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The ‘Shop: Boogie, The Process & Shots Fired

Damien Barling stops by the ‘Shop to discuss the LeBron-Barkley feud, the Kings, the trade deadline and more.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop for another week of hoops talk. Jabari Davis and Lang Greene welcome Damien Barling (host of The Lo-Down radio show, 1140 KHTK) into the mix for what is certain to be an entertaining conversation.

Jabari: An honor to have you take a seat in the chair this week, Damien. I know you’re up there in Sacramento and covering the Kings, but let’s kick things off with a quick breakdown of which player/era/team(s) brought you to loving the NBA along the way?

Damien: Really happy to be a part of this. Thanks for having me. I was born in 1980. The Sacramento Kings got here in 1985, I really got into them in 88 or so. I loved the players we had here when I was young; Wayman Tisdale, Duane Causwell, on to Spud Webb and Mitch Richmond. Obviously, I was then introduced to Michael Jordan and I couldn’t turn back after that. I’ve seen Come Fly with Me and Playground more times then is probably healthy. From there I just gained an appreciation for basketball and players. I cover the Kings now but love basketball as a whole.

Lang: Good to have you, DB. Welcome. Here’s the thing about the Charles Barkley versus LeBron James saga. Barkley is a jokester. Part of being a great jokester is being able to be the butt of the joke once people stop laughing at your jokes and begin laughing at you in return. I love what LeBron said back to Chuck. Absolutely love it. But I also know that those words are going to bounce right off of Barkley and have minimal impact long term. It’s not like Sir Charles is going to deeply reflect on this. He’s made a living not really caring what people think of him. About the only time you see Charles get emotional about someone’s opinion of him is when his friendship with Michael Jordan is mentioned.

I think LeBron had to stand up for himself. I think he did a good job in changing the narrative into his respect for the game. Barkley can’t win in that regard. Barkley’s story is so confusing. He had to be an overachiever to do what he did at 6’5 – 6’6 versus the giants of the game – in a much more physical era. But there are so many stories of him not practicing hard and being out of shape that you can make a legitimate case of him underachieving. Weird.

Damien: I’m ok with both guys in this situation. I don’t believe athletes are supposed to sit back and not say anything when they’re destroyed in the media. I also don’t believe a guy like Charles Barkley shouldn’t say what’s on his mind. That’s what he gets paid a lot of money for. I’d be far more offended if I felt like he wasn’t being honest. The only problem I had was LeBron’s corny line, “There’s a new sheriff in town”. Come on man. Stop.

Lang: Yeah, LeBron’s new sheriff line was saucey. But he isn’t a good villain (see Miami 2010-11). But think about what we’re seeing here. The best player in the game being dissected at the HEIGHT of his powers. MJ, Bird, Magic, etc. never endured this type of criticism at the HEIGHT of their powers. In many ways, it’s blatantly disrespectful how we treat LeBron at times.

Jabari: Damien, first let me say I LOVE the fact that you mentioned all those old school players and RIP Wayman Tisdale, of course. I agree 1000 percent with each of you on the ‘Bron vs. Chuck discussion. Full disclosure: I may have affectionately been referred to as ‘Round Mound’ (of Rebound) by my family all throughout my childhood. I grew up in L.A. and had a rooting interest in the Lakers, but Chuck was ALWAYS one of my favorite players and (according to others) I played that style … you know, back when I actually did such things. Important for all of us to fully acknowledge this has been coming for a long time with these two. That discussion about LeBron “whining” and “not wanting to compete” was merely the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

‘Bron did go a bit far when he took it to the personal stuff (even though he could have named even more), but I also understand why he may have felt compelled to really drop the hammer when it particularly comes to Barkley. I also respect Barkley for taking it on the chin and not lashing back because I can’t say that I would have possessed quite as much discipline once ‘Bron came through with the verbal Gatling gun like that.

Keeping it in Cleveland, I’m sure you guys saw the news of their “mega workout” in an effort to appease James’ desire to bring in another playmaker from yesterday. Lance Stephenson is the most talented of the bunch, Mario Chalmers (familiarity) probably makes the most sense and Kirk Hinrich was tossed into the mix as well. If YOU are in that front office … which direction are each of you going?

