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NBA Daily: Which Second-Tier Free Agents Should Teams Retain?

Several teams may lose players to free agency. Shane Rhodes analyzes which players should be a major priority for their respective teams.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 offseason is loaded.

LeBron James, Chris Paul, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins headline a free agent talent pool deeper than any other over the last few seasons. With the start of the free agency period in the coming days, their movement could change the NBA landscape as we know it.

While every team won’t be fortunate enough to grab one of those top-tier stars, there exists plenty of value and depth throughout the free agent market, both restricted and unrestricted. There are plenty of talented free agents that played an important role for their current teams and could certainly make an impact if they find themselves elsewhere next season.

In the case of some of those players, their current teams should let nothing stop them from retaining them — even if it means breaking the bank.

Who are those players? Let’s take a look.

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

A few years ago, no one would have thought Capela would be a candidate for a max offer sheet. Now, assuming James isn’t headed to H-Town and Paul hangs around, the Houston Rockets must retain Clint Capela, regardless of the cost.

The burgeoning big man had a career year with the Rockets, posting 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Capela was a force on both sides of the ball; highly efficient offensively and dominant defensively, he led the league in field goal percentage (65.2 percent), was second in blocks (137), eighth in rebounds (802) and fourth in defensive rating (100.5).

With LeBron James opting out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, there isn’t much of an avenue for Houston to upgrade their roster (short of some Daryl Morey magic), so, while he could cost a fortune to keep around, Capela should be retained at all costs. The Rockets offense, centered around Capela himself alongside the duo of Paul and Most Valuable Player James Harden, was historically dominant. Another season of growth and chemistry could go a long way to making it even better.

Not only that, but Capela proved a crucial piece to the puzzle that is bringing down the Golden State Warriors — he posted the highest offensive and defensive rating of any Rockets players in the seven-game Western Conference Finals — and that alone should be enough for Houston to keep him around.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

Marcus Smart is worth more to the Boston Celtics than he is to most other NBA franchises. Offensively, while he is a capable passer, the career 36 percent shooter (29.3 percent from three for his career) is an odd fit in the modern up-tempo NBA offense.

Still, the impact Smart can have on the court is undeniable and more than a few teams would probably take the gamble on his defensive intangibles. Those intangibles, his defensive instincts, are exactly why the Celtics MUST hold on to Smart.

He is their team identity.

Smart is exactly what Boston wants to be; gritty, tough, versatile and more. One of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, Smart can and will take on any defensive assignment. He plays with unwavering intensity and, while some of his bone-headed shots on offense make suitors cringe, his knack for making high-impact, winning plays, more than offsets his offensive struggles.

The energy Smart brings to the court is exactly what every championship contender needs, and the Celtics, on the cusp of returning Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the starting lineup, could use it more than anyone.

J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers

With shooting at a premium in the NBA, J.J. Redick stands to make money regardless of wherever he ends up.

The veteran sharpshooter, who has made a career out of knocking down shots from behind the three-point line, is still one of the best in the business. And, while the Philadelphia 76ers have their sights set on larger acquisitions, retaining Redick is of prime importance to the team, assuming those acquisitions don’t pan out.

The 76ers head into the offseason with a concerning lack of high-percentage shooters under contract for next season. Mid-year acquisitions Marco Bellineli (38.5 percent from three with the 76ers) and Ersan Ilyasova (36.1 percent) are, like Redick, free agents. Ben Simmons knocked down a whopping ZERO three-pointers in his rookie campaign. Markelle Fultz isn’t guaranteed to regain his shooting touch from downtown after a strange rookie campaign.

Redick, a career 41.5 percent three-point shooter who hit at a 42 percent clip from downtown last season, clearly remedies this deficiency.

As he was this past season, Redick would again be the perfect complement to the 76ers starting lineup. The threat he poses on the perimeter opens up the middle for Simmons, Joel Embiid and others. Plus, if Simmons remains a non-factor outside of the paint, Redick’s stroke would be even more crucial to Philadelphia’s success.

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers have been different since the midseason arrival of Jusuf Nurkic in 2017.

Following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge the prior summer, Portland’s roster was missing something, especially on the defensive end. They dropped to 20th and 24th in the league in defensive rating in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, respectively. Their record dropped as well, sinking from 51 to 44 wins, then 41.

In Nurkic’s first full season with the team? The Blazers clocked in at eighth in defensive rating and won 49 games on the year.

The Bosnian big man has flourished since making the move to Portland and was crucial to their most recent playoff push. On the year, Nurkic averaged 14.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game across 89 games with the team. He placed seventh in the NBA in defensive rating (101.5) and ninth in defensive win shares (3.9).

Beyond the counting stats, there really isn’t anyone on the roster who could replace Nurkic. Rookie Zach Collins, who averaged 15.8 minutes per game in his rookie season, isn’t exactly ready to step into the role. Meanwhile, Portland’s other prominent big man, Ed Davis, played some of his best minutes alongside Nurkic, not in his stead.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic finally appear to have a direction.

While most of the league has gone small over the years, the Magic appear to be bucking the trend. With the selection of Mohamed Bamba alongside Jonathan Isaac, their first-round selection from the previous year, and Aaron Gordon, the fourth overall pick in 2014, Orlando has built a jumbo-sized, highly athletic frontcourt built to beat up teams on the inside and on the glass. Gordon, however, is a restricted free agent.

If it wasn’t clear to you by now, the Magic should avoid letting him go at all costs.

Not only is Gordon currently the Magic’s best asset, but, with his newfound three-point stroke, his upside as a player has never been higher. Gordon averaged a career high in points (17.9), rebounds (7.9) and assists (2.3) per game last season while knocking down 33.4 percent of his shots from behind the three-point line, a marked improvement on the 28.5 percent in his three seasons prior.

With Bamba and Isaac in the fold, as well as fellow talented big man Nikola Vučević, the 6-foot-9, 220 pound Gordon could be a major mismatch against other starting forwards on the offensive end, while they could all be a nightmare for other to contend with defensively. And, while the Magic are notably lacking in guard talent (Evan Fournier notwithstanding), a team this athletic could certainly make some noise in a less than stellar Eastern Conference.

These players, as many others did last season, made major impacts with their respective teams last season. And, while it may be for differing reasons, all of these players can make a winning impact next season as well. So, should a major blockbuster trade or signing not be in the works, these teams should do what they can to retain them.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

Basketball Insiders

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The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.

Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.

Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.

And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.

The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.

Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.

The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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