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NBA PM: Bazemore Weighs Free Agency Options

Kent Bazemore is weighing all of his free agency options, including a potential return to the Los Angeles Lakers.

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Brooklyn Nets big man Mason Plumlee talks about the drama surrounding Jason Kidd’s departure, playing for new head coach Lionel Hollins, participating in the Orlando Summer League and more.

Bazemore Weighs Free Agency Options

Some players enjoy going through free agency – being courted, hearing from multiple teams and weighing their options. Other players can’t stand the fact that their future is up in the air and they just want the process to end as soon as possible.

Unrestricted free agent Kent Bazemore, who spent last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, falls into the latter category. While his name has come up quite a bit in the early stages of free agency since he has received interest from 10 teams, he is just looking forward to signing his name on a dotted line and moving on with his NBA career.

“It’s really testing my patience; it’s been a little nerve-racking,” Bazemore told Basketball Insiders. “Everyone is trying to make room for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony so guys like myself, we have to wait patiently to see if they have enough room to even get us on the roster or offer us some money.”

While Bazemore is looking forward to ending this process, he does appreciate that so many teams have been in contact with his camp.

Bazemore has meetings scheduled with the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets, and has been contacted by the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors. Considering he knows what it’s like to be on the outside of the league looking in after being undrafted in 2012, he isn’t taking the interest for granted.

That’s been the thing that’s kept me from jumping off a bridge,” Bazemore said with a laugh. “It’s real gratifying. Being undrafted, making the summer league team and playing down in the D-League has actually paid off. The work I’ve put in on those levels – the D-League and summer league – has definitely opened a lot of teams’ eyes. It was an unfortunate situation for myself with Golden State, I did make the team, but they were so guard heavy. My first year with Jarrett Jack, Steph [Curry], Klay [Thompson], Harrison [Barnes] and even Draymond [Green] playing some three and then the next year they brought in Andre Iguodala, the minutes weren’t there. I was fortunate enough to go down to LA, where there were a lot of minutes out there on the floor and I was able to kind of show [what I can do]. All that I’ve been through has definitely paid off.”

In Los Angeles, Bazemore made the most of the opportunity he was given. He was acquired by L.A. at the trade deadline in exchange for Steve Blake, and thrived when given minutes. In 23 games, he averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes per game. Prior to tearing a tendon in his right foot late in the season, he had emerged as a significant contributor for the Lakers.

The Lakers have met with Bazemore’s camp since free agency started and expressed some interest in re-signing him. When asked if he’d be open to returning to the Lakers, Bazemore didn’t hesitate.

Sure,” Bazemore said. “With Kobe [Bryant] coming back, one of the greatest players to ever touch the ball, I could learn a lot from him. That’d be great. I learned so much from Steve Nash and Pau Gasol last season, just being out there playing with them. If I made a mistake, they would be quick to pull me to the side and say, ‘Hey look, this is what you should of done’ or, ‘This what you should look for.’ Those guys have a track record where have played in the big games, they’ve been to the Finals, they’ve won championships, so it would be great to play with a guy like [Kobe], who is very demanding. A lot of people give Kobe a bad rap because he is very demanding, but with a guy like that, I’m all ears. This is a guy who knows how to win. He has a different method of getting his point across to you, but it’s within the context of the game, and I’ll do anything to get better. I’d love to return to that franchise, but we’ll see how things shake out.”

Bazemore speaks very highly about his time in Los Angeles, donning purple and gold.

“The swagger and the prestige of that franchise, that organization, speaks for itself,” Bazemore said. “They have the second-most championships in the NBA, all the greats on that wall in the back and then actually being able to share a locker room with my childhood favorite player Kobe Bryant, it was an amazing experience. To be able to run up and down with the Laker logo in the middle of floor, it was crazy. I remember staying up to 1 a.m. watching those games late at night on the East Coast as a kid. Then to actually be playing on that court, scoring baskets, it was [surreal]. It just so happened, my luck, that the first game we played was against the Celtics, one of the greatest rivalries of all-time, and I had a pretty good showing, so it was great.”

As Bazemore weighs all of his options, the most important factor to him is playing time. He wants to land in a situation where he’ll be able to receive significant minutes and be compensated at a fair rate based on the market.

