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NBA PM: A Look at Neil Olshey’s Success With the Blazers

Neil Olshey’s unconventional rebuilding of the Trail Blazers warranted today’s extension.

Yannis Koutroupis

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How Olshey Quickly Rebuilt the Blazers

When the news broke that Neil Olshey was leaving the Los Angeles Clippers to take over the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012, it raised a lot of eyebrows – and not just because three days prior the Clippers announced that they had come to terms on a new deal. The Clippers were poised to skyrocket up the ranks of the Western Conference with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as their core; the Trail Blazers were floundering with an All-Star starting to become disgruntled in LaMarcus Aldridge, not to mention a bad string of injuries that still makes the loyal and commendable Blazers faithful shudder upon recall.

At the time, Olshey said he wanted a new challenge, that he had accomplished everything he could with the Clippers, where he served in a variety of roles before becoming the top executive in 2010. In light of the scandal involving former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, though, we now know that just getting away from his reign of ignorance and overbearing-ness was enough to send anyone jumping at the next opportunity to come their way – let alone the better financial agreement the Blazers offered that nearly doubled his salary and offered him two more years of security. Sterling may have been able to keep him if he were willing to match the Blazers’ offer. After all, Olshey had thrived with the franchise and managed to build a contender in spite of Sterling’s often-counterproductive presence. But, Sterling, angered by the fact that Olshey would even entertain an offer from another team after they had just worked out a new a deal, refused.PUBLISHERS EDIT: Sterling did in fact match the Trail Blazers’ offer with a better one, but Olshey, could not pass on the Trail Blazers’ position because of all the right things they offered, not anything the Clippers did not do.

Coming off of the blockbuster acquisition of Paul, Olshey’s first moves in Portland were hardly as newsworthy – at least at the time. He did make his presence felt, though, and made it clear that he was there to do things his way, no matter how unpopular his decisions may be to those effected by them and those analyzing them.

Named the general manager on the June 4, Olshey quickly had to adjust from preparing for the Clippers’ draft to figuring out what to do with two critical lottery picks that would play a large role in determining whether his current contract was the first of many, or the only one. The Blazers picked sixth and 11th overall, and Olshey couldn’t afford to walk away with anything other than two significant pieces.

He invested in Damian Lillard, a product of little-known Weber State who never played in an NCAA Tournament game, and Meyers Leonard, a sophomore big man that had talent evaluators split on his potential. Both were serious gambles. He passed on Harrison Barnes, who was hyped up as one of the premier players in the class since he was in high school, for Lillard despite the fact that Nicolas Batum was a restricted free agent and he could end up with a gaping hole at the small forward position. Instead of Leonard, he could have went with the much more proven John Henson, Andrew Nicholson or Jared Sullinger. He made some good value picks in the second round in Will Barton and Tyshawn Taylor, but the success of his lottery picks were paramount over everything.

It would be a week later in free agency when Olshey really set the tone for his new era. He shocked the Indiana Pacers by putting down a four-year, $58 million max offer sheet for Roy Hibbert in order to put the true big man alongside Aldridge that he coveted. The Pacers had long insisted that they would match any offer for Hibbert, but never expected it to be the max. Hibbert was coming off of a strong season in which he averaged 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks a game. Those are hardly max numbers, but the potential of him and Aldridge manning the interior together made him worth it to Olshey. To this day, those numbers are still the best in Hibbert’s career, and having to overpay for him played a role in the Pacers losing Lance Stephenson for nothing this offseason as they were too close to the luxury tax threshold to match his asking price. Hibbert has been solid since then and helped lead the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances. It’s hard to say whether missing out on him was a blessing in disguise or a missed opportunity, but Olshey quickly moved on to a serviceable Plan B.

In order to address their need at center and hand the keys at point guard to Lillard, he signed-and-traded Raymond Felton to the New York Knicks along with Kurt Thomas for Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, the draft rights to Georgioz Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou, a 2016 second-round pick and cash considerations. He also re-signed J.J. Hickson.

