The 2013-14 NBA season is completely over for 14 teams, and eight more are about to join them in the next week or two. That means over two-thirds of the league will have nothing better to do but start gearing up for free agency and the draft this summer, with free agency talking a prominent position because of all the high-quality talent on the market this year.
The following is a list of the 10 best free agents on the market, and while it’s an impressive set, it doesn’t even include some of the biggest names that could potentially hit the free agent pool. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh among others have early termination options on their deals which, if exercised, could put them on the market in July, as well.
For now, though, we’re just going to look at the players who will definitely be free agents in the coming months, as well as where they might end up and how much money they could earn.
Eric Bledsoe, RFA, Phoenix Suns – Generally speaking, this looks like one of the most obvious slam dunks as far as this year’s great crop of restricted free agents is concerned. Bledsoe has shown no ill effects from his knee injury that occurred earlier in the season, and working with the Phoenix training staff is the best way to make sure that remains the case throughout the course of his career. Plus, the Suns are a talented upstart team with plenty of money to spend in order to further improve the roster, and they’d be crazy not to match any offer sheet he’s given, assuming they don’t beat other teams to the punch by offering him a huge extension as quickly as possible.
He might not make max money, but he’s likely to get close, and it seems pretty clear that Phoenix has pegged him and Goran Dragic as the two cogs around which they’re planning on building this team. Suns GM Ryan McDonough recently made headlines when he told a local radio station that “it would be a waste of time for another team to throw an offer at him.”
Luol Deng, UFA, Cleveland Cavaliers – While the Cavaliers have said publicly that they’d like to keep Deng long-term, his reasons for staying on that struggling Cleveland roster are likely quite a bit less plentiful than his reasons for exploring free agency. The L.A. Lakers are a team that continually pop up as a potential suitor for Deng, as are the Phoenix Suns, though there’s even an outside chance that he would return to the Chicago Bulls if he were interested in settling for the $10 million annual deal his old team originally offered before trading him earlier in the season. That amount of money seems like Deng’s financial floor, but he could make quite a bit more than that if he plays the market well. Something in the neighborhood of $12-14 million a season for a 28-year-old veteran that performs well on both ends of the court seems just about right, and as one of the only “high profile” free agents still in his prime, he’ll have no shortage of suitors.
Pau Gasol, UFA, L.A. Lakers – Coming off a year in which Gasol made north of $19 million, it’s probably safe to say that he’s seen his last massive multi-year contract. But after banking plenty of cash over the course of his career, he’ll likely approach free agency this summer with eyes set on a winning situation over one that could pay him the most money. He’s already said he’d listen to what Phil Jackson has to say should New York come up with an offer, but Cleveland, Chicago, Charlotte and Memphis are other possibilities for the veteran seven-footer, according to SI’s Chris Mannix. Wherever he ends up, Gasol is likely to still command a reasonable paycheck and get an opportunity to play for a team with reasonable title aspirations. He has stated that winning is more important to him than any other factor, and that leaves the door wide open for him to play pretty much anywhere he wants to. If he’s coming at a bargain, just about every team in the league will be interested.
Marcin Gortat, UFA, Washington Wizards – To say that the Gortat trade worked out well for the Washington Wizards would be more than fair, particularly since the Polish center just wrapped up one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 13.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG and 1.5 BPG. It’s hard to gauge what kind of money he might make, but there are plenty of front office people that consider him one of the top three unrestricted free agents on the market this summer, right behind Deng and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. High-quality big men typically get paid quite well in the NBA, and Gortat is coming off a scorching hot season just riddled with double-doubles. Even better for Gortat, his Wizards have a surprisingly realistic chance to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals this year if they can get past Chicago and Indiana. Gortat is one of the league’s few effective traditional big men, and that’s worth a pretty penny to NBA executives.
Gordon Hayward, RFA, Utah Jazz – Obviously, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has publicly stated over and over again that he’d love for Hayward to stay in Salt Lake City for the duration of his career, but Hayward himself hasn’t been quite as concrete on what his future plans are. He’s likely to taste free agency and see what teams have to offer. Utah has plenty of cap space in the coming years and could match any offer sheet Hayward may sign, but with Hayward a more realistic free agency target for teams in need of a small forward than James or Anthony, there’s a real chance some team looks to overpay for the promising future Hayward has in the NBA. Utah has a new head coach to hire, and that may help Hayward make a decision, but at this point it looks like he’s interested in playing the field a little bit. There’s little reason to believe Utah will let him walk away for nothing, but the rest of the league sure isn’t going to make it easy on them.
