With so much attention understandably focused on superstar free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the rest of this talented free agent class will likely see their negotiations placed on the relative ‘back burner’ early in the process.
Players like Eric Bledsoe, Kyle Lowry, Pau Gasol and Luol Deng are just a few of the bigger names expected to headline the next batch of available players, but they may have to ride the rumor waves just like the rest of us until teams have a clearer picture of what James and Anthony plan to do.
Over the next few days, we’ll take a two-part look at some of the more realistic landing spots for the next tier of restricted and unrestricted free agents, along with some predictions on where each might end up signing:
Eric Bledsoe, G, RFA
Even though he missed 39 games of what became a breakout year in his lone season with the Suns in 2013-14, Bledsoe is expected to pursue a max contract once the free agency negotiation period kicks off on July 1. As expected, the Suns extended qualifying offers to both Bledsoe and fellow RFA P.J. Tucker, which will give them the opportunity to match whatever offer sheet either receives from another team.
Although the team was initially expected to match any offer sheet that Bledsoe would receive, their decision to draft former Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis in the first round seemingly places that idea in question. When you factor in the incredible season of backcourt mate Goran Dragic along with speculation that GM Ryan McDonough could look to use Bledsoe as part of a potential sign-and-trade scenario involving power forward Kevin Love, it certainly appears a little less likely Bledsoe will be returning to the ‘Valley of the Sun’ at this point.
Coming off a surprising 48-34 season that almost resulted in one of the most unexpected runs to the playoffs in recent memory, the Suns will want to build upon that success as they head into Jeff Hornacek’s sophomore season at the helm.
Prediction: Bledsoe receives a max offer from the L.A. Lakers. If the Suns don’t want to give Bledsoe the max, they could attempt to sign-and-trade him before the offer sheet is officially signed. Either Bledsoe ends up returning to Los Angeles (across the hallway, this time), or the Suns match and keep their point guard of the future.
Pau Gasol, C/PF, UFA
Although there’s always the chance of a return to the Los Angeles Lakers, the closer we get to the start of free agency, the more it appears Gasol’s days of playing alongside friend and teammate Kobe Bryant may have come to a close. Both sides appear to have left the door open for the possibility of a return, but once the Lakers decided to select power forward Julius Randle to serve as their post anchor for the foreseeable future, signs simply don’t seem to point to a return for Gasol. For a team that has struggled so mightily on the defensive end in recent years – particularly against mobile and athletic big men – you wouldn’t imagine the Lakers intend to play a frontcourt comprised of Gasol and Randle.
Depending upon what he values most, the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers could all make a lot of sense for Gasol. He mentioned a desire to unite with his brother in Memphis during an interview with Eurobasket.com’s David Pick earlier this month, but that seems highly unlikely given the two-year extension the Grizzlies recently agreed upon with power forward Zach Randolph. Once again, with Randle in tow, that conceivably negates even the thought of a potential sign-and-trade scenario with the Grizzlies and Lakers unless a third team were to be involved.
Prediction: Joining forces with the Spurs really could make the most sense for the 13-year veteran moving forward. Although they’d likely only be able to offer Gasol their non-taxpayer’s $5.3 million mid-level exception, the immediate opportunity to contend for a title while playing in a favorable system and for a legendary coach in Gregg Popovich could be enough to lure a player that has reportedly earned over $156 million in NBA salary (not including endorsements) throughout his career.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, UFA
You may as well insert a Drew Rosenhaus “next question” under this segment, because the likelihood of Nowitzki leaving Dallas is just about null and void. In fact, Nowitzki has made his intentions clear, as he’s been openly recruiting other free agents in an effort to persuade them to join him in Dallas.
Prediction: Nowitzki re-signs with the Mavericks for two- or three-year deal that pays him an average of $11-13 million per season in an effort to leave a bit of cap flexibility for other free agents while being fairly compensated.
Trevor Ariza, SF, UFA
Ariza enjoyed the best season of his career for Washington in 2013-14. His 14.4 PPG were just below his career-high (14.9 PPG in 2009-10), but Ariza appeared more comfortable than ever before as the third member of such a talented perimeter group alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington could be faced with a difficult decision if forced to decide between paying Ariza’s asking price and being able to also pay the market price for fellow free agent Marcin Gortat. Back in May, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that while Gortat would be the priority, the team has a desire to retain Ariza as well.
Prediction: As a guy that has bounced around the league in the past, Ariza could determine that sticking with a comfortable situation in Washington for a price that would be in the best interest of both parties (three- or four-years, $24-32 million). If Ariza wanted to return to his hometown team and the Lakers – depending upon how expected negotiations go with Anthony – he could potentially receive a similar contract offer in L.A.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Early Termination Option
Wade had an intriguing decision on his hands, as the three-time NBA champion could’ve opted into the final two years of his existing contract ($41.82 million) or opted out in an effort to create flexibility for the HEAT. Today, he decided to opt out, which will allow Pat Riley to work his magic this summer and try to improve Miami’s roster. Miami could offer Wade something along the lines of a four-year deal worth as much as $50-55 million in order to make opting out a worthwhile decision and leave themselves with the ability to add depth throughout their lineup.
