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Deron Williams Turns Back Clock with Mavs

Deron Williams discusses his departure from the Nets and how the fourth-place Mavericks are defying odds.

Moke Hamilton

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With a lightning quick crossover dribble, Deron Williams went from left to right. His defender, seemingly dazed and confused, was lost. Williams stepped behind the three-point line and launched a 25-foot jump shot. By the time it had found the bottom of the net, Williams—confident that the shot would fall—was already half way back up the floor.

Oddly reminiscent of a better time, the former All-Star has turned the corner and the page on his tenure as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. And although the onlookers left his basketball career for dead, rumors of Williams’ demise were greatly exaggerated. And rest assured, he is laughing last.

“It’s over,” Williams said of his time in Brooklyn. “I’m past all that and I’m on to a new chapter. I wish things were different and happened differently, but they didn’t. You can’t dwell on it, you can only move forward and I think that’s what I’ve done.”

Indeed, in moving forward, Williams has seemingly turned back the clock.

* * * * *

Back in 2011, within the span of 48 hours, everything had changed.

As it had become known that Carmelo Anthony had his eyes on a return to the city of his birth, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets engaged the Denver Nuggets in what became a very public negotiation for Anthony. The Nets would obviously lose, but the disappointment was short-lived when, merely 48 hours after Anthony’s arrival, general manager Billy King and assistant general manager Bobby Marks pulled off a blockbuster for Deron Williams.

Together, Anthony and Williams would be charged with resurrecting their respective franchises and reviving basketball in a city that has been haunted by mostly imprudent management and failed get-rich-quick-basketball schemes.

In February 2011, with King and head coach Avery Johnson flanking him at New Jersey’s PNY Center, for Williams, excitement reigned supreme.

“It’s good to be here and I’m excited about being a Net,” Williams told the assembled media almost five years ago.

“Seeing the direction that they wanted to go in and the vision that they had for this organization just really got me excited. It got me excited about the possibilities of competing for a championship over the next couple of years.”

In the end, we now know that the lofty expectations that awaited Williams in New Jersey and later in Brooklyn would go unfulfilled. And when the Nets made the decision to pay Williams to go away this past summer, the NBA world expected him to fade into obscurity.

Instead, he has helped the Mavericks become one of the surprise teams early in the 2015-16 NBA season.

“It feels good,” Williams told Basketball Insiders about the Mavericks defying the odds thus far this season. “I think any team will tell you that you try to tune out what people have expectation-wise for you, you just kinda go about your business.

“We felt like we had a good team, there were a lot of variables—a lot of guys coming off of injuries, a lot of guys missing training camp, myself included—so we didn’t know how fast it would come together or how fast it would click and I think, at this point in the season, we’re a little head of schedule. But we still have a lot of work to do and we can still improve.”

Entering play on December 8, only six Western Conference teams have winning records, and after being left at the altar by DeAndre Jordan, few would have expected the Mavericks to have been one such ball club.

“I expected him to play great and he has,” head coach Rick Carlisle said of Williams. “He’s a great player. The things that he’s battled the last couple of years have been health issues… Double ankle surgery two years ago and other nagging injuries. He’s worked extremely hard to push through those things and get himself on the uptick, but hard work is paying off for him.”

Like Pau Gasol and, to a lesser extent this year, Rajon Rondo, Williams is once again proving true the simple theory that happy players perform better. A change of scenery can do wonders for an athlete. As the years progressed, Williams and his on-court productivity deteriorated and he was never able to rediscover the energy and spirit that he harnessed in his first 12 games as a Net, when he averaged 12.8 assists per game.

Eventually, his play began to stink as much as his attitude, and Williams eventually revealed himself as someone who wasn’t quite comfortable with the crushing expectations and blunt criticism that awaited a centi-million dollar player who was charged with resurrecting a franchise.

In many ways, Anthony will forever be linked with Williams. Regarded as two of the top players in the league, they found new homes in New York City merely days a part. There, though, is where the comparison ends.