Kyle Lowry, UFA, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted free agents this good are rare, but the Raptors’ front office has a firm understanding of that and has said publicly multiple times that they’re going to do everything in their power to keep Lowry long-term. Toronto, the third-best team in the East this year, is clearly moving in the right direction with Lowry at the helm, but what he ends up making this summer may ultimately depend on how things pan out for him in these playoffs. Lowry is top 10 in the league in win shares, which proves his value as the kind of player a team builds around, but his injury history makes a huge extension a little risky. The Raptors likely have a ceiling of what they’d be willing to pay their talented point guard, and if there are teams willing to reach through that ceiling to bring him aboard, there’s definitely a chance he could change uniforms. Whoever ends up with him, though, will have to pry him from the white-knuckled fists of Masai Ujiri.
Greg Monroe, RFA, Detroit Pistons – While it’s true that the Pistons are in a bit of a front office overhaul right now, that bit of discord shouldn’t be viewed as an opportunity for the rest of the league to pluck Monroe from their clutches. An eight-figure salary for Monroe seems imminent, and considering Josh Smith (who plays the same position) also makes an eight-figure annual salary, it’s easy to see how matching a big offer sheet could prove problematic for the Pistons. However, don’t expect them to let him walk for nothing; they actually can afford to pay him and Smith and likely will before losing him to some other team with nothing in return. The new front office can always try to make a sign-and-trade work or attempt to ship off Smith at a later date. However they do it, the Pistons aren’t just going to let Monroe walk, though there are likely some teams who will consider offering near-max money to see if Detroit will balk at matching. Keep an eye on the Washington Wizards, who are rumored to be interested in Monroe.
Dirk Nowitzki, UFA, Dallas Mavericks – Nowitzki’s body of work puts him on this list, but there’s no way Mark Cuban will ever allow him to retire as anything but a Dallas Maverick. He’s not going to command another max contract at this point in his career (he’ll be 36 in June), but he still has plenty to offer considering his style of play never really relied too heavily on athleticism. It’s simply inconceivable that he gives his talents to anybody but Cuban and the Mavs this summer.
Lance Stephenson, UFA, Indiana Pacers – All season long the Pacers have been worried out of their minds that they won’t be able to afford Lance Stephenson, who had his near-All-Star breakout season just in time to talk about a contract extension. A former second-round pick, Stephenson is the youngest unrestricted free agent on this list, and players that young and that talented simply don’t come around often without a restricted tag. Teams don’t have to worry about Indiana gobbling up days of rumination about matching an offer sheet, and that means they’ll go after Stephenson before many of the restricted guys. As the season has gone on, Stephenson’s production has fallen off a bit, and he still looks like the Tazmanian Devil half of the time he’s charging all over the court. The fact that he has reportedly gotten into fights with George Hill and Evan Turner in recent weeks also doesn’t help his stock. With that said, he’s a truly desirable asset, and one that Indiana may no longer be able to afford. If Chicago uses the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer, they’ll have the financial means to make a run at Stephenson, who would fill a huge need for them. Atlanta, Charlotte and Utah are other possibilities.
Isaiah Thomas, RFA, Sacramento Kings – There’s a reasonable chance that the Kings draft a larger point guard in this upcoming draft, particularly with prospects like Dante Exum and Marcus Smart looking like franchise-changing players. And if that happens, Sacramento could potentially let Thomas play somewhere else rather than invest another $4-6 million in the position. That price range places Thomas squarely in the mid-level exception range, which means a ton of teams will be interested in bringing him aboard. Bench scoring is a very important thing in today’s NBA, and Thomas would be an ideal sixth man for almost any team in the league. Sacramento could match any offer sheet if the money doesn’t get exorbitant, and they likely would if the draft doesn’t yield them a point guard. He’s still a good fit for Sacramento, but he’ll have a lot of opportunities to play elsewhere if he and/or the Kings so choose.
As soon as a team knows its season is sunk, the front office immediately begins making plans for fixing it the next year, and that can really only be done through some combination of making smart draft picks, lopsided trades or savvy free agency acquisitions. This year offers more quality free agents than average, and these 10 players represent the best of the batch. Should any of the All-Stars with early termination options exercise that opportunity, the free agent class will only get stronger.
NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles
Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.
Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.
That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.
Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.
All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.
Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.
The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.
“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”
The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.
Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.
Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.
Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.
After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.
By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.
Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.
“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”
Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.
For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.
While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.
“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”
Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.
From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.
With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.
Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench
David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.
The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.
He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.
“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”
Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.
The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.
“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”
For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.
In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.
“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”
In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.
“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”
At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).
It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.