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NBA Daily: The X-Factor Of The Summer

Because of the repercussions of one particular free agency period, teams can use assets to win now by acquiring a star player, like Chris Paul or hoard more assets to win later, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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Houston, we have a problem.

Yeah, it’s an overdone cliche, but when is it not fitting to tie that quote into any problems going on in the Houston area? For the Rockets, it appears that things are not all too peachy at the moment.

Despite both another MVP-caliber performance by James Harden and another hard-fought series against the Warriors, it looks like Daryl Morey and co. are on the verge of mixing some things up in preparation for next season.

The team has already fired most of Mike D’Antoni’s assistants, extension talks between the team and D’Antoni have been broken off, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, everyone on the team – minus Harden (probably) – appears to be available to acquire for the right price.

Wow. And we all thought the Celtics’ narrative had changed the most in a year’s time. If these truly are the Rockets’ plans, and if their aim is to follow through with them at any cost, then they’ve got their work cut out for them this summer. Following these recent reports, fans and media have questioned what Houston will be able to get in exchange for Chris Paul and his $120 million contract over the next three years after his slight but noticeable decline.

At 34 years old, CP3 appears to have lost a step and will be owed $38+ million next season. To make matters worse, that figure will only get higher from there. Not many teams out there would be willing to pay that much for a guy whose best days appear to be behind him.

Getting Paul off the books could be the greatest challenge Daryl Morey has ever had to face. Is trading him improbable? Yes. But is it impossible? No.

There’s one thing that could help Houston offload Paul’s deal: The after-effects from the insanity that was the 2016 offseason. We all remember the one night where it seemed like a fair number of teams got unapologetically inebriated at the start of free agency so they handed out eight-figure contracts to rotation players.

Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Bismack Biyombo are all capable of putting up solid performances, but there’s no conceivable universe in which any of those guys should be getting paid close to what Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo are earning. Those were three of the many who just happened to be free agents at the most opportune time. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s not much need to elaborate on the absurdity that was the 2016 offseason because it was only three years ago. You probably remember what happened. It’s relevant now because a lot of those awful contracts handed out to those players are going to be expiring next season. They now go from horrible albatross to a somewhat useful asset.

Houston could use to this to its advantage.

There are either current or aspiring playoff teams who could use some of the deadweight contracts from the infamous 2016 offseason to acquire a useful player like Paul.

Orlando could be a viable trade partner. At the moment, the team is slated to pay Timofey Mozgov, arguably the most infamous 2016 signing, $16.7 million dollars this upcoming season. Mozgov hasn’t exactly earned his paycheck. In fact, the last time he stepped foot on the court was April 11, 2018. He hasn’t played one minute in Orlando, and from the looks of things, he probably never will.

The Magic are coming off of their most successful years since Dwight Howard skipped town. They have the chance to build off of their playoff run, and better yet, they could use an upgrade at point guard. Now obviously it would take more than Mozgov, and there are less expensive options at point guard that could definitely be on the market – Think Mike Conley Jr. or Jrue Holiday – but having CP3, who would probably cost less, could further build the winning culture that the franchise has desperately craved.

The Rockets are in essence a team who wants to relieve payroll, and the Magic are in essence a team looking to find any edge they can to become relevant again. But this isn’t specifically about them.

There are other talented players who are overpaid – and not to the same degree that Paul is – that could be had for less than what they are worth just as well as teams who suddenly have team-friendly contracts to trade for them.

Kevin Love, though he definitely does not have the same reputation he had in Minnesota, has championship experience and when he was on the floor, was productive for Cleveland. Since Cleveland is in the middle of transitioning into a rebuild, there’s really not much use for him there anymore.

A team like Portland suddenly has the assets to make a deal for Love. The Trail Blazers were one of the teams who pushed a lot of their chips into the summer of 2016, spending hundreds of millions on Turner, Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless. Now, Turner, Leonard and Harkless, who are useful players, suddenly could help clear cap room for Cleveland if they were to trade for Love.

Seeing how the Blazers made it all the way to the Conference Finals without Jusuf Nurkic, imagine what they would look like with both him and Love on the team for their next playoff run. Damian Lillard is on the cusp of turning 30, so there’s no time to waste.

There are others, like the aforementioned Conley, who probably will be traded (more on this later) and Holiday. Even the mercurial Andrew Wiggins, who is getting paid top dollar despite his regression in the last two years. If a team who is rebuilding wants to take a flyer on young talent like him, assuming there’s not much else stopping them, then why not?