Say what you want about Anthony, but from day one, after willingly accepting the spotlight in New York City, he has accepted everything that has come along with it. Win or lose, 62 points or 3-for-20 shooting night, Anthony always shows up, holds his head high and accepts accountability for his shortcomings. It’s called mental toughness, and a special type is required to succeed in New York City. Anthony is one of the few players who has an informed opinion as to what that burden feels like.

“He looked comfortable,” Anthony said after getting a glimpse of Deron Williams when the newest Maverick returned to New York City in early December.

“He got away from New York,” Anthony added with a chuckle. “Some people can handle it, some people can’t. He was a guy who needed to get away from this [and go] where he can kind of be himself and get some clarity and get back to the Deron Williams that we all used to love.”

Aside from sharing the city with Williams for about four years, Anthony and Williams spent time together playing for Team USA, most notably as members of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.

One of the major differences between Anthony and Williams and their stories, though, is that Anthony willingly chose to come to New York, even meeting with team brass and negotiating a contract extension as a condition precedent to his eventual extend-and-trade agreement with the Nuggets.

Williams, on the other hand, was—in his own words—blindsided by the trade and first heard the news of his divestment from a television report that he heard while getting treatment among his teammates. And although Williams ultimately opted to re-sign with the Nets, it was a decision that he would probably reconsider if given the opportunity.

“It’s been a great move for me,” Williams said of his relocating to Dallas. “Just being a part of this organization and this team has been great for me and just having a fresh start.”

Anthony knows a thing or two about fresh starts, as well.

“It could rejuvenate you, mentally, emotionally,” Anthony said of Williams and his flight to Dallas. “For him, it was just more of kinda getting away from this, getting away from New York. [Williams] seems like he’s comfortable out there in Dallas. When he’s on the court, he’s a different kind of D-Will than we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons, so you can tell that he has some kind of mental clarity where he feels comfortable again.”

“It just never went well, I think,” Williams agreed. “Everybody felt I was the problem, now I’m gone, I can be a part of another organization where I feel like I’m better suited. I feel like they need a point guard like me a little bit better here and I’m able to flourish and have the ball in my hands a little bit more and it’s been great for me, it’s been great for my family. There’s been a lot more positivity in Dallas and I think I needed that in my life.”

Whatever it is that Williams needed, rest assured, Mark Cuban is happy that he’s found it.

After 22 games in Dallas, on the court, Williams has resembled the player that he was when he was arguably the finest point guard in the entire league. Spry and engaged, Williams has rediscovered his ability as one of the best pick-and-roll floor generals in the NBA, and he has had almost immediate success and chemistry with Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews.

His 15 points per game is a slight improvement over last season’s 13 points per game, and his shooting percentage has taken a marginal step forward as well. Most importantly, though, is the fact that Williams simply seems more comfortable and relaxed with not shouldering the burden of being a franchise player or someone whose poor performances or underwhelming results cause dissection and criticism.

For the first time in a long time—perhaps since his days as a member of the Utah Jazz—Williams can simply focus on playing basketball. And that is a major part of the reason why he chose to return home to Dallas in the first place.

As the Mavericks continue along as one of the surprise teams of the season, they will have an opportunity to be great so long as Nowitzki plays efficient basketball. Like Williams, Nowitzki has been experiencing a bounce back as well.

Back in July, when the Mavericks lost out on DeAndre Jordan, most onlookers thought that when Jordan left his home in a Houston suburb and traveled back to Los Angeles to remain with the Clippers, that he took Cuban’s hopes of qualifying for the playoffs with him. However, entering play on December 8, the Mavericks are above the Clippers in the standings, as L.A. is currently fifth in the Western Conference.

Yes, when Jordan fled Texas and traveled back to Los Angeles, he indirectly assisted the Mavericks with their acquisition of Williams. Shortly thereafter, we theorized as to whether the Mavericks might be better off in the long run.

