Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets

Top five unrestricted free agents… where will they go?

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Free agency is not going to be as much fun this time around. Whenever the owners and players get around to settling the lockout the free agency period will be condensed and hectic.

Not that I really miss the drama of Lebron dragging out his decision, but it’s fun to watch things break over a course of weeks, to hear the rumors and the “what ifs” in a normal free agency period.

That said, there will be a free agency period, and there will be some name players available. Guys who can change teams.

What follows are my top five unrestricted free agents, followed by some guessing on a landing spot. Sure, it’s a bit of a moot exercise and it’s impossible to say how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will impact what players can be paid and therefore where they land, still, on a nice July day this is a fun game to play.

Nene (last of the Denver Nuggets)

Teams saw the Mavericks win it all after years of flailing in the playoffs, and it drove home the point of what a big center who can defend the paint and rebound can do for a team. Plus, Nene has a nice offensive game (he shoots the midrange well enough you have to respect it, hitting 47 percent beyond 16 feet last season.

Denver still has the home team advantage, even if he opted out and expressed frustration that the team did not come through with an extension. Whatever the new CBA looks like, you can bet there will be some kind of advantage for players who sign with their current team. He’s going to be a max guy. Don’t be shocked if a team like Indiana makes a big move for him.

Tyson Chandler (last of the Dallas Mavericks)

For teams that need a defensive presence in the paint, why get someone else to try and be like Tyson Chandler when you can get the actual Tyson Chandler?

I’d be surprised if he lands anywhere but Dallas, Mark Cuban knows what he did for the Mavs last season and he has been reported to be the teams No. 1 offseason priority. As for other suitors, again the Pacers could use a big man like him, and if Denver loses Nene they might make a run. Also, hard to see how the Knicks afford him but he would be a great fit.

Jamal Crawford (last of the Atlanta Hawks)

He was the sixth man of the year one year ago, and we know he can come in off the bench and provide a scoring punch. His shooting numbers took a dip last year and teams need to seriously ask themselves if that was just the Larry Drew offense in Atlanta or is Crawford showing some age at 32? A long-term deal might be a mistake.

After the Hawks paid big money for Al Horford (worth it) and Joe Johnson (going to regret that deal in a couple years) they likely are not going to have the cash to keep him around. If Crawford wants a ring badly enough teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics would have interest, but he’d have to take a serious cut in salary. If he wants a good payday, there are a number of teams that may well step forward with a bigger deal (New Jersey, Washington and others may think about it).

David West (last of the New Orleans Hornets)

If you are looking for a quality power forward who is a great pick-and-pop option next to a quality point guard, West would be the choice. He took five shots a game between 16 and 23 feet last season and hit 47 percent of them, plus he can score inside and is a solid rebounder.

If New Orleans is going to keep Chris Paul after next season, they have to find a way to keep West. (That or replace him with someone better, which would be hard to pull off.) Look for the Nets to make a run at him — he’d pair nicely with Deron Williams and the Nets have their own problems trying to keep D-Will from walking away.

Shane Battier (last with the Memphis Grizzlies)

Maybe the best of the glue guys out there. He can defend, has a solid offensive game both inside and out. Teams saw what he did with Memphis to help them knock off the Spurs and push the Oklahoma City Thunder, and coaches will find a way to use this guy.

Memphis has made bringing him back a priority and that would be the logical landing spot. But don’t be shocked if veteran teams try to get him to take a little less to be a key part of a title run for them — the Miami Heat would love him, even if they have a pretty good small forward. The Clippers have cap room and also need a three and what he can bring defensively.

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.