Those are only for teams whose aim is to win now. The profusion of large expiring contracts that were agreed to in 2016 can also be used for other means. There are quite a few teams who are rebuilding right now who have contracts like those that be used to get more young assets.

Cleveland executed this to perfection this past season. The Cavaliers traded what was left of their team-friendly deals this season, and used them to acquire long-term contracts in order to acquire more draft picks. They can do it again this offseason.

J.R. Smith (whose contract is only partially guaranteed), Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Jordan Clarkson all have contracts that are expiring. If Cleveland goes this way, then they could conceivably get more young players to add to their youth movement.

One team that could follow the Cavaliers’ example is the Grizzlies. Mike Conley Jr. is sure to be on the market this summer as the team reluctantly embraces its rebuild, but that has already been discussed and will be discussed more over the next month or so. If and when they trade him, Memphis should turn to another asset that they can use to help as they build a new youth movement, and his name is Chandler Parsons.

Parsons was a gamble gone wrong for Memphis. Compared to some of the other awful signings from 2016, no one thought Memphis made a dumb signing as much as they made a risky one. Three years later, and Chandler is unfortunately now just a contract to be moved more so than a valuable contributor for Memphis. The Grizzlies could use his deal to inherit more payroll in the hopes of acquiring more young talent. Even if he didn’t give them what he wanted, Chandler could still be useful for something.

These are just a few examples of what to expect as a consequence of what happened three years ago. There are plenty of other contracts as well. With the balance potentially shifting this offseason, teams are going to be wheeling and dealing. It’s hard not to imagine that what happened in the summer of 2016 won’t greatly impact what happens this summer.

As hard as it may sound, even when your team invests in someone who won’t give you much, we’ve seen how life can somehow find a way to help you benefit from it even when it wasn’t the benefit you originally hoped for.

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NBA

2019 NBA Free Agency Tracker

The 2019 NBA Free Agent class could be one of the more exciting free agent classes in recent history. Throughout the process, Basketball Insiders will update where players ultimately land and what kind of deals they receive.

Basketball Insiders

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The 2019 NBA Free Agent class could be one of the more exciting free agent classes in recent history. Throughout the process, Basketball Insiders will update where players ultimately land and what kind of deals they receive.

2019 NBA Free Agency Tracker

Player Name  Old Team  New Team  Deal Amount
Kawhi Leonard  Toronto Raptors
Kevin Durant  Golden State Warriors
Kyrie Irving  Boston Celtics
Kemba Walker  Charlotte Hornets
Klay Thompson  Golden State Warriors
Jimmy Butler  Philadelphia 76ers
Tobias Harris  Philadelphia 76ers
Khris Middleton  Milwaukee Bucks
Nikola Vucevic  Orlando Magic
D’Angelo Russell  Brooklyn Nets
Malcolm Brogdon  Milwaukee Bucks
JJ Redick  Philadelphia 76ers
DeMarcus Cousins  Golden State Warriors
Al Horford  Boston Celtics
Bojan Bogdanovic  Indiana Pacers
Julius Randle  New Orleans Pelicans
Brook Lopez  Milwaukee Bucks
Paul Millsap  Denver Nuggets
Marc Gasol  Toronto Raptors
DeAndre Jordan  New York Knicks
Harrison Barnes  Sacramento Kings
Marcus Morris  Boston Celtics
Patrick Beverley  Los Angeles Clippers
Nikola Mirotic  Milwaukee Bucks
Thaddeus Young  Indiana Pacers
Terry Rozier  Boston Celtics
Trevor Ariza  Washington Wizards
Jonas Valanciunas  Memphis Grizzlies
Ricky Rubio  Utah Jazz
Kelly Oubre Jr.  Phoenix Suns
Terrence Ross  Orlando Magic
Rudy Gay  San Antonio Spurs
Wesley Matthews  Indiana Pacers
Jeremy Lamb  Charlotte Hornets

The deal values noted here are the reported values of the deals as they have been agreed to. Once the deals are final with the NBA, you can find the exact details on the Basketball Insiders Salary Pages.

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NBA Daily: Free Agency On Deck

The 2019 NBA Free Agency period is upon us, and there are already lots of things in motion. Steve Kyler takes a look at some of the notable situations to watch.

