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NBA PM: 10 Underrated Moves That Are Paying Off

A look at 10 offseason moves that initially flew under the radar, but are looking very smart now.

Alex Kennedy

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Over the offseason, the transactions that received the most attention were moves like LeBron James and Kevin Love to Cleveland, Pau Gasol to Chicago, Chandler Parsons to Dallas and Luol Deng to Miami among others. These acquisitions made headlines, and understandably so since they involved marquee players joining talented teams.

However, there were many other solid moves that flew under the radar at the time, but ended up being key transactions that have made a big impact this season. Here are 10 offseason additions that were underrated and are looking very smart today:

Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks – Coming off of a down year with the New York Knicks in which Tyson Chandler missed 27 games and was less productive even when he was healthy, the big man being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks wasn’t seen a huge move. He wasn’t even the most talked about Chandler to join the Mavs, as Dallas’ biggest acquisition of the summer was signing Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets and that transaction overshadowed their other moves. However, the 32-year-old center has been excellent for Dallas so far this season, delivering one of the best seasons of his NBA career. He’s averaging 11.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 68.3 percent from the field (which ranks second in the NBA and is a career-high for him). Chandler’s 22.3 efficiency rating is by far the highest of his career, as his previous high was 18.9. He has been outstanding thus far and it certainly seems like the Mavericks got the better end of the trade with the Knicks, considering they only had to give up Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and a pair of second-round picks.

Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets – When the Houston Rockets decided not to match Chandler Parsons’ offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks and failed to steal Chris Bosh away from the Miami HEAT, Daryl Morey was criticized and the Rockets were deemed one of the losers of the offseason. Without Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin entering this season, Houston’s roster seemed to have less talent and depth than last year’s squad. However, that hasn’t been the case. The Rockets have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and their depth is a big reason for that since they continued winning even after injuries to starters Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley. Trevor Ariza has been huge for the Rockets, averaging 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals while providing excellent perimeter defense. Houston hasn’t missed Parsons because Ariza has been so productive, and his four-year, $32 million deal allowed the Rockets to keep their cap flexibility (while matching Parsons’ deal would’ve capped them out). Ariza has been a great fit alongside James Harden, who has elevated his game and entered the Most Valuable Player conversation. When the move was made, some people felt that Ariza would be a step down from Parsons and that he’d come back down to earth after playing so well in a contract year last season with the Washington Wizards. Instead, his numbers are virtually identical to last year’s and he has been an important piece for the Rockets. Houston’s offseason didn’t go exactly as they hoped, but Morey’s back-up plan has worked nicely.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic – When the Orlando Magic traded Arron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier, the deal was widely regarded as a win for the Nuggets. Many people felt that Orlando should’ve gotten more for Afflalo, especially since the team was rumored to want a first-round pick in exchange for the veteran shooting guard. Now, after seeing Fournier thrive so far this season, it seems that the criticism was unwarranted and Magic general manager Rob Hennigan knew exactly what he was doing. Fournier has been outstanding for Orlando, emerging as the team’s starting shooting guard and having the best year of his career. He is averaging 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and .6 steals – all of which are career-highs. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three-point range. Meanwhile, Afflalo is putting up almost identical numbers in Denver: 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .4 steals, 43.1 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three. Afflalo can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while Fournier has one more year on his deal and then he’ll enter restricted free agency, so Orlando can match any offer he receives. It’s also likely that Fournier’s best basketball is still ahead of him since he’s only 22 years old. It seems that Hennigan traded Afflalo at the perfect time and added a key piece to the Magic’s young core, just like when he traded J.J. Redick in the final year of his contract to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris.

Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors – During Lou Williams’ two-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, the scoring guard was limited by injuries and never played to his full potential. His time in Atlanta ultimately ended with a trade to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for John Salmons’ non-guaranteed contract. This move now looks like a steal for Toronto, as Williams has returned to form and looks like a serious Sixth Man of the Year candidate once again. He is averaging 14.6 points off of Toronto’s bench, which is the second-highest scoring average of his 10-year NBA career. Williams is looking much more like the player who was a key contributor for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in his career than the player who struggled on the Hawks. This year, Williams has a 20.6 efficiency rating, which is a career-high. Toronto really needed to improve their bench scoring and Williams has helped them do that, emerging as their third-leading scorer and stepping up when DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin injury. The trade for Williams was overlooked since he hadn’t been very effective over the last two years, but it was an excellent move that’s paying off for the Raptors, who are the top team in the Eastern Conference. Considering it only cost them Salmons’ contract (which was subsequently waived) and they also landed prospect Lucas Nogueira, the deal looks extremely lopsided in Toronto’s favor.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings – When the Kings decided to let Isaiah Thomas leave as a free agent and sign Darren Collison to a three-year deal worth $16 million instead, the front office was largely mocked and questioned. Thomas had put up impressive numbers for the Kings and wanted to stay in Sacramento, while Collison had previously struggled when used as a starter on the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. However, Sacramento liked what they saw from Collison last season as a reserve on the Los Angeles Clippers and felt comfortable handing him the reins to their team. The 27-year-old has rewarded their faith in him by having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 5.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals – all of which are career-highs. While the decision to go with Collison over Thomas could’ve blown up in the Kings’ face, especially since Thomas was a fan favorite in Sacramento, Collison has played well and done a solid job running the team.