Whether because Hibbert was made the top priority or the appeal of playing alongside Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio was more attractive to him, Batum was ready to move on from Portland. He signed a four-year, $46 million offer sheet with the Minnesota Timberwolves and through his agent asked Olshey not to match. Then Timberwolves GM David Kahn tried to engage Olshey on numerous sign-and-trade discussions featuring Derrick Williams and multiple draft picks, but Olshey refused both and matched the offer.

“The decision was made a long time ago,” Olshey said afterward. “We were never not going to have Nicolas back.”

Olshey’s next order of business was hiring a head coach. Prior to his hiring the Blazers had parted ways with Nate McMillan, who quickly fell out of favor after helping the franchise end a five-year playoff drought and make three-straight playoff appearances from 2009-2011. The choice was his, and rather than going with a sexy, big name with a proven record of success, he hired Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Terry Stotts. A controversial hire despite Stotts’ role in helping the Mavericks win a championship in 2011, Stotts came in with an unimpressive 115-168 record as a head coach. He served in the role previously with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, only lasting two seasons with each and never finishing with a record above .500. Stotts was fired in-season by the Bucks the year after making his only playoff appearance as a head coach, an appearance that ended in a 1-4 first round loss.

“Terry is one of the elite offensive minds in the NBA, has extensive experience with multiple organizations and was instrumental in the Dallas Mavericks winning the 2011 NBA championship,” Olshey said at the time. “He understands the vision for the future of the franchise, appreciates the process involved and will create an environment on the court that will produce championship habits.”

The following season, the Blazers actually regressed from the year before – a lockout-plagued year in which they went 28-38. They finished with a .402 win percentage at 33-49, down from .424. Their bench was one of the worst in the league, rumors were swirling that Aldridge wanted out, and his hiring of Stotts was being questioned more than before. One of the few bright spots was that Lillard ran away with the Rookie of the Year award in a fashion that few have before. He became one of just four players to win the award unanimously along with Blake Griffin, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson.

Olshey was extremely aggressive in getting in front of the Aldridge rumors. Citing that the summer of 2015 was the soonest he could become a free agent, Olshey kept in close contact with him and made sure that they never took on a life of their own. Aldridge said all the right things publicly to help his cause and protect his image, but was indeed frustrated that despite his immense amount of individual success, the Blazers were back in the lottery while the Western Conference was only getting tougher.

Olshey invested the Blazers’ lottery pick that year in C.J. McCollum, hoping to strike gold with another mid-major star. McCollum’s ability to play both guard positions was most attractive as he could both spot Lillard when needed and play with him as well. He went with McCollum over Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee – still holding faith in the development of Leonard after a rookie year that was as underwhelming as Lillard’s was electrifying. Plus, a veteran center was his top priority in free agency.

This time, though, Olshey was a little bit more strategic. Rather than putting out on offer sheet only to see it get matched, he took the Spurs’ word for it when they said they would not let Tiago Splitter go for the four-year, $36 million deal that he was going to offer and facilitated a three-team trade to acquire Robin Lopez instead. Like Stotts, the arrival of Lopez filled a need but hardly appeased Olshey’s critics. Lopez was a middle-of-the-road big man at best, and hardly seemed like the splash they needed to make in order to become more competitive in the Western Conference. That, along with the August signing of former All-Star point guard Maurice Williams to a bargain deal, a trade for struggling young power forward Thomas Robinson and the pickup of Dorell Wright compromised the Blazers’ offseason.

It may not be fair to say that Olshey entered the second year of his third-year contract on the hot seat, but the future didn’t look pretty if the 2013-14 campaign was another losing one.

It wasn’t, though. In fact, the Blazers turned in one of the more shockingly successful campaigns that season. Lillard’s next step forward was another huge one. He wasn’t just the reigning Rookie of the Year. He was one of the truly elite point guards during a golden age for them. Lopez’s toughness and defense-first mentality turned out to be exactly what the Blazers needed alongside Aldridge and were hoping to get from either Hibbert or Splitter. They finished the year 54-28 and upset the favored Houston Rockets in the first round thanks to one of the greatest series-clinching buzzer beaters the league has ever seen, from Lillard. They went on to lose a five-game series to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, but Olshey went out and made two more sound pickups this offseason in veterans Steve Blake and Chris Kaman.