With the spirited play of Williams and their early-season thriving as one of the league’s top teams, at least in the early going, it’s difficult to argue with the results. Based on what we have seen over the course of the first 22 games for the Mavericks, Williams looks nothing like the player that Nets fans last saw. In 2014-15, Williams seemed to lack effort and passion, and he managed some of his lowest outputs since his rookie season, including shooting just 38.7 percent from the field.

“Expectations were high,” Williams said of his time in Brooklyn. “I was injured pretty much the whole time I was there. Four coaches in three and a half years didn’t help. As a point guard, with chemistry and things like that, there was constant change and it just didn’t work out.”

Now, with a fresh start, Williams appears rejuvenated.

Blink, and in a New York minute, he may have crossed you over and drilled a jump shot in your face.

Sometimes, in life, you have to take a step back to take a step forward. And after passing on signing with the Mavericks when he was a free agent back in July 2012, Williams is taking advantage of his new opportunity.

Evidently, there truly is no place like home.

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NBA Daily: Reacting To Bubble Headlines

Almost two weeks into the Bubble, Matt John gives his own take on some of the bigger headlines that have sprung up.

Matt John

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All of a sudden, we are almost at the end of Week Two inside the Bubble. We’ve actually had some pretty epic games, wouldn’t you say? We’ve also had some telling and high stakes games too. Now that our regular season is finally at its end, things are taking shape a little. Because of that, we’re seeing some major stories hit the newsstands over the past 11 days.

Instead of repeating last week’s formula, let’s focus on reacting to some of the more recent headlines we have seen since the

“Something Might Be Wrong With The Lakers!”

In their last seven games, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone only 3-4 and, upon deeper examination, they’ve only come up victorious twice since beating their crosstown rivals on Jul. 30. Since the Bubble commenced, they’ve put up the second-lowest offensive rating in the league – scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, only .1 points ahead of Washington. Additionally, they have the lowest net rating among teams that have clinched a playoff spot at minus-5.6.

LeBron James specifically has not looked like himself. Even when the Lakers beat the Clippers, he didn’t put up the best stat line – and since then, he hasn’t played at the same MVP-caliber pace. In his seven games, he’s averaged 22.8 points on 45/33/63 splits while coughing up 3.2 turnovers. Even at 35, we all know that’s a far cry from the numbers he was putting up during his MVP-worthy campaign.

Maybe he and the Lakers are mailing in the rest of the season, or maybe there is something more to these recent unwelcome struggles.

Do you know what the big conclusion to draw from this is? Yawn. If you know James, then you know that reports like these aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. We all should have gotten the picture with the King by now. No matter who he plays for, no matter how good his team is and no matter how much worse this episode looks compared to the last one, every year there’s always going to be some sort of drama going on. And how much does this impact LeBron’s team when the going gets tough? Nil.

It’s part of the LeBron deluxe package. There are going to be concerns. There are going to be questions. There are going to be doubts. That’s what it’s been like for the past 10+ years with any team led by the likes of LeBron James. The Lakers, as fantastic as they have been, were going to face it eventually. It just happened to be with the playoffs around the corner.

No matter because, with the exception of last year, LeBron’s teams have always made their way through the fire as he carried them over the hump. There’s no reason to think it won’t be the same with LA. Besides, how much did the Lakers honestly have to prove in the Bubble? There were really only two tasks at hand for them once the hiatus ended.

1. Beating the Clippers: Mission Accomplished
2. Getting the No. 1 seed in the loaded Western Conference: Mission Accomplished

After that, what else was there to play for? The drama could very well play into the playoffs, but LeBron’s been through this merry-go-round enough times that he practically owns a timeshare in it.

The Lakers are going to be fine, and you probably already knew that. What everyone needs to realize is that this is a regular occurrence for LeBron-led squads. We should have gotten so used to it by now that it would have been more shocking if the season had ended drama-free for the boys in purple and gold.