Rasual Butler, Washington Wizards – Two years ago, Rasual Butler was out of the NBA. He was training at Impact Basketball in Los Angeles, working out alongside draft prospects and overseas players to stay in shape. He sat out the entire 2012-13 season since no NBA team showed interest in signing him, and then decided to play in the Orlando Summer League in an attempt to show that he could still make a difference for an NBA team. He suited up for the Indiana Pacers’ summer league squad, and he earned an invite to the Pacers’ training camp. There, he played his way onto the final roster on a non-guaranteed deal and ultimately stuck with the team for the entire season. He appeared in 50 games with Indiana last season, averaging 2.7 points. Even though his numbers didn’t jump off of the page last season, he played well enough to get signed by the Washington Wizards this past summer. Now, with an increased opportunity in Washington, Butler has taken full advantage and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging 10.8 points off the Wizards’ bench while shooting an amazing 52.4 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from three-point range. He has earned the trust of his teammates and has emerged as a veteran leader for the team since he’s in his 12th season in the NBA. Butler has bounced around the league throughout his career, playing for seven teams and often playing a limited role, but he has been a huge contributor for the Wizards and helped them emerge as an elite team this year. Butler has been one of the best stories of the 2014-15 NBA season, going from being out of the NBA to becoming a key contributor for a contending team.

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls – The Bulls spent the offseason courting Carmelo Anthony and signing Pau Gasol, so it’s no surprise that the addition of Nikola Mirotic didn’t receive a ton of attention. Many Bulls fans had been patiently waiting for Mirotic’s arrival since Chicago acquired him in a draft-night trade back in 2011, and the team finally managed to bring him to the U.S. this summer with a three-year deal worth $17 million. Nobody was sure what to expect from Mirotic in his first NBA season since the Bulls had a loaded frontcourt and Tom Thibodeau isn’t known for giving rookies a lot of minutes, but the 23-year-old has been excellent so far. He is averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and .8 blocks in 18.3 minutes per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three-point range. He has had a number of very impressive games, including a 27-point, eight-rebound outing against the Memphis Grizzlies in which he went 6-6 from three-point range and a 24-point, 11-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Mirotic’s 18.8 efficiency rating is by far the highest among all rookies (the next best is Jusuf Nurkic at 14.2). He’s also leading all rookies in estimated wins added at 1.9 (with the next highest being K.J. McDaniels at .6). Mirotic is getting some Rookie of the Year consideration, which is incredible considering this class was supposed to be stacked with stars and Mirotic’s signing barely got any attention when it happened over the summer.

Chris Kaman, Portland Trail Blazers – Last season, one of the biggest issues with the Blazers was their bench. The team had one of the best starting lineups in the league, but there was a significant drop off when their starters exited the game. Portland’s general manager Neil Olshey realized this and focused on improving their depth over the offseason, signing veteran contributors Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. Both players have performed well this season, but Kaman has really stood out. The 12-year veteran signed a two-year, $9.8 million contract with only $1 million guaranteed in the second year and he has been worth every penny thus far. Kaman has been excellent for the Blazers, averaging 9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block in 19 minutes per game. He has even gotten some Sixth Man of the Year consideration early in the season due to his strong play. With Robin Lopez out several weeks with a broken hand, Kaman has become even more important for Portland and has seen his minutes increase on some nights. With an improved second unit, the Blazers have emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA. They currently have the second-best record in the league, behind only the Golden State Warriors.