He also awarded Stotts, who is now regarded as one of the better coaches in the league and a truly great pickup by Olshey, with a contract extension and this year has enjoyed his team establishing themselves as a legitimate title contender. They are 27-8 and just two games behind the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the league. As a result, today Olshey was given a well-earned three-year extension.

“Our team has made great strides under Neil’s leadership, and I am excited to extend his contract,” Blazers owner Paul Allen said. “Neil has done an outstanding job as general manager by quickly rebuilding our team into a playoff contender. The franchise is clearly on the upswing, and I hope to see further improvements in the years to come.”

“This extension is a validation of the efforts of the entire Trail Blazers front office and an endorsement of the level of commitment expected of us by our owner Paul Allen,” Olshey said. “The level of passion for this franchise by our owner, season-ticket holders and fans, drives us to build a team that this community can be proud of.”

It hasn’t been easy, or without some misses along the way, but Olshey has succeeded as the Trail Blazers’ GM. And, he did so in a manner that few others would have done while having to go to contingency plans every offseason. Now all that’s left for Olshey to accomplish is to see his team win the championship that has alluded Portland for so long. With the foundation he’s put into place and plenty of financial flexibility this offseason, it could happen sooner rather than later. That’s certainly been the trend during his tenure with the Blazers so far.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA Daily: Reacting To Bubble Headlines

Almost two weeks into the Bubble, Matt John gives his own take on some of the bigger headlines that have sprung up.

Matt John

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All of a sudden, we are almost at the end of Week Two inside the Bubble. We’ve actually had some pretty epic games, wouldn’t you say? We’ve also had some telling and high stakes games too. Now that our regular season is finally at its end, things are taking shape a little. Because of that, we’re seeing some major stories hit the newsstands over the past 11 days.

Instead of repeating last week’s formula, let’s focus on reacting to some of the more recent headlines we have seen since the

“Something Might Be Wrong With The Lakers!”

In their last seven games, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone only 3-4 and, upon deeper examination, they’ve only come up victorious twice since beating their crosstown rivals on Jul. 30. Since the Bubble commenced, they’ve put up the second-lowest offensive rating in the league – scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, only .1 points ahead of Washington. Additionally, they have the lowest net rating among teams that have clinched a playoff spot at minus-5.6.

LeBron James specifically has not looked like himself. Even when the Lakers beat the Clippers, he didn’t put up the best stat line – and since then, he hasn’t played at the same MVP-caliber pace. In his seven games, he’s averaged 22.8 points on 45/33/63 splits while coughing up 3.2 turnovers. Even at 35, we all know that’s a far cry from the numbers he was putting up during his MVP-worthy campaign.

Maybe he and the Lakers are mailing in the rest of the season, or maybe there is something more to these recent unwelcome struggles.

Do you know what the big conclusion to draw from this is? Yawn. If you know James, then you know that reports like these aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. We all should have gotten the picture with the King by now. No matter who he plays for, no matter how good his team is and no matter how much worse this episode looks compared to the last one, every year there’s always going to be some sort of drama going on. And how much does this impact LeBron’s team when the going gets tough? Nil.

It’s part of the LeBron deluxe package. There are going to be concerns. There are going to be questions. There are going to be doubts. That’s what it’s been like for the past 10+ years with any team led by the likes of LeBron James. The Lakers, as fantastic as they have been, were going to face it eventually. It just happened to be with the playoffs around the corner.

No matter because, with the exception of last year, LeBron’s teams have always made their way through the fire as he carried them over the hump. There’s no reason to think it won’t be the same with LA. Besides, how much did the Lakers honestly have to prove in the Bubble? There were really only two tasks at hand for them once the hiatus ended.

