what he does, but both his restricted free agency and the lack of money give Sacramento more leverage than they are used to. Bogdanovic should stay a King, but we know what the Kings are and are not capable of.
Then, there’s Beasley. Beasley correctly bet on himself when he demanded the Nuggets to trade him to a team willing to give him the minutes he wanted. Since going to Minnesota, he’s putting up excellent numbers that you never thought you’d see from him — nearly 21 points on 47/43/75 splits are sensational numbers for a midseason addition who honestly didn’t cost much to get.
The only two hangups from this situation are that Beasley played this well for 14 games and his contributions didn’t lead to much; the Timberwolves went 4-10 in that span. Now that their season is over, they have to decide if his play was enough to earn him the payday that he clearly wants.
Again, restricted free agency gives teams more leverage, but the Timberwolves might very well be onto something with their midseason shakeups. There’s not a whole lot of avenues for them to get better, so perhaps the best plan for them from here on out is to see what they have here.
There are definitely some other notable free-agent shooting guards this coming offseason:
- Joe Harris’ sharpshooting should attract plenty of suitors, but the cap crunch will probably prevent any unforeseen departure from Brooklyn. Ditto for E’Twaun Moore seeing how New Orleans also has his bird rights.
- Tony Snell has no business being on a rebuilding team like Detroit, but no one’s going to pay him the $11 million that the Pistons will if he opts in.
- Wes Matthews and Austin Rivers have been among the NBA’s best economical additions this past season. Typically guys like them don’t come cheaply the next year, but it might not be up to them.
- Avery Bradley and Rodney Hood are more than likely going to opt-in both because of the cap crunch and their seasons ending prematurely.
- Until they can’t shoot the rock anymore, guys like Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli will be in the NBA. With who is anyone’s guess, but their jumper is a weapon that every NBA team will want.
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