K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers – McDaniels is the only 2014 draft pick on this list, but he qualifies since he is a new addition. The 2014 NBA Draft featured one of the most hyped up classes in years, with potential stars like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker who had been on the NBA radar since they were 15 years old. However, most of the lottery picks in this class have either been hurt (Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, etc.) or disappointments so far. That has opened the door for a player like McDaniels to shine and receive Rookie of the Year consideration. McDaniels was the 35th overall pick in the draft, going to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. He was projected as a lottery pick in Basketball Insiders’ mock drafts, but slipped due to some poor performances in pre-draft workouts. This season, McDaniels has averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal. He has led all perimeter players in blocks per game this season, and he has emerged as an excellent two-way player for Philadelphia. He is certainly making some teams regret passing on him and has been a pleasant surprise for the 76ers in a season where they haven’t had much to be excited about. For more on McDaniels’ excellent rookie season, check out this recent Basketball Insiders article about him.

Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder – While some contending teams decided to make drastic changes over the summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to stand pat for the most part. They brought back their same core and their biggest acquisition was the signing of Anthony Morrow to a three-year, $10.03 million contract. The move didn’t get much attention, but Morrow has emerged as a key contributor for the Thunder and really made an impact on the team this season. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and one steal in 25.8 minutes per game for Oklahoma City. He’s shooting 41.1 percent from three-point range on nearly five attempts per game, which spreads the floor for the Thunder and prevents defenders from leaving him to help on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The 29-year-old also stepped up when Durant and Westbrook were injured, delivering a 28-point performance in a win over the Boston Celtics last month and scoring in double figures 14 times this season. Morrow is having one of the best seasons of his seven-year NBA career and was a nice under-the-radar signing. He should be even more productive once Durant and Westbrook are completely healthy, as he’ll likely get plenty of open catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Power Forwards

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by examining the power forwards that could potentially be hitting the market this summer.

Matt John

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch series! We’re now making our way to the frontcourt players that could see a new team when the new NBA season starts in December.

On paper, the power forwards have the deepest pool of free agents talent-wise. Although, a few of these players on this list are mentioned because they potentially could hit the market. Common sense would say otherwise. Case in point — take a look at the first guy mentioned here.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Player Option – $28,751,775

Yeah, we *technically* had to include Davis in here because he could *technically* hit the open market, and he *technically* is listed as a power forward since he plays the majority of his minutes at that spot — 62 percent this season alone, which was his highest since 2014-15. His free agency (if he becomes one) should be pretty straightforward.

Whether he opts in or not, expect Davis back with the Lakers. LeBron James and the Lakers gave up a lot to get him to Hollywood. The Lakers will be damned if they’re going to let him go after they’ve had their best season since 2011, and LeBron will be damned if he’s going to let him go because as much as he’s defied father time; he’s only got so many years left at the top. The two of them have made up the NBA’s best pairing this season. If that breaks up, it’ll be pretty much impossible to find an adequate replacement.

Considering all the drama that led up to the Lakers acquiring Davis, it would take a 99-yard hail mary pitch against the Legion of Boom to get him off the Lakers. This is the best team that Davis has been on his entire career by far, and when you have LeBron taking a lot of responsibility off your shoulders on a team vying for a championship, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to leave. Unless you’re Kyrie Irving.

That’s where the real question lies. Davis will definitely stay on the Lakers for as long as LeBron is right there with him, but how long will that be? LeBron will be on the books for two more years after this season, and everyone knows of his plans to play with his son Bronny in the near future. Should LeBron go leave to take part in the family business, Davis’ future with the Lakers goes up in the air. LA doesn’t have to worry about that for another two years — and those two years should be prosperous — but it’s something they should keep in the back of their minds. Especially if there’s fire to these “return-to-hometown-Chicago” rumblings.

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $6,000,000

When you have a championship window, you have to do everything you can to keep it open, even if it means paying more than what a guy is worth. People give Dan Gilbert so much grief for what he paid LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland, but give the guy credit. He knew he had an opportunity that he could not afford to let slip through his fingers. Now, Steve Ballmer has a similar predicament with Harell’s free agency coming up.

Harrell has easily been one of the league’s best bargain contract players over the past couple of years. Not many teams have bigs averaging 18/7 off the bench. The Clippers are the only team to have such a player while paying him chump change. They may no longer have that luxury when he hits the open market.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George create a championship window that needs to have as few holes as possible. Letting Harrell walk will create one that cannot easily be filled. His energy on both sides of the floor makes him an absolute terror to deal with any opponent they go up against. He’s also going to be their best bet against Anthony Davis in what feels like an inevitable conference finals date with their crosstown rival.

Having both his bird rights and a limited market will help the Clippers in the negotiating room, but we’ve seen guys leave good teams for less money because they felt insulted by the deal they were offered. This is the chance for the Clippers to show that they truly are committed both to Harrell and the window they have.

Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted – $30,000,000

Millsap is the last of a dying breed in the NBA — a pure power forward. Because of the league’s versatility, we see more and more small forwards playing a fair amount of time at the four because they are multi-faceted enough to do so. Millsap impressively has been able to stay productive at the four even as the league has embraced this change. Even more so, the teams he’s been on have pretty much always been good.

At 35 years old, it’s clear Millsap is on his last legs. Although his per-36 stats look just about as good as they were during the height of his prime both in Utah and Atlanta, Denver’s decreased his minutes for a reason. At the same time, there’s a reason why Denver opted to pick up his $30 million team option last summer.

Millsap is definitely not going to see anywhere near the kind of contract he got from the Nuggets back in 2017, but there is going to be a lot of interested parties in his services once the season ends. He’s among those players that aren’t very flashy on the court nor anything spectacular in one area, but just a good fundamental basketball player all-around. He’s a good veteran presence in the locker room, and maybe he won’t put up the All-Star numbers he once could; but as it stands, if all you’re asking him is to be a rotation big on a playoff contender, he’ll do that for you.

Denver has the advantage both because of both its competitors’ lack of available funds and the team having Millsap’s bird rights. Returning to the Nuggets seems like the most obvious path, but Millsap does have to ask himself if he can win with them with what amount of prime he has left.

Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $23,271,605

It’s tough to describe where Ibaka is in his career right now. He’s no longer the shot-blocking terror that he was during his time in Oklahoma City — from 3.7 blocks a game in 2011-12 to 0.8 this season — so when you hear stuff like that, you think he’s past his prime. Then you look at his numbers on the offensive end — 16/8 on 52/40/75 splits, some of his best numbers ever — and you would think he hasn’t lost a step.

The contract Toronto gave Ibaka back in 2017 may have been a bit of an overpay — who wasn’t overpaying in 2017? — but he has done what the Raptors have asked of him. He brought veteran experience, still blocks a shot or two, and spaces the floor for them most of the time. He doesn’t have the highest basketball IQ, but he knows what he can do well and sticks to it.

As far as where he goes after this season is quite the mystery. Toronto has been as awesome as a reigning champ who lost its best player could be, but even they have to wonder if it’s worth it to keep the whole band together for another run when Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are all starting to get up there age-wise. The Raptors could really go either way, and there wouldn’t be a wrong answer. Masaji Ujiri has proven time after time that he knows what he’s doing.

Whoever gets Ibaka knows what they are getting. Besides the skills that have already been listed above, they are getting a champion. That can count for a lot in a playoff run.

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $15,000,000

Not every player gets to go through what Morris did this season. He got paid a ton of money to play for a team that was bad enough to trade him to a contender willing to pay a high price for him, and now he gets a golden opportunity to showcase his talents for a payday. His odds of getting one took a hit for reasons that were out of his control, but still. This could not have worked out any better for Morris.

Now he’s on the Clippers, where he is the overqualified third wing to spell Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as well as be a body to throw at LeBron. His three-point percentage took a bad spill once arriving in LA, but before that he was shooting a blistering near-44 percent from three in New York. Morris is a career 36.7 percent three-point shooter, so asking him to shoot that hot from three is placing unfair expectation, but if he can be a reliable shooter from that department, the Clippers will have no regrets for what they spent on him.

Considering the other Clippers who will be hitting free agency this summer, the odds of Morris coming back to LA seem slim on paper, but who knows how the low salary figures will impact free agency. Morris has proven that he is a valuable two-way wing that can play gritty defense as well as score the ball.

Buyer beware, though — Marcus Morris is in the Russell Westbrook mold of players that will not adapt to the system. The system adapts to guys like him. It doesn’t matter if he’s got the likes of Kawhi or PG-13 on his side. If the basketball is in his hands, his first instinct is to score. If you’re bringing him in, you have to know what you’re paying for. There’s much more good than bad to Mook, but the bad is still something that can’t be overlooked.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings – Team Option – $8,963,640

“Uh…. what” you may ask? It’s true. Even as the second overall pick in the draft, Bagley’s rookie deal is structured to have a team option for his third year with the team for… some reason. To be honest, this is really brought up more for being a fun fact than anything else.

Because, even if Bagley has paled in comparison to some of his fellow 2018 draftees thus far — Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — Sacramento would be absolutely insane to let him go knowing the kind of potential he has… right?