But Danny Green shooting only 7-for-25 from three-point land? That might be something to be concerned about.

“Nate McMillan Is On The Hot Seat”

This little tidbit came from a podcast last week between Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe. While we have yet to determine the level of heat on such a rumor, let’s go over McMillan’s tenure as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

Through a black and white scope, McMillan definitely hasn’t brought Indiana to the same heights that his predecessor Frank Vogel did when he took over as coach back in 2016. The Pacers haven’t been out of the first round since 2014 and they’ve only mustered three playoff wins since with McMillan calling the shots over the last four years. When you see things through that lens, McMillan would seem like the usual candidate.

But that’s not the case with McMillan. There’s a reason why his name has been thrown in the Coach of the Year discussion for three years running now. Let’s start with how he’s developed a reputation for player development. Think of the players that have really stood out for Indiana since they moved on from the Paul George era.
Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and, most recently, T.J. Warren. What do these players have in common? None of them ever reached the heights in their career that they did once they played under McMillan before coming to Indiana.

McMillan even managed to breathe life back into Lance Stephenson’s career for a year or two there. The one failure on McMillan’s part has been Myles Turner, who is still basically the same player as he was when Indiana had a total makeover back in 2017. The fact that McMillan has done this with this many players in such a short amount of time demonstrates that he knows how to put his players in the right position to succeed. Coaches like those don’t grow on trees.

Fate dealt a cruel hand with Oladipo’s knee blowing out, but McMillan certainly can’t be the fall guy for that. Again, no one knows how seriously we should take this rumor. It may be quickly swept under the rug as soon as tomorrow. It’s just that if McMillan were to be shown the door, Indiana would be making a rather puzzling decision after making pretty much all the right moves over the last three years.

“Michael Porter Jr Was Well-Worth The Wait”

There shouldn’t be much of a counterpoint to this. Michael Porter Jr has looked like the dynamic scorer many believed he could be dating back to his high school days. So much so that a fair amount of teams are probably going to second-guess passing him up in the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter’s rise in Florida has to make Denver – who was already a top team in the Western Conference before he got there – so much more optimistic about their future.

Putting up nearly 24 points on 57/46/96 splits in the Bubble has got to make the Nuggets incredibly giddy. He’s got great size for a scorer and an awesome shooting stroke. He’s also a great cutter, which means more highlight-reel assists for the Joker, too. All the Nuggets needed to complement Nikola Jokic was a go-to-scorer to get to the next level. Soon, they are going to pay Jamal Murray to be that guy, but Murray’s production, while not bad, has stayed relatively the same over the last three years. At 23, there’s still hope for him to make the leap, but now with MPJ coming into his own, the Nuggets have a safety valve in case that doesn’t happen.

Now, teams will get more game film on him, so odds are we’ll see a slump from Porter as time passes. Even with that, this shouldn’t be seen as a tease.

Porter should be a future star if he stays on the court and that’s the one hang-up. We still have to go back to the fact that 13 teams passed on him for a very real, very frightening reason. No one doubted the talent this kid had. It was his injury problems that put his future in doubt. Denver’s been meticulously careful making sure that Porter doesn’t get put on the shelf, but there’s no way of knowing if he can do this over a full season, and we won’t know for quite a while.

Injuries were what ruined Michael Porter Jr’s stock in 2018, so hold your breath. As exciting as it is to see him prove all of his doubters wrong, Brandon Roy did the same thing only 13 years ago.

With the NBA’s latest and greatest regular season bubble set to wrap up this week, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch. Are the Nuggets even better with Porter Jr.? Do the Lakers have what it takes?

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NBA Daily: Ivica Zubac Rounding Into Form For Clippers

David Yapkowitz writes about Ivica Zubac and his strong bubble performances for the Los Angeles Clippers – is he the key for a deep postseason run?

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers have no shortage of star power. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George form one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA, and both Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are averaging close to 20 points a game each while coming off the bench.