1. Beating the Clippers: Mission Accomplished
2. Getting the No. 1 seed in the loaded Western Conference: Mission Accomplished

After that, what else was there to play for? The drama could very well play into the playoffs, but LeBron’s been through this merry-go-round enough times that he practically owns a timeshare in it.

The Lakers are going to be fine, and you probably already knew that. What everyone needs to realize is that this is a regular occurrence for LeBron-led squads. We should have gotten so used to it by now that it would have been more shocking if the season had ended drama-free for the boys in purple and gold.

But Danny Green shooting only 7-for-25 from three-point land? That might be something to be concerned about.

“Nate McMillan Is On The Hot Seat”

This little tidbit came from a podcast last week between Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe. While we have yet to determine the level of heat on such a rumor, let’s go over McMillan’s tenure as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

Through a black and white scope, McMillan definitely hasn’t brought Indiana to the same heights that his predecessor Frank Vogel did when he took over as coach back in 2016. The Pacers haven’t been out of the first round since 2014 and they’ve only mustered three playoff wins since with McMillan calling the shots over the last four years. When you see things through that lens, McMillan would seem like the usual candidate.

But that’s not the case with McMillan. There’s a reason why his name has been thrown in the Coach of the Year discussion for three years running now. Let’s start with how he’s developed a reputation for player development. Think of the players that have really stood out for Indiana since they moved on from the Paul George era.
Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and, most recently, T.J. Warren. What do these players have in common? None of them ever reached the heights in their career that they did once they played under McMillan before coming to Indiana.

McMillan even managed to breathe life back into Lance Stephenson’s career for a year or two there. The one failure on McMillan’s part has been Myles Turner, who is still basically the same player as he was when Indiana had a total makeover back in 2017. The fact that McMillan has done this with this many players in such a short amount of time demonstrates that he knows how to put his players in the right position to succeed. Coaches like those don’t grow on trees.

Fate dealt a cruel hand with Oladipo’s knee blowing out, but McMillan certainly can’t be the fall guy for that. Again, no one knows how seriously we should take this rumor. It may be quickly swept under the rug as soon as tomorrow. It’s just that if McMillan were to be shown the door, Indiana would be making a rather puzzling decision after making pretty much all the right moves over the last three years.

“Michael Porter Jr Was Well-Worth The Wait”

There shouldn’t be much of a counterpoint to this. Michael Porter Jr has looked like the dynamic scorer many believed he could be dating back to his high school days. So much so that a fair amount of teams are probably going to second-guess passing him up in the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter’s rise in Florida has to make Denver – who was already a top team in the Western Conference before he got there – so much more optimistic about their future.

Putting up nearly 24 points on 57/46/96 splits in the Bubble has got to make the Nuggets incredibly giddy. He’s got great size for a scorer and an awesome shooting stroke. He’s also a great cutter, which means more highlight-reel assists for the Joker, too. All the Nuggets needed to complement Nikola Jokic was a go-to-scorer to get to the next level. Soon, they are going to pay Jamal Murray to be that guy, but Murray’s production, while not bad, has stayed relatively the same over the last three years. At 23, there’s still hope for him to make the leap, but now with MPJ coming into his own, the Nuggets have a safety valve in case that doesn’t happen.

Now, teams will get more game film on him, so odds are we’ll see a slump from Porter as time passes. Even with that, this shouldn’t be seen as a tease.

Porter should be a future star if he stays on the court and that’s the one hang-up. We still have to go back to the fact that 13 teams passed on him for a very real, very frightening reason. No one doubted the talent this kid had. It was his injury problems that put his future in doubt. Denver’s been meticulously careful making sure that Porter doesn’t get put on the shelf, but there’s no way of knowing if he can do this over a full season, and we won’t know for quite a while.

Injuries were what ruined Michael Porter Jr’s stock in 2018, so hold your breath. As exciting as it is to see him prove all of his doubters wrong, Brandon Roy did the same thing only 13 years ago.

With the NBA’s latest and greatest regular season bubble set to wrap up this week, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch. Are the Nuggets even better with Porter Jr.? Do the Lakers have what it takes?