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NBA Daily: Raymond Felton’s Career Will End On His Own Terms

Spencer Davies speaks with longtime basketball veteran Raymond Felton about the ups and downs of his career, why he’s not done playing, the NBA bubble and more.

Spencer Davies

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For all of his life, Raymond Felton’s never been a tattoo guy.

Jermichael Wright, his best friend, makes a living in the world of ink design as an artist with his own shop.

Together at Latta High School in South Carolina, the two won back-to-back state championships in 2001 and 2002. With career averages of 39 points, 9.1 rebounds 8.9 assists and 5.6 steals per game, Felton led the Vikings to a 104-9 record over four seasons and earned the Naismith Prep award his senior year among future household names, including upstart junior LeBron James, before making a memorable run at the University of North Carolina.

But it wasn’t the accolades and personal accomplishments that stuck with Felton; it was the message he and Wright lived by that made it possible — GBMS, the very phrase the longtime NBA veteran had tattooed on his right arm this past year.

“It means God Bless My Success,” Felton told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive phone interview. “It’s an everyday thing for me. Every dang day.”

One week ago today marked a full year since Felton became a free agent. Following a two-season stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he didn’t end up signing with a team. It’s the first time that the recently-turned 36-year-old hasn’t played professionally since entering the Association in 2005.

That’s quite an adjustment for somebody who’s been around hoops his entire life; however, his everyday regimen hasn’t really changed. Felton is not done with the game yet. Still residing in Oklahoma City, he’s been training, staying in shape and, most importantly, maintaining a healthy diet as he gets older.

“It was tough, mentally, not being able to do something that you love to do and have a passion for,” Felton said of missing the action. “I love basketball. I’d do it even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it. But me, understanding that I’m 36 and getting towards the end of my career, I just didn’t want it to end like that. So that’s why I’m not retiring.

“I feel like I can still play. If I get to the point where I feel like I can’t move the way I used to, then that’s letting me know that it’s time for me to let it go. Even if I’ve got to go across the world, I’m going to play basketball for another two years to satisfy myself and how I want to end it.”

This past spring, erroneous reports surfaced that Felton was signing with Czech Republic Second Division club GBA Jindrichuv Hradec to continue his playing career. So what happened?

Felton spoke with a trainer for the team, who happens to be a friend of his from North Carolina. The trainer tried to persuade him to come overseas and join them for a tournament, so Felton did some research out of curiosity. It didn’t go far. He was offered money and had a conversation with the general manager of the club, but terms were never agreed upon, nor close to agreed upon. In fact, his agent didn’t even speak with the team’s management.

“I started getting all kinds of phone calls from people saying, ‘Hey man, you signed with the Czech Republic and you can’t even go to the Czech Republic,’” Felton said. “I’m like, ‘No, I’m at home. I’m not going anywhere.’ I don’t know. It was just a big mix-up with that.”

The closest Felton came to playing was last summer. He was working out with the Houston Rockets frequently and felt the organization would offer him a contract. They didn’t even invite him to training camp in the fall. Ideally, Felton would love to pick up where he left off in the NBA with a team that values his presence.

“I still feel like I’ve got a lot that I can offer, but you know how that goes sometimes in the league now. They want to go young. They want to do different things. It can be unfortunate sometimes.”

It’s not the first time that Felton’s been on the wrong side of lady luck. After four losing seasons with the then-named Charlotte Bobcats, the team made the playoffs and appeared to be set on a franchise turnaround; it didn’t work out the way he thought it would.

Felton went on to sign with the New York Knicks in the summer of 2010, a move that turned out to be outstanding for both the team and himself. Through 54 games, Felton was averaging career-bests in points (17.1), assists (9) and free throw percentage (86.7), all in over 38 minutes per contest.

Led by All-Star big man Amar’e Stoudemire, young talents like Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and promising rookies — Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov — the Knicks were in the middle of the playoff pack with a 28-26 record and things were looking up in The Big Apple.

On the other hand, the organization had an opportunity to strike gold with a hometown superstar, Carmelo Anthony, aching to play for New York. The Knicks went with the latter option and made a blockbuster three-way trade to acquire ‘Melo from the Denver Nuggets. Felton, along with several key contributors and young talents, was made expendable. It’s a scenario that begs the question: “What if?”

“I’ve got the same question you got,” Felton chuckled. “’What if? What if y’all just waited?’ ‘Melo was gonna come anyway. He was gonna come anyway in free agency that summer. Just like…I don’t know man. To me, that team was special and I thought it could’ve been really special. I would like to have seen what we could’ve done, but that’s how the league goes sometimes.”

