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 Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers
The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.
The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.
The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.
“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.
General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.
“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”
Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.
“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.
When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.
“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”
Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.
“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.
Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.
“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”
Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.
“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”
Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.
“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”
Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting
Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.
“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”
With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.
“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.
Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.
“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.
For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.
“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”
Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.
“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.
Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.
“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.
Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.
“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.
When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.
“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.
“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”
The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’
Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?
In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.
While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.
The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.
After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.
The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.
And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.
But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.
This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.
Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.
However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.
Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?
Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.
There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.
It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.
And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.
Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.
NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?
Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?
The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.
In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.
Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.
He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.
In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.
That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?
Here are three possibilities:
Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.
Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.
He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.
Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.
Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.
He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.
This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.
He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.
In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.
With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.
In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.