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NBA PM: Plan B for Carmelo Anthony Suitors

If Carmelo Anthony remains in New York as expected, where do Chicago, Houston, Dallas and L.A. turn to next?

Joel Brigham

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The more we all as human beings sit and look at the numbers that have been placed in front of Carmelo Anthony over the course of the last week, the more we all start coming to the realization that it’s going to be really hard for him to pass up the max deal that Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks are reportedly very open to tendering him.

Assuming he does end up back in New York, there are going to be four very sad teams that must immediately change course and begin working on their Plan Bs. The following are the likely next steps for the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and L.A. Lakers should they ultimately strike out on Anthony:

Chicago Bulls’ Plan B:

Of all the Anthony suitors, Chicago appears to have done the most tangible leg work in securing other players should he return to the Knicks.

The big news Friday was that 2011 first-round draft pick and former Spanish League MVP Nikola Mirotic was absolutely ready to leave Real Madrid, pay his buyout with the club and head to the States to play for the Bulls. Nate Duncan has already spent a whole lot of time and energy explaining the logistics of bringing Mirotic over, but the big question comes down to whether they can get him to take the mid-level exception or whether he’ll be more expensive and therefore require some of Chicago’s hard-earned cap space.

The Bulls can pay $600,000 of Mirotic’s pricy buyout (believed to be over $3 million) without it counting against the cap, but anything else they pay would count against the cap as a signing bonus. If Mirotic can spread his buyout with Real Madrid over a couple of years, the MLE might be a little easier pill for him to swallow, and that in turn would give Chicago some more money to play with in free agency this month.

As to who, exactly, the Bulls would purchase with that cap space remains to be seen. Chicago has been linked to a ton of different free agents, so nailing down a few specifics could prove to be challenging. The most notable, however, has been big man Pau Gasol, with whom Bulls’ brass and Joakim Noah met earlier this week. Gasol could join any of a number of teams, depending on how much money he’s willing to accept, but the Bulls have reportedly offered him a starting role and will have enough cap space to offer him something reasonable.

Some have mentioned Lance Stephenson as a possibility, but he really doesn’t fit the Bulls’ locker room culture, and his volatile demeanor and occasional on-court immaturity are hard to see working under Tom Thibodeau.

In truth, all of this is “Plan C,” however, as the Bulls are expected to turn their attention to a trade for Kevin Love if/when Anthony makes up his mind. Any deal Chicago makes will likely center around Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Mirotic and some draft picks, but knowing how much Minnesota values Klay Thompson, it’s hard to believe they’d settle for Chicago’s deal, especially as Flip Saunders continues to insist he’d like to hold off on a Love trade.

That means the Bulls are likely headed toward an offseason that focuses primarily on depth, keeping most of their current core together (minus Carlos Boozer), then adding Mirotic, a backup point guard and possibly Gasol.

MUST READ: Basketball Insiders’ 2014 Free Agency Diary with every rumor on every team!

Houston Rockets’ Plan B:

With plenty of cap space and a strong desire to put together a Big Three this summer, the Houston Rockets are expected to shift their attention to free agent HEAT big man Chris Bosh should Anthony choose another team. They will have to wait not only on Anthony but also on LeBron James before having a real opportunity at this. Bosh could actually have a better shot at another title by leaving LeBron and Miami and playing back in his home state.

Houston was a frontrunner for Bosh’s services back in 2010 before Miami stepped in, and they still have a strong desire for an elite stretch four, which is exactly what Bosh would be for them. In fact, it’s pretty easy to argue that he’d be a better fit for them than Anthony would. Trading away Jeremy Lin, which Daryl Morey has already said he’d be able to do, would give them enough money to make an attractive offer to Bosh, so this isn’t the most unlikely scenario in the world right now.

Most believe, however, that Pat Riley will ultimately corral his own Big Three back together before everything is all said and done. But with LeBron apparently open to hearing other teams’ offers, it would be irresponsible to count out the possibility that Bosh plays somewhere other than South Beach this year.