Steve Kyler

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With the 2019 NBA Draft and its whopping 23 transactions (some still awaiting the new cap year) in the rearview mirror, the 2019 NBA Free Agency period is now on deck.

The NBA moved up some of the normal dates on things related to free agency, such as when teams can schedule meetings and when teams can officially begin talking to players.

Teams can now have contact with agents on June 29th at 6:00 pm EST, specifically for the purpose of scheduling meetings for June 30th.

On June 30th after 6:00 pm, teams may begin meeting and talking with free agents to discuss terms and frameworks of new deals. Those deals cannot become official until Saturday, July 6th, which is the first day contracts and deals can be made.

It is expected that the final salary cap figures will be released on or about the 29th, in advance of free agency opening.

The prevailing thought in NBA circles is that the final 2019-2020 salary cap figures will come in a touch higher than the expected $109 million cap teams have been preparing for. That will have an impact on most of the slotted salary figures such as minimums, cap exceptions and maximum contract levels.

While more than 45 percent of the NBA is set to be a free agent this summer, here are some of the notable situations we’re watching:

The Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers caught this first big fish last summer when LeBron James opted to join the Lakers. Less than a year later, the Lakers landed big fish number two in Anthony Davis, who will officially become a Laker on July 6th.

The Lakers have been fairly active trying to find ways to open more salary cap space, and as our own Eric Pincus chronicled for Bleacher Report, there is a path to a full maximum salary slot that doesn’t include dealing team favorite, Kyle Kuzma.

If the Lakers can find a taker for the contracts for Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones in which they take back no material salary, the Lakers can get to about $32 million in usable cap space. That is just $700,000 shy of the max salary slot needed for free agents like Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler or Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, who many in Laker circles believe are the prime targets as the Lakers third star.

It’s unclear why the Lakers did not include the necessary pieces to ensure a full max slot. The truth of the matter is Wagner and Bonga are nice assets that should be easy enough to move into someone’s cap space. The lack of their inclusion may have more to do with wanting certainty on a big fish before giving away nice assets.

While the Lakers do have eyes for a third star and have been fairly aggressive in the back channel feeling out process with free agents, they are also preparing for Plan B scenarios in which their available space gets used on two second-tier players.

It is not at all uncommon for teams not to put their eggs in one basket, but it’s notable for the Lakers – who have drawn significant criticism for not thinking through all the options – to be working multiple options.

While Butler and Walker seem to be the primary players of interest, there has also been considerable talk about Clippers guard Patrick Beverly, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez.

The Rockets Have Dreams

After a pretty damaging report surfaced at Yahoo Sports suggesting that the relationship between Houston Rockets’ guards Chris Paul and James Harden seems broken beyond repair, the Rockets have been doing damage control for the better part of the last week.

While the Rockets have gone to great lengths to quell that report, they have also been fairly aggressive in trying to open up cap space for a third star.

While the Rockets are hopeful they could move some cap money dangling the ending $14.05 million contract of Eric Gordon and the $16.3 million deal of big man Clint Capela, to get to any real, meaningful space, the Rockets would also have to move PJ Tucker.

Unfortunately for Houston, Paul is slated to earn $38.5 million and Harden is slated for $38.15 million. Even if the Rockets could dump all of their contracts for nothing in return, they could still get to roughly $23.3 million in space, which would be roughly $9.3 million shy of a full max slot for a player like Sixers guard Jimmy Butler.

The Celtics Have Money

The Boston Celtics took a couple blows this offseason with the news that All-Star guard Kyrie Irving is likely walking away to the Brooklyn Nets, and cornerstone big man Al Horford opted out of his final contract year and is now expected to command a four-year deal on the open market.

The Celtics have quietly moved enough things around – in the dumping of Aron Baynes to the Phoenix Suns – to get within striking distance of a maximum salary slot.

Assuming the Celtics pass or pull the Qualifying Offer for Terry Rozier, his $9.1 million cap hold would come off, putting the Celtics at just at $34 million in usable space.

The Celtics have kicked the tires on Houston big man Clint Capela and Thunder big man Steven Adams, but the player the Celtics seem to covet the most is Charlotte guard Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein of the New York Times tweeted as much today, which lines up with the ideal scenario painted by some in Boston circles after the draft.

There has been considerable fan interest in Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell as a replacement for Irving. However, it does not seem the Celtics are as high on the list for Russell as Celtics fans would like.