After finishing the year out with the Nuggets, Felton was dealt yet again to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he spent one short season thanks to a lockout. He returned to New York in the 2012 offseason via another trade and ultimately played with the man he was moved for. Under new head Mike Woodson and alongside new teammates, Felton was a part of the best Knicks team since the late ‘90s. Felton thought that group had a “big chance” at a title, and despite a series loss to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the postseason, it was a great year.

Following his second go-round with New York, Felton bounced around with three teams over five years. When the Knicks sent him to the Dallas Mavericks in June 2014, an injury forced him out of the rotation his first season there. In spite of receiving DNPs for the first time in his career, he credits Rick Carlisle for being upfront with him about his initial role. Felton worked his tail off to earn a spot the next season and did so; he gave key performances for the team in the playoffs. Again, he assumed he’d sign back with the Mavericks when his contract expired, but it fell through the cracks.

So his next decision was signing with the Los Angeles Clippers to back up Chris Paul. It wasn’t a bad call, as Felton received over 20 minutes of playing time per night over 80 games (plus the playoffs). Even in his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder the following year, Felton had a consistent role and appeared in every game. He re-signed with them two summers ago thinking he’d have the same duty. That didn’t happen.

“I had already signed back as a free agent,” Felton explained. “Then [OKC] made that trade later in the summer when they got rid of ‘Melo to go to Atlanta and then they got Dennis Schroder over there. Then they kinda just basically told me that they were gonna play him as the backup point guard. And it was just like, well, okay, kinda wish I would’ve known that going into free agency before I signed back.”

No hard feelings from Felton, though. He made great friends in his Thunder days and still keeps in touch with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Steven Adams and Schroder, the young guard that overtook his former role.

He’s learned the way the league works and the unlucky breaks that come with being a part of it, firmly believing that the ability to adapt is the only path to longevity.

It was as recent as the 2019 NBA Playoffs where Felton showed his abilities in spurts, most notably a quick stint in Game 4 between the Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers. He scored eight points in rapid fashion and ignited a run that spurred the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a frenzy, a moment he felt showed teams, and the world, that he hasn’t lost a step.

Felton isn’t lost of confidence, and he won’t ever be. He knows he can impact winning — shooting, defense, being a floor general — in whatever amount of minutes are given to him, as well as in a mentorship role.

“You get put in a situation where a lot of teams who are winning teams or are veteran teams that kinda already have their team set, and me going to a young team would basically be another coach, a player-coach. So you go into a situation like that and you already know you’re not gonna be playing ’cause they’re rebuilding. They’re trying to handle their young guys.

“And I’m to the point now where I just want to be around the game. I’m willing to do that. I’m willing to be a player-coach to help young guys and help them develop their skills and help them learn the game, mentally. Because pretty much everybody has the physical attributes, but a lot of them miss the mental part of it that’s really important about being an NBA player. So I’m willing to be able to help in that aspect and still just be ready if my number is called.”

If you’re expecting to see Felton in an NBA uniform anytime soon, it probably won’t be during the league’s restart this month. Like many, he has concerns with the bubble environment at the World of Disney in Orlando. From who he’s spoken to, there have been “iffy” feelings toward the plan itself. Between the surge of coronavirus cases in Florida and the fight against racial injustice and police brutality, Felton isn’t sure if the players will be there from a mental standpoint.

“I kinda wish they would’ve just like canceled the season, just really cancel it and just focus on the draft and focus on that upcoming season and just let this one go,” Felton said. “And I know it’s never been done; it’s been a long time since that ever happened, but it’s been a long time since the world’s been dealing with what we’ve been dealing with right now, too.

“Even the guys who feel the way I feel, we miss the game too. I miss it like crazy. I ain’t played in a whole year, so I would love to go play. I would love that, but not to risk getting sick or risk my life or risk something happening to my kids or my family. Nah, it’s just…not to finish a season. (If) we talkin’ about starting up a whole new season, then okay, that’s a different story. But to like finish and do this format that they’re trying out right now, nah. Not in my opinion. That’s my opinion, but not everybody feels that way, so.”

Despite his feelings on the comeback itself, Felton does feel his friends and players across the league will use their platform in a positive manner to affect change. He shared poignant thoughts on the issues happening in our country and our world.