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NBA Daily: Ivica Zubac Rounding Into Form For Clippers

David Yapkowitz writes about Ivica Zubac and his strong bubble performances for the Los Angeles Clippers – is he the key for a deep postseason run?

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers have no shortage of star power. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George form one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA, and both Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are averaging close to 20 points a game each while coming off the bench.

But there is one player on the roster who might be the team’s X-Factor, one player who could hold the key to being able to withstand the imposing frontline of the Los Angeles Lakers – and that’s Ivica Zubac.

Zubac was once a Laker before he was casually tossed aside to the Clippers at last season’s trade deadline. He had shown flashes of his capabilities with the Lakers but spent most of his first couple of seasons in the league with the Lakers’ G League affiliate. Upon his arrival to the Clippers, he immediately became a key player and has since settled into the starting center role.

His arrival to the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando was initially held up as he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has since joined the team after a mandatory quarantine period and is looking ready to help the team as they gear up for a playoff run.

He admitted that although he only experienced mild symptoms from the virus, he still felt winded and not quite up to speed as he tried to ease himself back into regular game flow.

“It’s much better, it’s much better than when I got here. I can feel it getting better with each practice, each game,” Zubac said on a recent conference call with media.

“After I first started getting back in shape, after I was cleared, I felt like I was out of shape. My chest was a little tighter when I would do some stuff. But I feel great right now. I don’t feel anything. I’m getting back into shape, I’m almost there. It’s going to take some more time.”

Zubac feeling like his old self again has been evident with each passing game. He started slow, only finishing with two points and three rebounds against the Lakers while being outworked by Anthony Davis. Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he looked a bit better, especially with his effort on the glass.

In the Clippers’ third game of the restart against the Phoenix Suns, Zubac put up 18 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 77 percent from the field. He followed that up with his best bubble game to date with 21 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks.

Zubac equated his increased production with gradually regaining his conditioning and mobility and getting the feel again for regular game speed.

“I’m getting the feel, I’m starting to remember what guys like, what are the best spots on the court for me. My conditioning is getting better each practice, each game,” Zubac told media after the Mavericks game. “I’m feeling like I can stay on the floor for a while, I can run the floor, I can fight in the post with guys, I can rebound. Everything with my conditioning getting back, I can get on another level in every aspect of my game.”

Before his performance against the Mavericks, Zubac had a pretty solid game against the Suns – but the center was obviously still readjusting to his teammates and being able to make the right reads and be in the correct spots on the floor. He played solid defense on Deandre Ayton, but he also ended up having a costly turnover late in the game that set up Devin Booker’s eventual game-winner.

Following the Suns game, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had mentioned there were a few areas that Zubac could use improvement in, and he was much more effusive in his praise after his performance against the Mavericks.

“He was phenomenal. We talked about it, he did all the things we needed, he really ran the floor, that didn’t show up statistically, but what it did, it created space, it created mismatches,” Rivers told media after the game.

“I loved that our guys were looking for him. I thought his rebounding was fantastic. Really coming off the way we ended the game the other day with Zu, then coming back, playing like that, that was fantastic for his confidence.”

Throughout the season, Zubac has been a player that doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He does have a soft touch around the rim and can establish a strong position in the post, but he does a lot of damage when he’s rolling to the rim, cutting and moving without the ball and catching lobs from his teammates.

He’s also a good rebounder who gets points off of offensive putbacks, and he’s a solid defender who acts as the team’s interior defensive anchor. He’s also usually on the bench at the end of games when Harrell is in with the starters. But depending on potential matchups, perhaps against the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic, or even the Lakers and Davis, Zubac could find himself finishing some games.

What is certain though, is he’s proving his importance to the team and he’s showing that come playoff time, he could end up being the X-factor. He knows that his teammates are going to look for him and he’s ready for that.

“It’s just communication on the floor, knowing what Kawhi and P.G like, knowing how to get a better angle on a screen, just the plays we run, got to have a better understanding what’s good at the time. It’s mostly communication on the floor,” Zubac said. “It feels great to get rewarded by my teammates after doing all the hard work.”