Damien: The whole workout thing is laughable. Lance Stephenson? Mario Chalmers? Kirk Hinrich? Those are playmakers? This is what LeBron meant? Come on man. Not a chance. Yes, the Cavs need a guy to control the ball so LeBron can work the post when June comes around. But that’s not it. Steph, Klay and Dray added Kevin Durant. LeBron, Kyrie and K-Love add … Mario Chalmers? This is all about Golden State and the fear that Cleveland doesn’t have the hunger to win again. Why is LeBron averaging the most minutes in the league? Why do they give a crap about the regular season? It’s the annual LeBron-related panic. Last year there were subtweets to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Oh, and by the way, they fired their coach.

But who can the Cavs get? I have no idea. The Melo rumor is hot again but I don’t see it unless LeBron is gonna let Tristan get traded. Even that I’m not sure about.

If the above names are the names he has to choose from, it’s probably Chalmers. He’s gonna have to go back to getting screamed at by LeBron and him and Kevin Love will shoulder the hate if they lose.

Lang: If I had to pull the trigger, I would go with someone I have game footage of getting it done when it counts. Mario Chalmers. Provided he is fully healthy, of course. The Cavs need playmakers. So scratch the Kirk Hinrich noise. I spent the last 20 minutes trying to find a Hinrich assist highlight on YouTube in the past five seasons. No results found. No disrespect to Kirk, but he’s not what the Cavaliers need. Lance provides the most talent, but he also plays the same position as LeBron (at times) and if you shift him to SG … then you have a logjam with Shump, Korver and J.R. Smith (when he returns). Safe play here is Mario. Not scared of the big stage and won’t back down from the Warriors in June. Even though Lance has played good citizen in his last two stops … you never know when he will become unglued

Jabari: As, perhaps, the sole remaining “Lance guy” in this mix, part of me wants to believe he can capture lightning in a bottle and figure it out with a talented group like the one Cleveland has. He’s STILL only 26, but outside of a decent stretch last year with Memphis, he hasn’t played much meaningful basketball over the last three seasons. That said, I wouldn’t place a single dollar wager on that actually taking place, so I suppose I wouldn’t expect that to happen. I doubt these were the guys LeBron had in mind when he started speaking out, but I still think it will end up being Chalmers if his body is healthy enough.

Transitioning a bit, can we take a moment to talk about Damien’s Sacramento Kings? They were right there in the mix just a couple weeks ago, but have dropped seven of their last 10 and now find themselves closer to the basement in the Western Conference than the 8th seed. We’ll get to whether it will actually happen in just a second, but is it actually time to finally move Boogie? He’s 26 years old, in the prime of his career, and averaging 28.2. points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on the year. It still doesn’t look like they are any closer to getting over the hump, so is it time?

Damien: Believe it or not, they’re still very much in the mix. They’re three games back from the 8th seed. Funnier than that, they’d be in last place in the Eastern Conference. The West is a mess. It looks like Portland is most likely, and certainly most capable, of pulling away. It’ll be interesting to see how the Kings play back at home at the Golden One Center. They got the Phoenix Teenagers Friday, then the Warriors Saturday. They had a seven-game homestand that ended with Rudy Gay on the shelf for the year and a 1-6 record. They got on the road for eight and went 3-5 and the only two games they had no shot at were the first and the last. The Kings have no identity but they’ve started to move the ball better. They lack consistency but the loss of Rudy Gay has forced guys to be more aggressive offensively.

DeMarcus isn’t going anywhere for a long time. Any trade chatter, particularly that garbage started by some radio guy in Phoenix, is nonsense. He’s not being traded to Phoenix. He’s likely not being traded anywhere and if you asked me to bet on an extension or a trade in the next six months, I’d bet the extension.

Lang: Everyone that has followed me over the years knows how much I love DeMarcus Cousins as a player. Certified goodie monster. Check. Best center in the game today. Check. MVP type of talent? Yes, indeed. But I am also a realist in terms of how much we can expect out of a team with him as the top dog. I understand the franchise hasn’t exactly been world beaters in assembling talent in Sacramento, but at what point does a guy with all of the talents I just mentioned start to elevate the guys around him?

