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The Pending NBA Free Agents

Shane Rhodes looks ahead and breaks down who will be the biggest free agents in 2018.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2017 offseason has been an eventful one, with multiple stars moving teams via free agency and trade. Looking (very far) ahead, the 2018 offseason period looks to be even more so, with more stars potentially on the market than any offseason in recent memory. As the 2017-18 season draws closer, here are some potential free agents to keep an eye on.

LeBron James*, F, Cleveland Cavaliers

Even as a 32-year-old in his 14th season, LeBron James is still the cream of the NBA crop; teams lucky enough to earn an audience with him will do whatever they can to accommodate the superstar forward. Rumors have swirled around James’ supposed departure for months and, should things continue to spiral out of control in Cleveland, expect him to opt-out and take his uber-efficient 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists elsewhere.

Russell Westbrook*, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

The reigning Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook has yet to commit long-term to the Oklahoma City Thunder and, until he does, should be considered a potential free agent. While he hasn’t been the most efficient player throughout his career, Westbrook showed how dominant he can be by averaging a triple-double across 81 games last season and only stands to get better with a more talented roster next year. Someone will pay through the nose for Westbrook’s off-the-charts production, it’s just a matter of who.

Adding Paul George via trade this offseason shows the Thunder are seriously committed to their current group and believe they can challenge the Golden State Warriors for Western Conference supremacy. However, if Billy Donovan’s squad is unable to make a deep postseason run, does Westbrook think he has a better chance somewhere else?

Paul George*, F, Oklahoma City Thunder

George is still expected by most to opt-out and sign with the Los Angeles Lakers next summer. The Thunder knew what they were getting in George when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him earlier in the offseason—a possible one-year rental. However, the Thunder are hoping they can convince him to re-up by pairing him with Westbrook. Don’t be surprised to see George on his third team in three years following next season, however.

Even if George still intends to leave for Los Angeles following the season, he is seemingly in a perfect situation. By trading for him, the Thunder not only give George a better chance at a title next season, but an in-house seat to recruit Westbrook away from the team should the duo want to continue playing together—possibly to Westbrook’s hometown Lakers.

Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets

Chris Paul remains an unrestricted free agent following next season after a trade sent him from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets. While Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is likely hoping to lock up the star guard long term, expect Paul to hold off on committing to anything before seeing how he meshes with fellow star-guard James Harden in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive scheme. If things don’t work out, Paul will be on the move again in 2018.

Regardless of the Rockets’ success Paul is still one of the best point guards in the NBA and will expect to be paid as such. Barring injury, anything short of a max contract is highly unlikely.

DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Pelicans

Character concerns aside, DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the best center in the league and is one of the many players in line for a max contract next summer. Now, with ample time to adjust to Alvin Gentry’s system and to form a rapport with superstar Anthony Davis and recently re-signed point guard Jrue Holiday, Cousins should flourish.

However, during his seven seasons in the NBA, Cousins has yet to be a part of a winning franchise. The success or failure of the Pelicans next season could determine whether Cousins remains in New Orleans or leaves to join a team that he thinks will give him a better chance to win a title. Talents like Cousins don’t hit the open market often and, given the fact that teams won’t have to give up anything to acquire him, the big-man should have a no shortage of suitors.

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics

Isaiah Thomas has made it no secret that he expects to sign a max contract next summer. Since joining the Boston Celtics at the 2015 Trade Deadline, Thomas has been one best point guards in the league, averaging a career high 28.9 points in addition to 2.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game last season. Going into next season with fellow All-Star Gordon Hayward in tow, Thomas should see continued improvements in his scoring and efficiency, which should lead to even more money in the Brinks Trunk he so often talks about.

While questions about his size and his health remain, Thomas has proven himself worthy of a big-money deal. At the very least, a hefty raise from the $6,261,395 he’s set to earn in the coming season is expected for Thomas.

J.J. Redick, SG, Philadelphia 76ers

After signing a one-year max contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, J.J. Redick will be a free agent again next offseason. Expect the 34-year-old shooting guard to find the right balance of years and earnings as 2018 may likely be his last chance at a big payday. Redick should have no problem doing so after joining a 76ers team that badly needed offensive production from the shooting guard position; with more opportunities to impact the game than he had with the Clippers, expect Redick’s 15 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game stat line from a season ago to improve.

Brook Lopez, C, Los Angeles Lakers

Brook Lopez turned into one of the better outside shooting big-men last season and should see a continued improvement on his outside stroke and overall game with the Lakers next season. Lopez averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game on 47.4 percent shooting while hitting at a 34.6 percent clip from beyond the arc. His proficiency on the perimeter as a big-man alone should put him in line for a nice payday following next season.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Los Angeles Lakers

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was somewhat of a surprise to see on the open market this past offseason. After signing a one-year deal with the Lakers as a restricted free agent, Caldwell-Pope will be free to sign wherever he wants this time next year. Not many bring the same intensity Caldwell-Pope does on the defensive end. Combine that with his age and another season to improve his overall offensive game and Caldwell-Pope should be a highly sought after commodity as an unrestricted free agent.

Avery Bradley, SG, Detroit Pistons

Avery Bradley is often regarded as a defensive stalwart by his peers, but over the past few seasons has shown that he is a more-than-capable two-way player and will look to be paid like one. Bradley has consistently improved year after year since being drafted by the Celtics back in 2010; don’t expect anything different after an offseason move to the Detroit Pistons.

The 2018 offseason and free agency period has the potential to completely alter the NBA landscape as we currently know it. With so much talent expected to be on the open market, plenty of teams will have the opportunity to make some noise and put themselves in a position to improve and contend for a title.

* Indicates player has a player option for next season

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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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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