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Free Agency Update: Changes In The Bubble

Drew Maresca explores the free agency implications of the first week of play in the bubble as the NBA continues its return to post COVID-19 play.

Drew Maresca

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Free agency is always a fun time for the NBA and its fans, but particularly so in 2020. Most free agents have usually earned their next deal by the 65th game of any given season – but this year is far from typical. Instead, the NBA has returned, sans its eight worst teams, meaning that competition is consistently better. And with limited competition for our attention, every game is a major event that draws more eyes and has a greater effect on the paydays of to-be free agents.

We’re still only three or four games into the official return of the NBA, but there have already been some changes to how we perceive some players. Take T.J. Warren, for example, who’s averaging over 39.7 points per game through three contests. Or Michael Porter Jr., who looks more like the focal point of a team than a player in his first year of professional action.

This article will focus explicitly on the changes in perception of free agents to-be as a result of their play in the bubble in Orlando.  We understand that the players listed below can still hurt their standings and that teams rate free agents differently. While the sample size is small, we’ve seen deals made based on an equally small body of work (e.g., Jerome James to the New York Knicks).

One caveat to keep in mind is the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing the NBA and its club in 2020. Not only will the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably hurt the 2020-21 salary cap, but there’s also still a conclusion to be had with the preseason China situation.

With all of that in mind, let’s explore the players that have made the loudest cases for a payday come this offseason.

The Stars

Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz – Player Option

Conley Jr. has a player option for 2020-21 – but he played poorly enough through March, relative to what we’ve come to expect from him, that it was more than reasonable to assume he would opt-in at $34.5 million.

But wait, there’s a chance that Conley does us all a favor and makes free agency 2020 more interesting. Conley’s averaged 19.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, way, way up from 13.8 points and 4.3 assists per game prior to the stoppage in March. If Conley keeps this going – and especially if he performs well in the playoffs – he might want to test the market considering the lack of elite talent that’s anticipated to hit it – assuming he’s unhappy in Utah, that is.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – RFA

Ingram’s looked similar to the guy we saw in 2019-20 before the play stoppage – he’s averaging 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game when playing 30 or more minutes. While he was less effective in a loss against the Clippers (14 points and two rebounds in 24 minutes), he’s demonstrated growth in how decisively he makes his move and how seamlessly he then scores on the move.

Ingram was probably going to get max offer as of the All-Star break – especially after reaching his first All-Star team at 22 – but COVID-19 probably altered the ability for teams to dole out lucrative deals. But then play resumed and Ingram picked up right where he left off – and with a confidence to use it liberally. Ingram is nearly a lock for a max deal now.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors – UFA

VanVleet started off his time in the bubble with a solid performance (13 points and 11 assists), but he really showed out in his second game against the Miami HEAT. VanVleet led the Raptors to a win against Miami with a career-high 36 points. And then he got right back to being Mr. Consistent for Toronto by posting 21 points and 10 assists in a win against Orlando.

So ultimately, VanVleet has led the Raptors to a 3-0 (re)start, and he’s either scored a career-high or dropped 10-plus assists. James Dolan and Leon Rose are somewhere together – albeit socially distanced, we’re sure – drooling – as are all of the teams in need of a lead guard, like Detroit. VanVleet can only increase his value from here. He’s not assumed to be a max-level player, but if he plays well enough through the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see just how high he can reach.

 DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option

It’s hard to imagine DeRozan’s value increasing much at this point in his career. After all, he’s an 11-year veteran that has been named to the All-Star Game four times and an All-NBA team twice.

But still, there’s always been presumed limitations to his game, namely his inability to shoot three-pointers. Since being traded to San Antonio, he’s fallen out of the national spotlight a bit. As a 31-year-old capable of reaching unrestricted free agency, DeRozan is at a major inflection point in his career. He could attempt to a final big deal or snag a smaller one if the market for his services doesn’t meet expectations. Or he could just opt-in.