But there is one player on the roster who might be the team’s X-Factor, one player who could hold the key to being able to withstand the imposing frontline of the Los Angeles Lakers – and that’s Ivica Zubac.

Zubac was once a Laker before he was casually tossed aside to the Clippers at last season’s trade deadline. He had shown flashes of his capabilities with the Lakers but spent most of his first couple of seasons in the league with the Lakers’ G League affiliate. Upon his arrival to the Clippers, he immediately became a key player and has since settled into the starting center role.

His arrival to the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando was initially held up as he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has since joined the team after a mandatory quarantine period and is looking ready to help the team as they gear up for a playoff run.

He admitted that although he only experienced mild symptoms from the virus, he still felt winded and not quite up to speed as he tried to ease himself back into regular game flow.

“It’s much better, it’s much better than when I got here. I can feel it getting better with each practice, each game,” Zubac said on a recent conference call with media.

“After I first started getting back in shape, after I was cleared, I felt like I was out of shape. My chest was a little tighter when I would do some stuff. But I feel great right now. I don’t feel anything. I’m getting back into shape, I’m almost there. It’s going to take some more time.”

Zubac feeling like his old self again has been evident with each passing game. He started slow, only finishing with two points and three rebounds against the Lakers while being outworked by Anthony Davis. Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he looked a bit better, especially with his effort on the glass.

In the Clippers’ third game of the restart against the Phoenix Suns, Zubac put up 18 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 77 percent from the field. He followed that up with his best bubble game to date with 21 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks.

Zubac equated his increased production with gradually regaining his conditioning and mobility and getting the feel again for regular game speed.

“I’m getting the feel, I’m starting to remember what guys like, what are the best spots on the court for me. My conditioning is getting better each practice, each game,” Zubac told media after the Mavericks game. “I’m feeling like I can stay on the floor for a while, I can run the floor, I can fight in the post with guys, I can rebound. Everything with my conditioning getting back, I can get on another level in every aspect of my game.”

Before his performance against the Mavericks, Zubac had a pretty solid game against the Suns – but the center was obviously still readjusting to his teammates and being able to make the right reads and be in the correct spots on the floor. He played solid defense on Deandre Ayton, but he also ended up having a costly turnover late in the game that set up Devin Booker’s eventual game-winner.

Following the Suns game, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had mentioned there were a few areas that Zubac could use improvement in, and he was much more effusive in his praise after his performance against the Mavericks.

“He was phenomenal. We talked about it, he did all the things we needed, he really ran the floor, that didn’t show up statistically, but what it did, it created space, it created mismatches,” Rivers told media after the game.

“I loved that our guys were looking for him. I thought his rebounding was fantastic. Really coming off the way we ended the game the other day with Zu, then coming back, playing like that, that was fantastic for his confidence.”

Throughout the season, Zubac has been a player that doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He does have a soft touch around the rim and can establish a strong position in the post, but he does a lot of damage when he’s rolling to the rim, cutting and moving without the ball and catching lobs from his teammates.

He’s also a good rebounder who gets points off of offensive putbacks, and he’s a solid defender who acts as the team’s interior defensive anchor. He’s also usually on the bench at the end of games when Harrell is in with the starters. But depending on potential matchups, perhaps against the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic, or even the Lakers and Davis, Zubac could find himself finishing some games.

What is certain though, is he’s proving his importance to the team and he’s showing that come playoff time, he could end up being the X-factor. He knows that his teammates are going to look for him and he’s ready for that.

“It’s just communication on the floor, knowing what Kawhi and P.G like, knowing how to get a better angle on a screen, just the plays we run, got to have a better understanding what’s good at the time. It’s mostly communication on the floor,” Zubac said. “It feels great to get rewarded by my teammates after doing all the hard work.”

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Free Agency Update: Changes In The Bubble

Drew Maresca explores the free agency implications of the first week of play in the bubble as the NBA continues its return to post COVID-19 play.