D’Angelo Russell Watch

As covered above, Brooklyn All-Star D’Angelo Russell seems to be in fairly decent demand. The problem for the Nets is that they cannot create the cap space necessary to sign Celtics guard Kyrie Irving and Warriors forward Kevin Durant and still hang on to Russell’s cap hold. They have the means to get two, and it seems, for now, Russell is third on the list.

If the Nets can land both Irving and Durant, the belief is Russell will hit unrestricted free agency and open up bidding.

For weeks, Russell has been pegged as the favorite of the Indiana Pacers, but it seems more likely that the Pacers are going to pivot to Jazz free agent Ricky Rubio, with Russell appearing not to be as high on Indiana as they are on him.

The New York Knicks are said to have serious interest in Russell should they miss on Irving, which looks likely. Knicks leadership has said repeatedly they were not going to blow their cap flexibility on second tier guys. However, Knicks sources said recently that they do not view a 23-year old obtainable All-Star as second-tier.

There are several other teams supposedly in the hunt on Russell including the Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns. However, the Suns no longer have a max salary slot after their trades around the draft.

There is a dark horse suitor for Russell, and that’s the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves don’t have cap space to sign Russell outright, but they do at least appear open to trying to take away some salary to land Russell if he indeed becomes unrestricted.

If the Wolves can find a home for Andrew Wiggins and his $27.5 million salary, the Wolves could get awfully close to a max salary slot for Russell.

As we do every year at this time, Basketball Insiders will be tracking the minute by minute activities around the 2019 NBA Free Agency period with our annual Free Agency Diary. The Diary is live now and will be updated throughout the day as rumors and deals start to leak out.

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, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Storylines To Watch For In 2020

Just 10 days into the offseason, Matt John takes a look at what storylines have been created from all that’s happened so far.

Matt John

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If it wasn’t clear before, it is now – the NBA is a year-round sport. Even though the season lasts up to nine months, we never seem to get a break from professional basketball. Honestly though, that’s probably because we don’t want one.

The offseason gives us so much drama that it’s almost impossible to take our eyes off our phone. Woj and Shams “bombs” are like a shot of adrenaline, and we as the audience are basketball junkies anxiously waiting for our next score.

We’re not even two weeks past the NBA finals, and the drama has already started. And it started with a bang. Anthony Davis and LeBron can stake a claim as the league’s fiercest duo. The Jazz have solidified themselves as a Western Conference contender. New Orleans is now a league pass team. The sky is suddenly falling in Boston and Houston. All that New York had hoped for is blowing up in its face. So, just another Tuesday for Knicks fans.

We haven’t even entered the main course of the NBA offseason and we already have some storylines to keep our eyes on for next season. There are going to be plenty more once free agency starts, but let’s take a look at what to keep an eye on when it comes to next season.

Is Lonzo Ball good?

Now we’ve been asking ourselves this question since he came into the league. Lonzo is the most polarizing young player in the league. Some of it comes from the bias, both positive and negative, that he’s had to face in the last two years. Some of it comes from the limited sample sizes we’ve had to watch. Some of it has come from playing for one of the league’s most storied franchises.

There’s no doubt that what Lonzo does well, he does spectacularly. At 6-foot-6, he brings so many rare qualities to the court. He has excellent handles, boasts a court vision that not many others in the league has and can get after the rebound. He’s even shown that he can make life hell for anyone who tries to take him one-on-one.

But his holes are clear as day. His funky shooting form has not held up well since transitioning to the NBA. He hasn’t shown much of a scoring instinct. He can’t seem to stay on the floor. Still, he was the second overall pick for a reason.

Now here comes perhaps the real test for him. New Orleans could be the perfect team for him. Now that he’s no longer in LeBron’s shadow, Ball should have the ball in his hands more often than not. Alvin Gentry has a reputation for having his teams run the floor – the Pelicans tied for second in pace last season (103.3) – which should make Lonzo feel right at home. Jrue Holiday, one of the better all-around point guards in the league, should be the perfect complement to him as a playmaker, shooter and defender.

Oh, and you’ve probably already fantasized about how beautiful those Lonzo-to-Zion alley-oops are going to look four months from now.

There will be challenges up ahead, like how Lonzo is going to do now that he’ll be a more featured player for his team. New Orleans needs more three-point shooting, as it was ranked 24th in three-point percentage (34.3) and 21st in attempts on average (10.3). Lonzo’s a career 31.5 percent shooter from three, and even with the haul they got from the Lakers, not a whole lot of the new guys space the floor, which could hurt Lonzo’s ability to space the floor.