“Right now, I still need to play,” Bazemore said. “I only played 23 games down there with heavy minutes for the Lakers; I only averaged like six minutes with the Warriors. My [sample] size is very small. I just need a chance to prove myself again, so minutes are definitely the first thing I’m after. Everything else is just basketball. You hear a lot of guys talking about the bad cities of the NBA and all of that, but a guy like me, I just want another opportunity to go out there and show that I can really be a great player in this league.

“For me, the biggest thing is we just want to have leverage. We want to make this team offer more than the last and see if the situation is going to be different as far as minutes. One team may be planning to give us a lot of minutes with less money and vice versa. You never know. My agent Austin Walton will gather everything, gather all the pros and cons for each team, which he is very good at, and we’ll sit down and figure it out. Like I said, the biggest thing for me right now is just being able to play. That definitely comes before everything else.”

In recent days, fellow free agent shooting guards like Jodie Meeks and C.J. Miles have received lucrative contracts, and Bazemore could be next in line to get paid. He has shown that he can be very productive when put on the floor, and he has a reputation around the league for being an excellent teammate and outstanding individual in the community. Every team could use a player like Bazemore, who is willing to do anything he can to help his team win when he’s on the court and completely supportive of his teammates.

“I bring energy, effort and I do all the things that other guys are hesitant to do like guard the best player, dive on the floor, all the little things,” Bazemore said. “I’m a great person in the community and I like to bring some fun to the games. I like to make it as fun as possible. I want the fans to get kind of a hands-on experience. I’m always out in the community, doing different stuff just so they can know me more. I want them to be like, ‘Hey, that’s my friend Kent’ instead of, ‘That’s No. 6 for the Lakers’ or whatever team I end up going to, so when good things happen to me they can feel a part of it. Community outreach is something I really hang my hat on.”

But for now, Bazemore waits. He has meetings with teams throughout this week, but he understands that he likely won’t be able to finalize an agreement until the big-name players like James and Anthony make their much-anticipated decisions.

The water stops running for a reason – they’re arguably the best players in the league and it’s a very big decision,” Bazemore said. “LeBron choosing so late last time, leaving Cleveland, I’m almost certain he didn’t take long on purpose – there’s just a lot of things that go into it. When you go to meet a team, I’m sure they show you who they’re going after and [the stars] can probably weigh in on who they want on their team, and it’s a lot of things that go into it. At the end of the day, when you do choose your team, you want the best thing for you. For me, it would be minutes. For LeBron, he wants to win a few more championships. It’s a lot of factors that go into it; they’re just taking their time. With things like that, they can’t make rash decisions or go through this quickly. I understand it.”

Even though Bazemore is receiving plenty of interest on the open market, he says the chip on his shoulder isn’t going anywhere after being overlooked for much of his life.

This is second nature to me,” Bazemore said. “Growing up, I wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. When I got to college, I used to be the last person picked my red-shirt year; I went from the last person picked and then when I left I was the guy picking the teams. It’s always been a journey for me as far as proving people wrong and leap-frogging people every year. The NBA ranked players my first year in the league, and I was number 499. Then, I jumped 167 spots to 332. Things like that are what I really hold onto. I let my game do the talking. I could easily walk around and say, ‘Hey, I’m underrated and ya’ll think I’m sorry or ya’ll aren’t giving me the respect I deserve,’ but you just have to go out there and show people why you should be talked about as one of the best in the league. I just work hard and let everything else take care of itself.”

Bazemore has no timetable to make his free agency decision, but he’s looking forward to ending the process as soon as possible.

The Latest Free Agency News and Rumors

Today has been a busy day in the NBA, with a number of agreements surfacing.

Everyone is waiting to see what happens with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, but in the meantime a number of role players have agreed to contracts including Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and Aaron Gray.

For all of the latest free agency news and rumors – on the stars and role players alike – be sure to check out Basketball Insiders’ free agency diary. We update it whenever something surfaces, so we’ll keep you connected throughout the NBA’s free agency period.

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: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors

Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.

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The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.

Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.

With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.

After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.

Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.

The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.

Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.

After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.

One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.

While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.

As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.

Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.

As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.

Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.

Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.

Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.

Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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