“Anything can help at this point,” Felton said. “What we’re dealing with right now is just something that just needs to stop. It ain’t no racial thing. It ain’t no blacks against whites. It ain’t that. It’s just that these cops, these bad cops — ’cause not all cops are bad, I will say that; I have cop friends — but the ones who are doing something that other cops need to step up and make a stand and say, ‘Look, this is not how we’re supposed to do things.’ You know, you’re not supposed to put your knee down on that man’s neck for that long and they end up passing out and dying. You’re not supposed to shoot a man because they’re running away from you and you shoot ’em in their back. It’s just too many instances where these things are happening, and it’s just like, it’s got to stop.

“And I’m glad that everybody’s protesting and doing the things they’re doing because it’s like…these things are happening, but nobody’s doing nothing about it. It’s getting brushed up under the rug, and it’s like, no. Enough is enough. We tired. We done. We done with this. I shouldn’t have to answer a question to my son asking me like, ‘Daddy I’m scared. Daddy, I’m scared to be black.’ And it’s like, what? When I hear my kid say something like that, now I’m angry, now I’m mad. It’s just things that gotta stop man. We’re dealing with a lot in the world right now with the (coronavirus) and then all this stuff that’s going on with Black Lives Matter, too.

“It’s just tough times right now,” Felton continued. And I still feel like we’re all gonna get past this, we’re gonna get through this. Change is gonna happen because we’re gonna demand change. We’re gonna demand change. And then with the (coronavirus), it’s just something that we just gotta stay strong as a country and just wait this thing out, man. Just be safe and everybody keep practicing the things we need to practice — social distancing, hand sanitizer, keep your mask on, do the things you gotta do during these rough moments. It’s tough, man. These times like this, you just wanna be close to your family, close to your kids and just try to keep ’em safe. You know, it’s kinda hard to concentrate on basketball when there’s so much going on in the world that you can’t ignore.”

While Felton and Wright carry GBMS on in their respective lives, the two have envisioned starting up a clothing line together. Felton’s already got the shirts and sweatsuits, and people have always asked him about the apparel he wears. It’s a love that motivates him to go through with it down the line.

When asked about his future in basketball once his playing days are over, Felton seems unsure. He does know he wants to be around the game. Still, it’s not the time to talk about that right now. There’s unfinished business left to take care of in his eyes.

Felton’s path to this point has been filled with peaks and valleys. He’s had his fair share of moments at the top and at the bottom.

“I feel like you’ve got to make mistakes and do things in life in order to be a better person and learn how to be a better person and a better man in your life,” Felton said. “Whether it’s (as) a father, a husband or a teammate or a friend or a son or a whatever it is. You have to do some wrong in order to learn.

“So I don’t really know if I have too many regrets because I really can’t complain with my life. Yes, I’ve been through some things — I’ve been through some tough things off the court — but I’ve stayed focused, I’ve always kept God first and believed in God and believed that he’s gonna help me get through this. Mentally, physically, whatever. It’s always been that way. I’ve always gotten through everything that I’ve went through.”

Through it all, Felton wouldn’t change a thing about how he got here.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Small Forwards

Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by checking in on a thin small forward class.

Ben Nadeau

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With professional basketball on the horizon, all eyes have turned toward Orlando – but here, we’re trying to peer into the future too.

Frankly, the news of pending basketball seems small in comparison to some long-overdue changes. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.

If you can donate, consider doing so. If you can’t donate, educate yourself. Even if you donate, continue to read, learn and listen.

Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something, donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

We’re approaching the halfway point in our examination of potential upcoming free agents – today, the ball keeps on rolling with the small forwards.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485

Across all positions, Brandon Ingram will be a top option for any franchise with oodles of cap space and a need for consistent scoring. Even then, Ingram seems destined to stay in New Orleans, no matter the cost.

Since he arrived from Los Angeles a year ago, Ingram has quickly turned into the type of stone-cold No. 1 option that can transform a roster. The 6-foot-7 youngster averaged 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 2019-20, numbers that eventually netted Ingram his first-ever All-Star Game appearance. And now, the budding star will likely see any forthcoming offer matched.

Paired with Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have developed an ideally dynamic and flexible duo to carry them into the next half-decade and beyond. With more volume and efficiency from three-point land, Ingram is evolving at a ridiculous rate – all right at home in New Orleans’ high-tempo offense. Capped off by a 49-point stunner back in January, it’s clear that future All-Star berths are just his floor.

Although the salary cap is sure to suffer after the stoppage, the 22-year-old’s future paycheck certainly won’t – he’s that good.

Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics — Player Option — $32,700,690

Before Hayward even potentially hits free agency, he’s made waves within the NBA’s restarted bubble. On a call last week with Boston media, Hayward announced that he’d leave Orlando should his wife go into labor – whether or not the Celtics are still in the postseason.