Drew Maresca

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Free agency is always a fun time for the NBA and its fans, but particularly so in 2020. Most free agents have usually earned their next deal by the 65th game of any given season – but this year is far from typical. Instead, the NBA has returned, sans its eight worst teams, meaning that competition is consistently better. And with limited competition for our attention, every game is a major event that draws more eyes and has a greater effect on the paydays of to-be free agents.

We’re still only three or four games into the official return of the NBA, but there have already been some changes to how we perceive some players. Take T.J. Warren, for example, who’s averaging over 39.7 points per game through three contests. Or Michael Porter Jr., who looks more like the focal point of a team than a player in his first year of professional action.

This article will focus explicitly on the changes in perception of free agents to-be as a result of their play in the bubble in Orlando.  We understand that the players listed below can still hurt their standings and that teams rate free agents differently. While the sample size is small, we’ve seen deals made based on an equally small body of work (e.g., Jerome James to the New York Knicks).

One caveat to keep in mind is the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing the NBA and its club in 2020. Not only will the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably hurt the 2020-21 salary cap, but there’s also still a conclusion to be had with the preseason China situation.

With all of that in mind, let’s explore the players that have made the loudest cases for a payday come this offseason.

The Stars

Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz – Player Option

Conley Jr. has a player option for 2020-21 – but he played poorly enough through March, relative to what we’ve come to expect from him, that it was more than reasonable to assume he would opt-in at $34.5 million.

But wait, there’s a chance that Conley does us all a favor and makes free agency 2020 more interesting. Conley’s averaged 19.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, way, way up from 13.8 points and 4.3 assists per game prior to the stoppage in March. If Conley keeps this going – and especially if he performs well in the playoffs – he might want to test the market considering the lack of elite talent that’s anticipated to hit it – assuming he’s unhappy in Utah, that is.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – RFA

Ingram’s looked similar to the guy we saw in 2019-20 before the play stoppage – he’s averaging 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game when playing 30 or more minutes. While he was less effective in a loss against the Clippers (14 points and two rebounds in 24 minutes), he’s demonstrated growth in how decisively he makes his move and how seamlessly he then scores on the move.

Ingram was probably going to get max offer as of the All-Star break – especially after reaching his first All-Star team at 22 – but COVID-19 probably altered the ability for teams to dole out lucrative deals. But then play resumed and Ingram picked up right where he left off – and with a confidence to use it liberally. Ingram is nearly a lock for a max deal now.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors – UFA

VanVleet started off his time in the bubble with a solid performance (13 points and 11 assists), but he really showed out in his second game against the Miami HEAT. VanVleet led the Raptors to a win against Miami with a career-high 36 points. And then he got right back to being Mr. Consistent for Toronto by posting 21 points and 10 assists in a win against Orlando.

So ultimately, VanVleet has led the Raptors to a 3-0 (re)start, and he’s either scored a career-high or dropped 10-plus assists. James Dolan and Leon Rose are somewhere together – albeit socially distanced, we’re sure – drooling – as are all of the teams in need of a lead guard, like Detroit. VanVleet can only increase his value from here. He’s not assumed to be a max-level player, but if he plays well enough through the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see just how high he can reach.

 DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option

It’s hard to imagine DeRozan’s value increasing much at this point in his career. After all, he’s an 11-year veteran that has been named to the All-Star Game four times and an All-NBA team twice.

But still, there’s always been presumed limitations to his game, namely his inability to shoot three-pointers. Since being traded to San Antonio, he’s fallen out of the national spotlight a bit. As a 31-year-old capable of reaching unrestricted free agency, DeRozan is at a major inflection point in his career. He could attempt to a final big deal or snag a smaller one if the market for his services doesn’t meet expectations. Or he could just opt-in.