Prediction: With Wade opting out, he’ll accept a deal similar to the one described. Don’t expect to see him in another uniform, at least over the next few seasons. Signs point to Wade and Co. coming to some sort of agreement to make sure this recent stretch of success continues.
Luol Deng, SF, UFA
Even though you can understand the Bulls’ mid-season decision to move Deng from a financial perspective, the move couldn’t have possibly been more damaging for the 10-year veteran. Not only did he join a tumultuous group in Cleveland that he didn’t hesitate to question and reportedly describe as “a mess,” Deng also suffered from being “out of sight, out of mind” as those Cavs still ended the season just 33-49 and obviously out of the playoff picture.
The Cavs clearly don’t expect him to re-sign, as the future is now for recently drafted Andrew Wiggins. Alongside Ariza, Deng is still seen as one of the better veteran options along the perimeter, but he may ultimately find it difficult to find a better (or even comparable) deal than the reported three-year, $30 million extension the Bulls were willing to offer at one point.
Prediction: Depending upon how negotiations go with Ariza, the Wizards could join the Lakers as some of the few teams with available cap space and the need for a significant perimeter upgrade. If the Wizards need to fill Ariza’s void, a four-year deal worth around $32-35 million for Deng seems reasonable.
Lance Stephenson, SG, RFA
Now that cooler heads have hopefully prevailed within Indiana’s locker room, Stephenson’s progress as a player over his first four seasons should absolutely be commended. His lapses in judgment in key moments of the postseason may have been the subject of an endless stream of memes and social media jokes, but his actual ‘game’ cannot be denied.
His 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 4.6 APG are what led some analysts to consider him a legitimate candidate (and even one-time front-runner) for the 2013-14 NBA Most Improved Player award that eventually went to a deserving Goran Dragic. The antics may have cooled some of his momentum, but the 23-year-old should still be able to sign a very lucrative deal this offseason.
Prediction: The questions about his maturity and professionalism are fair, so Stephenson may not receive quite the offers that one would expect after his breakout year. While there should be relative interest from teams in need of a perimeter upgrade, it would probably be in Stephenson’s best interest to find a way to stay in Indiana. Not only is there already a strong support infrastructure with team president Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh (basketball operations consultant) serving as direct mentors for Stephenson, but chasing the absolute maximum amount of money available likely wouldn’t place him in anywhere near his current position of contending for a title.
Greg Monroe, PF, RFA
Monroe is another young player who’s expected to look for the largest contract offer once players can begin negotiating with teams. Even though head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy appeared to express a desire to find a way to keep Monroe in the past, it appears that may very well have been an attempt to strengthen their position with any trade negotiations. Not that Van Gundy shouldn’t be taken at his word with regards to having a true appreciation for Monroe’s game, but the team’s apparent inability to find a suitor for Josh Smith’s contract makes it highly unlikely the Pistons would actually consider re-signing the 24-year-old power forward.
As a featured player in an offense, the former-Hoya could develop into a player that provided a nightly 18-20 points and double-digit rebounds. That type of realistic potential won’t go unnoticed by other teams. Depending on what takes place with Spencer Hawes during discussions with Cleveland, GM David Griffin’s reported desire to pair Kyrie Irving with a quality big man could place the Cavs into the Monroe discussion.
Prediction: Monroe receives a four-year, $32-40 million offer from either the Cavs or even Wizards, depending on how things go with Gortat’s negotiations. The Lakers had been rumored as a potential suitor due to their cap space, but the Randle selection would possibly make that a less desirable fit now.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, RFA
Thomas had a fantastic offensive season (20.3 PPG and 6.3 APG) in just his third year in the league. Having shown promise and winning the starting job in Sacramento by the second half of the prior season, Thomas really seemed to flourish in his first year under head coach Mike Malone. Thomas even spoke about the positive relationship he has with Malone and the reverence he has for his head coach’s basketball knowledge just last week during an interview with Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Thomas is a lock to return to Sacramento. Although the Kings extended a qualifying offer toward the 5’9 point guard and can match whatever offer he receives from another team, Sacramento may not have the money to keep Thomas in town. Rudy Gay’s decision to opt in to the final $19,317,326 year of his contract takes away some of the Kings’ flexibility this summer, as they already have $66,349,208 in guaranteed commitments.
Prediction: Dallas offers Thomas a four-year contract ranging from $24-28 million, and while the Kings have every intention of retaining Thomas, they elect to allow him to leave. However, prior to the offer sheet being signed, Sacramento could explore sign-and-trade possibilities so that they don’t lose Thomas without receiving any compensation in return. Once small forward Gay opted into the final year of his current deal, that placed the team in a position of (potentially) no longer having the necessary resources to re-sign Thomas while continuing to pursue the much-needed perimeter defenders and reserve contributors Malone desperately needs.
Check back for part two on Tuesday, which will look at free agents Kyle Lowry, Chris Bosh, Marcin Gortat, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hill, Andray Blatche, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and more!
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.