The news seems to have passed through the Northeast without major drawback – although, surely, let’s revisit if the franchise is in Eastern Conference Finals when he departs – but could that be the end of the road in Boston? It’s nobody’s fault, of course, but the arrival of Hayward hasn’t gone as planned – and now, both the franchise and player are likely stuck at a hard fork in the road.

Hayward, naturally, has the easier, initial decision: Does he want to opt-in for $30 million-plus? On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. Getting paid a small fortune and competing for a championship is achievable NBA paradise – currently, he’s got it. But after that season, Hayward would be unrestricted, 31 years old and playing fourth fiddle to Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

If Hayward is concerned with his overall fit with Boston – while the Celtics themselves must give careful consideration to how it’ll all work money-wise with Walker and Brown re-upped, alongside glue guy Marcus Smart – then opting out and securing a new multi-year deal might be on the table.

Given his injury history and any presumptive salary cap fluctuations, however, reaching the $30 million range seems far out of his reach. Either way, Hayward, finally, appears to be healthy and confident again, even averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. The Celtics’ will surely miss the scorer should he leave the bubble, but this partnership is likely to last at least another year.

Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $22,615,559

After entering the season as potential trade bait for a Thunder roster that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari fulfilled his status as a go-to scorer and all-around menace. The Italian played so well that Oklahoma City kept the veteran at the trade deadline even though he’s about to hit unrestricted free agency.

At the time of the shutdown, the Thunder were 40-24 and owners of the No. 5 postseason seed. Much of the attention was given toward the rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Gallinari has been a healthy revelation too. Ultimately, keeping the core together for this run was worth it, even if he doesn’t land back in the midwest this offseason.

Despite the incredible campaign, Gallinari’s injury history should be a red flag for any franchise ready to hand out a lucrative deal. Since 2008, Gallinari has played 70 or more games just twice (2009-10, 2012-13) and can struggle to return once he goes down. In any case, regardless of any past ailments, he’s handled back-to-back career seasons – first in Los Angeles with the Clippers and now, obviously, with the Thunder.

At 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 three-pointers on 41 percent from deep, he’s been an excellent fit with Chris Paul and the young roster – but at 32 years old, is there still room to grow over a new multi-year deal?

After Ingram and Hayward, both of whom may not even hit the open market, Gallinari is the crown jewel of available small forwards, so watch this space.

Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916

Understandably, Dario Saric has become a bit of an afterthought. And that’s unfortunate because the Croatian is still useful – he just needs to find his right team.

At 26, Saric is no longer a spring chicken, but his multi-positional playmaking on the cheap will surely elevate a playoff-ready roster down the line. The 6-foot-10 forward is mobile for his size but struggled to fit next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, two touch-gobbling scorers. Saric has a unique NBA skillset and he often does the little things right – but his below-average three-point percentage has hurt him.

For a brief moment, Saric had fallen out of the rotation in early February, but his all-out effort and flexibility made him tough to leave out for too long. While Kelly Oubre Jr. has not been entirely ruled out of the Orlando bubble, Saric is the ready-made replacement for the starting lineup. As the forward will likely become a restricted free agent in the offseason, these upcoming games are vastly important to prove he belongs in Phoenix.

Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $2,159,029

Last but not least, there’s Carmelo Anthony.

After being booted from the league for a year, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has been a solid, reputable source of scoring for Portland. At 15.3 points per game, it’s not Anthony’s most high-tallying performance – duh – but it’ll be enough to secure him another gig in 2020-21. At 36, he’s still a decent option, even if efficiencies may often tell another story.

His stints with Oklahoma City and Houston withstanding, Anthony can still score. And in the NBA these days, that’s worth a stab. Anthony will no longer demand multi-year contracts or salary cap-sponging money, so he’s a low-risk, medium-reward type of player at this point. What team couldn’t use that? The legend has excelled in big moments and brings boatloads of experience – so whether he lands in a veteran-laden locker room or one that needs his guidance hardly matters now.

Bring back Carmelo Anthony in 2020… or else.

With the bubble close to resuming, we’re still unsure if two of the top players on this board are even available. Does Hayward’s eventual leave of absence impact his decision? Would the Celtics look to retain him if he opts out? And, more importantly, is there even more than two seconds of consideration before New Orleans matches whatever max offer sheet Ingram signs? Surely, if a franchise misses out on these two – if they’re out there at all – then the small forward market shrinks tinier than it already is.

Gallinari and beyond, we’ll just have to see how the season of one thousand plotlines and twists continues to unfold.

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