But DeRozan has done his part to remind everyone that he has loads of high-quality basketball left in him. He tallied 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting on Tuesday in a close loss to the 76ers and he’s averaged 22.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game since the Spurs resumed play last Friday. While those averaged mostly coincide with what he did this season, it also represents a decent boost in assists. But more importantly, it solidifies that DeRozan should still receive a serious look as a lead star. And he’ll probably get interest from a number of teams.

The Known Commodities

Marcus Morris Sr., Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

While Morris Sr. is a known commodity, teams could use additional poor performances against him in negotiations. He’ll probably still have the option to sign for a veterans minimum or mid-level exception with a contender like the Clippers or Lakers. But if he’s eyeing another payday that pays him an annual salary equal to what he made in 2019-20, it would behoove him to make his mark on the stat book. 

Making A Case

Trey Burke, Dallas Mavericks – UFA

Burke hasn’t been overly consistent since NBA play resumed last week. But he did have a huge breakout game against the Rockets, scoring 31 points on 8-for-10 for three-pointers in only 30 minutes, while also dishing six assists.

Yes, Burke is averaging just 5.5 points in 18 minutes in the two games since, but the fact that he scored 31 in an NBA game will be enough to get looks as an off-the-bench scorer. And it’s a narrative that can be supported by his past work, too. Remember, Burke is still just 27-years-old  and he has a 42-point career-high. He’s also exploded for 30 four times and eclipsed the 20-point mark on 38 occasions in his 389 career games. So even if it’s just a reminder, it’s good to know that Burke can still get it done offensively – and teams are always looking for ways to manufacture offense.

Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz – UFA

Clarkson’s shot only 40 percent from the field since play resumed last Thursday, with an even worse 20 percent from three-point range. Still, scorers are as valuable as ever. It’s what made J.R. Smith so much money in this league, as well as Lou Williams and countless others – and rightfully so. Ultimately, it’s about putting the ball in the hoop. And with that being said, a franchise is going to pay Clarkson and they’ll end up paying more than they would have as of March.

Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

Jackson has less to prove than most guys in this part of this list – but given his injury history, he does have to make a statement.

On the whole, Jackson has looked good – but not necessarily great. He averaged 12.5 points, seven rebounds and two assists in his first two contests, but he regressed in the Clippers’ most recent game against the Suns. But on a positive note, Jackson received only 23 minutes on Tuesday versus Phoenix and his 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals accumulated in just 20 minutes.

If Jackson continues to be a contributor to the contending Clippers, someone will overspend on him. After all, good point guards are few and far between.

The Unknowns

Harry Giles III, Sacramento Kings – UFA

Giles III only played four minutes in the Kings’ first game back against the Spurs and he didn’t fare much better over 12:55 versus the Mavericks on Tuesday. But when you’re a fringe player that had injury concerns throughout your young career, any positive outings are good – especially those that come in a contract year. Giles tallied 23 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes against the Orlando Magic – a significant jump from his 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds averages this season.  And that’s probably enough to generate interest amongst a number of teams.

The Kings curiously declined Giles’ fourth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent as of the end of this season. That’s an interesting decision because the option was relatively cheap given that he was only the No. 20 overall pick (2017). Further confusing matters is the idea that by passing on the fourth-year option, they also lost matching rights – so Giles won’t even be restricted.

To make matters worse, the Kings can’t even bid more than $3.9 million to retain his services. So the Kings ultimately wasted a first-round draft pick on Giles for a grand total of 14.5 minutes per game across 99 games – and he’ll walk before they even know what they had in him.

But this all works out nicely for Giles, who will absolutely get an opportunity elsewhere – and he’ll be paid more than he would have received in Sacramento for it. How good is still an unknown, but he’s shown enough for a team to take a flyer on considering his size, skill set and versatility. He was the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school according to ESPN just four short years ago.

Free agency is going to be different than ever before and, up until very recently, that was assumed to be a bad thing. But with some of the above players changing the narratives around them, it could become even more exciting than it’s been in the recent past. Add in the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Davis Bertans, Christian Wood – and we’re looking at an under-appreciated free-agent class.

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