After Houston has used up whatever cap space they ultimately end up with, their attention will turn to re-signing restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. There is a lot of interest in him league-wide, but the Rockets are likely to match nearly anything reasonable that he’s offered, particularly if they don’t end up with Anthony or Bosh.

Dallas Mavericks’ Plan B:

There are two ways that the Dallas Mavericks could go should they strike out on Anthony, and one of those ways would lead to the formation of a team that looks a whole lot like the one they trotted out last season.

In that scenario, they would spend the money to keep Shawn Marion, Devin Harris and Vince Carter in Dallas, then look for another rotation player and possibly use their cap-room exception ($2.7 million a season for one to two years) to fill out the roster. In other words, one way to approach next season is to field a roster that’s as deep as possible.

With Tyson Chandler in and Jose Calderon out, there already has been some significant turnover in the starting lineup, but not enough to transform Dallas dramatically enough to keep them competitive in the hellacious Western Conference.

The other option is to spend $10-14 million of their projected cap space to bring in a higher-profile starting small forward. While there would be interest in restricted free agents Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons, Utah and Houston have vowed to match nearly any offer sheet those kids might sign, and Dallas may have to exceed what is reasonable in order to pry them away. In other words, neither player is a likely fit with the Mavs.

That leaves Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng, two very different players that could each brings a measure of respectability to the Mavericks’ starting lineup. Neither is nearly as good as Carmelo, but Ariza would add three-point shooting and Deng would add a solid two-way game for a winning team that has thrived in recent years on the abilities of underrated veterans much like him.

Going this route would mean Marion is gone, and it would make it nearly impossible to bring back both Harris and Carter, but there’s a good opportunity for them to find a solid starting small forward, even if they don’t get Anthony.

And hey, there’s always LeBron, right?

CHECKOUT: Basketball Insiders complete salary cap database. See how much your team has to spend!

L.A. Lakers’ Plan B:

Of the four non-New-York teams throwing money at Anthony, only the Lakers have been reported to have put a max contract in front of him, but that’s a testament to how badly the Lakers want to put together a winner around Kobe Bryant in what are likely to be his final couple of seasons in the league.

Obviously LeBron is the big target for the Lakers, who met with his agent in Cleveland on Friday, but LeBron is looking for talent, and the Lakers neither have it nor will be able to afford it if they pay James max money, as he has requested.

So what’s next for the Lakers if they miss out on Anthony? The rumblings over the course of the last week haven’t been particularly concerting. Pau Gasol would consider a return under the right financial and competitive circumstances. Nick Young calls a return to the Lakers his “first choice.” L.A. apparently has expressed interest in bringing back Steve Blake after shipping him to Golden State at the deadline. Kent Bazemore returning to L.A. is possible as well, as they have been in contact with his camp.

The problem with all these names is that they were all at least partially responsible for last season’s unforgettably awful year.

The Lakers need to set their sights higher, perhaps on pricing Detroit out of Greg Monroe, taking a shot at former Laker Trevor Ariza or gambling on Indiana’s Lance Stephenson. They don’t want to build a roster around Kobe these last two years that can’t even make the playoffs, let alone compete for a title. Getting Stephenson and/or Monroe, added to rookie Julius Randle and perhaps the other rumored additions mentioned above, is about the best L.A. can hope for if Carmelo and LeBron choose other teams, as expected.

The theme with all of these teams, in case it wasn’t clear, is that Plan B isn’t particularly pretty. Were Bosh to land in Houston they would be just fine, but we know that’s not likely. We also know that the best restricted free agents this summer will be very hard to pry away, and once you get past them there just aren’t a lot of great (or even really, really good) players left to sign.

But that’s the way the ball bounces in NBA free agency. They can’t all be winners, kids, as much as fans would love them to be.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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