Quick – name the second leading scorer on those Toronto Raptors teams Chris Bosh led to the playoffs for consecutive years in 2007 and 2008? I’ll wait here for a second.

Like I thought. For those wondering, by the way, the answers are T.J. Ford and Anthony Parker. My point is, special talents lead their teams to the promised land. This is Cousins’ seventh NBA season and the Kings have never SNIFFED .500 since he entered the league. I love Cousins, as I said earlier … he is such a fantastic player. But the jury is out on whether he is a leader of men.

Jabari: Most trade rumors are bogus these days and given Sacramento’s history when it comes to Boogie, I tend to believe what Damien is saying. Would I be shocked to see them finally pull the trigger? Not necessarily … but it isn’t going to be for throwaway parts and trade machine filler as so many of the rumors would have you believe. Ok, so whether Cousins is ultimately moved or not, Damien, let me get a few players that you predict WILL or at least should be moved by the February 23rd deadline before we get out of here for the day.

Damien: Anytime Candace Parker’s brother can get worked into a conversation, you know you have a winner.

There are players in the league who can help DeMarcus and Sacramento succeed, but they’re not realistic. I always felt if you wanted Melo to succeed as a non-ball dominant guy, you had to put him with Chris Paul. The same is true for DeMarcus. He’s never had a number two and has certainly never had a 1A. Chris Paul is the perfect point guard for him. Yes, I know, it’s not happening but that’s the type of player he needs around him, a 1A with an Alpha personality.

Two guys who should be traded are Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony. That’s difficult to pull off given the complexity of their contracts and the caliber players they are. Melo with the Clippers works but they have to somehow salvage their role players. Austin Rivers would have to be involved, which is weird, but that window is closing fast and Doc and his group aren’t ready to compete with a healthy Warriors roster or healthy Spurs roster (for that matter, they may not even be able to beat Houston).

The Bulls are a mess as I fully expected and predicted with a certain Basketball Insider on our radio show before the season started. The term blow it up is old and played but … blow it up. Wade finishes his career elsewhere, coach probably fired and Rondo off to annoy coaches and fan bases in a different city.

Teams I’d watch to acquire players – Boston, obviously. And Washington. They are hot right now. There’s a real chance, if LeBron continues to lead the league in minutes, someone can catch the Cavs.

One more team to watch, Philly. One of the most enjoyable teams to watch with assets everywhere. Embiid said playoffs and I may have been the only one who didn’t laugh. I love this team. They have draft picks and young players, so one strong veteran could catapult that team for the next 2-3 years while they build their young guys. East is the new West – it’s where the excitement is.

Jabari: I’m right there with you in terms of the Bulls. Folks were looking at me sideways when I said it would only be a matter of time before Butler and/or Wade wanted to move on, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if it played out exactly the way you broke it down.

I love that you went so hard for Philly because it allows me to do something few in this field tend to do … I was flat-out WRONG about their approach a few years back. While Noel and Okafor certainly are not stars at this stage, the fact that Joel Embiid is AND they have Ben Simmons waiting in the wings and other pieces starting to shine proves it was all worth it in the end.

We’ll see how things work themselves out around the league in terms of player movement, but at least we have a somewhat back loaded schedule (in terms of big matchups) down the stretch of the season to look forward to. The playoff push and ultimate postseason tournaments from each conference should be phenomenal once again.

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NBA Daily: Reacting To Bubble Headlines

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

Matt John

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

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

“Something Might Be Wrong With The Lakers!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nate McMillan Is On The Hot Seat”

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

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

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

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

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

“Michael Porter Jr Was Well-Worth The Wait”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NBA Daily: Ivica Zubac Rounding Into Form For Clippers

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

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Agency Update: Changes In The Bubble

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

Drew Maresca

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

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

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

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

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

The Stars

Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz – Player Option

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

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

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – RFA

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

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

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors – UFA

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

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

 DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs – Player Option

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

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

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

The Known Commodities

Marcus Morris Sr., Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

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

Making A Case

Trey Burke, Dallas Mavericks – UFA

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

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

Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz – UFA

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

Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers – UFA

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

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

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

The Unknowns

Harry Giles III, Sacramento Kings – UFA

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

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

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

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

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

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