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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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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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