NBA Free Agency Preview: Top five shooting guards

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Maybe the hardest part of making this list was deciding if certain players were a shooting guard or a small forward — for many players in today’s NBA they are interchangeable. For example, you don’t see Nicolas Batum on this list because I see him as a three, but he could play as a two depending on where he lands. It doesn’t change what they do on the court, but the better designation might simply be wing player.

Unlike the thin point guard spot, there is a deeper crop out on the wing, and with teams looking for shooting these players will be in demand. Here is our list of the top five shooting guards.

1) DeMar DeRozan. The Toronto Raptors has said he wants to stay in Toronto and is only going to meet with the Raptors. The only way another team gets a shot at him is if the Raptors low ball him in negotiations, and that’s not going to happen. DeRozan can get to the rim with the best of them and was an All-Star last season scoring 23.5 points per game. However, his lack of a three-point shot hurts him in the playoffs and against good defensive teams, it would make it difficult for him to be a No. 1 option anywhere.

2) Bradley Beal (restricted). Go ahead and start practicing your outrage now —”Beal isn’t a max player, what are the Wizards doing?” Guess what, Beal is going to be a max player. And the Wizards are going to pay it. The question isn’t his game — he averaged 17.4 points per game last season and is a career 39.7 percent shooter from three — but rather his health, where a stress fracture in his right leg has kept him out of  46 games the past two seasons and is a lingering problem. He’s going to be on a minutes restriction the rest of his career to deal with that stress issue. But if teams are willing to pay you the max (and there are several, which Washington would just match), then you’re a max player, and Beal will be that come early July.

3) Dwayne Wade. There will be a cat-and-mouse game with Wade and the Miami Heat again — he will push for the biggest deal possible noting he has taken less in the past to help the team and its cap situation, the Heat will ask him to take less to help the team and because of his age. Eventually, the two sides will reach a deal. Wade averaged 19 points a game last season and, as we saw in the playoffs, still can become a dominant force for a stretch of games.

4) Kent Bazemore. I’m listing him here, but he genuinely could be a two or a three depending on the team and how you wish to define his role. He had a breakout season in Atlanta and is at the peak of his skills at age 27, plus we know from the past couple free agent periods that top “3&D” guys get PAID. Of the top players on this list, Bazemore is the guy most likely to switch teams, which means he will have a lot of interest from a variety of suitors.

5) J.R. Smith. In Cleveland, away from the clubs of New York and with LeBron James as his mentor, Smith has developed into a solid, reliable catch-and-shoot specialist who brings real value to a team (not just streaky bad shot making). Expect a number of teams to make a run at him, but as long as LeBron is in Cleveland I would be surprised if he landed anywhere else.

Others free agent shooting guards of note: Jamal Crawford, Dion Waiters (restricted), Evan Fournier (restricted), Manu Ginobili, Eric Gordon, Arron Afflalo, Allen Crabbe (restricted)

Already? Giannis Antetokounmpo says Joel Embiid tried to recruit him to Sixers

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The Greek Freak (now trademarked) Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a Buck for a while — he has three fully guaranteed years on his contract after this one, taking him until at least the summer of 2021. At that point, Milwaukee almost certainly will be able to offer him the designated player super max contract that will be hard to turn down. The Greek Freak is going to be in Milwaukee for a long time.

That didn’t stop Joel Embiid, who tried to recruit Antetokounmpo to Sixers during All-Star weekend. Via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

Of course, if somewhere down the line Antetokounmpo and Embiid team up some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist will say “they have been planning this since 2018.”

Embiid probably did this tongue in cheek, but he is fearless about this stuff — remember a couple of summers ago he tried to recruit Kevin Durant through social media.

As for Antetokounmpo and the Sixers, nothing to see here, move along.

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.