But DeRozan has done his part to remind everyone that he has loads of high-quality basketball left in him. He tallied 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting on Tuesday in a close loss to the 76ers and he’s averaged 22.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game since the Spurs resumed play last Friday. While those averaged mostly coincide with what he did this season, it also represents a decent boost in assists. But more importantly, it solidifies that DeRozan should still receive a serious look as a lead star. And he’ll probably get interest from a number of teams.

The Known Commodities

Marcus Morris Sr., Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

While Morris Sr. is a known commodity, teams could use additional poor performances against him in negotiations. He’ll probably still have the option to sign for a veterans minimum or mid-level exception with a contender like the Clippers or Lakers. But if he’s eyeing another payday that pays him an annual salary equal to what he made in 2019-20, it would behoove him to make his mark on the stat book. 

Making A Case

Trey Burke, Dallas Mavericks – UFA

Burke hasn’t been overly consistent since NBA play resumed last week. But he did have a huge breakout game against the Rockets, scoring 31 points on 8-for-10 for three-pointers in only 30 minutes, while also dishing six assists.

Yes, Burke is averaging just 5.5 points in 18 minutes in the two games since, but the fact that he scored 31 in an NBA game will be enough to get looks as an off-the-bench scorer. And it’s a narrative that can be supported by his past work, too. Remember, Burke is still just 27-years-old  and he has a 42-point career-high. He’s also exploded for 30 four times and eclipsed the 20-point mark on 38 occasions in his 389 career games. So even if it’s just a reminder, it’s good to know that Burke can still get it done offensively – and teams are always looking for ways to manufacture offense.

Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz – UFA

Clarkson’s shot only 40 percent from the field since play resumed last Thursday, with an even worse 20 percent from three-point range. Still, scorers are as valuable as ever. It’s what made J.R. Smith so much money in this league, as well as Lou Williams and countless others – and rightfully so. Ultimately, it’s about putting the ball in the hoop. And with that being said, a franchise is going to pay Clarkson and they’ll end up paying more than they would have as of March.

Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

Jackson has less to prove than most guys in this part of this list – but given his injury history, he does have to make a statement.

On the whole, Jackson has looked good – but not necessarily great. He averaged 12.5 points, seven rebounds and two assists in his first two contests, but he regressed in the Clippers’ most recent game against the Suns. But on a positive note, Jackson received only 23 minutes on Tuesday versus Phoenix and his 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals accumulated in just 20 minutes.

If Jackson continues to be a contributor to the contending Clippers, someone will overspend on him. After all, good point guards are few and far between.

The Unknowns

Harry Giles III, Sacramento Kings – UFA

Giles III only played four minutes in the Kings’ first game back against the Spurs and he didn’t fare much better over 12:55 versus the Mavericks on Tuesday. But when you’re a fringe player that had injury concerns throughout your young career, any positive outings are good – especially those that come in a contract year. Giles tallied 23 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes against the Orlando Magic – a significant jump from his 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds averages this season.  And that’s probably enough to generate interest amongst a number of teams.

The Kings curiously declined Giles’ fourth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent as of the end of this season. That’s an interesting decision because the option was relatively cheap given that he was only the No. 20 overall pick (2017). Further confusing matters is the idea that by passing on the fourth-year option, they also lost matching rights – so Giles won’t even be restricted.

To make matters worse, the Kings can’t even bid more than $3.9 million to retain his services. So the Kings ultimately wasted a first-round draft pick on Giles for a grand total of 14.5 minutes per game across 99 games – and he’ll walk before they even know what they had in him.

But this all works out nicely for Giles, who will absolutely get an opportunity elsewhere – and he’ll be paid more than he would have received in Sacramento for it. How good is still an unknown, but he’s shown enough for a team to take a flyer on considering his size, skill set and versatility. He was the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school according to ESPN just four short years ago.

Free agency is going to be different than ever before and, up until very recently, that was assumed to be a bad thing. But with some of the above players changing the narratives around them, it could become even more exciting than it’s been in the recent past. Add in the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Davis Bertans, Christian Wood – and we’re looking at an under-appreciated free-agent class.

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