Now that Lonzo no longer has the pressure to contribute to a winner right away, time is now on his side. Progress may come quickly or it may come slow, but as long as he avoids the injury bug, we can finally see what the guy is made out of this season.

Can Donovan Mitchell be relied on in the playoffs?

Spida has been exceeding expectations from the moment he entered the league. It’s not every day you see a late lottery pick be the leader of a pseudo-contender in the first two years of his pro career.

You can’t honestly complain about what he’s been able to do for Utah since the team has had to endure through losing Gordon Hayward. What can you do is point out his flaws, and he’s got a few.

Mitchell can definitely put the ball in the bucket, as he’s averaged 22 points in his brief career so far. However, he doesn’t exactly have the best shooting percentages, as he’s put up splits of 43/35/80 over his last two years. Those numbers only get worse in the playoffs. While his scoring average is slightly better at 23.4 points a game, his shooting falls off a cliff, shooting 39/23/89 splits.

Utah has shown that it can’t afford to have its young franchise cornerstone struggle on the game’s biggest stage, as they’ve been eliminated two consecutive times in gentleman’s sweeps at the hands of the Rockets. Not that it’s entirely on his shoulders, but if Donovan struggles, so do the Jazz.

Jazz fans will point out without a second’s hesitation that his low efficiency is because the team does not have another scoring threat to take the pressure off of him. Definitely a valid point. Utah has not had a secondary scoring threat to ease the burden put on Mitchell. No help in that department would make life hard for anyone in the league. That won’t be a problem anymore Utah now that they made their summer splash with Mike Conley.

Conley should be exactly what the doctor ordered. An experienced vet who’s scoring and playmaking abilities should do wonders both for Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Technically, he has no All-Star appearances to his name – and probably won’t now that his prime will most likely end in the West – but anyone who’s watched him knows how much this should improve the Jazz.

Now that Conley has arrived, we’re finally going to see how Donovan will do now that he won’t have to take the entire scoring burden by himself. The Jazz still have some issues to take care of such as their now desperate need for a stretch-four, but with Conley on board, we’ll at least see what Mitchell’s true ceiling is now.

What is Danny Ainge going to do with his newfound cap space?

Once upon a time, the Boston Celtics had the most promising future in the NBA. Now, what’s happened to them is indescribable.

Losing Kyrie Irving was always in the back of Celtics fans’ mind that by the time reports started circulating that he wasn’t coming back, they were okay with it. Al Horford’s departure was the real gut punch. There was never any drama that came with Horford, and he did all he could for Boston. Seeing him gone is going to hurt both on and off the court.

Silver lining: Horford and Irving’s departures, along with the recent Aron Baynes trade to Phoenix, opens up a lot of cap room for Boston. In fact, if the Celtics renounce Terry Rozier’s cap hold – $9+ million – they will have enough room to add a player with a max contract.

How Danny Ainge uses it is something people should watch out for. The Celtics now have a gaping hole at center with both Horford and Baynes gone, so odds are they may use it on a center. Combine buzz said that the Celtics were looking at Clint Capela, which could still be in play this summer if Houston really wants cap relief.

They could also look to take Steven Adams off the Thunder’s hands or pay up for Nikola Vucevic. Knowing Ainge, it’s very possible what he does is mess with other teams who have guys they can’t afford to lose but don’t want to pay top dollar for.

Brooklyn did this for two years when they gave rich offer sheets to Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe and Otto Porter so that their teams would have to pay up for them. Ainge doesn’t have a history of doing that, but he does have a history of ripping off other teams.

For example, take the Milwaukee Bucks. Malcolm Brogdon will be on the open market this summer, and the Bucks cannot afford to lose him. Should Ainge give him a max contract, the Bucks would have no choice but to match it since they want to stay a contender with Giannis. There are plenty of scenarios like this. He could do this with Khris Middleton. He could do this with Vucevic. He could do this to anyone who is valuable to get paid a lot, but not enough that he would deserve a max.

The Celtics are going through pretty much their worst nightmare right now, but losing their star players is more of a setback than a doomsday scenario. If there’s one man who has shown that he can rebuild as quickly as possible, it’s Danny Ainge. They’re not going to get a star this summer, but counting out the Celtics is ill-advised because, like always, they usually have something up their sleeve.

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