Rudy Gay

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Report: Spurs paying Pau Gasol about $16 million each of next two years

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The Spurs got Pau Gasol to decline his $16,197,500 player option, allowing them to chase major free agents. They didn’t take advantage of that flexibility, so they’re re-signing Gasol to make him whole – and then some.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Sources: Free agent Pau Gasol’s deal to return to Spurs: three years, $48M with a partial guarantee on final year

If Gasol’s 2018-19 salary is guaranteed – strongly implied by this report – this is a bad contract.

The 37-year-old Gasol, still a nice player, isn’t worth $16 million this season in a tight center market. It’s fine to pay him that much given the circumstances of his opt out. But to guarantee him a similar amount – salary-cap rules dictate his 2018-19 salary be within 5% of his 2017-18 salary – at age 38 is an awful choice.

Especially for San Antonio, which was shaping up to have massive flexibility next summer.

The Spurs can still have significant cap room if LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and/or Rudy Gay opt out. But then they wouldn’t have Aldridge, Green or Gay. So, the more space to upgrade, the better. San Antonio just cut about $16 million from that maneuverability.

Kawhi Leonard is a 26-year-old superstar who has proven his ability to thrive deep into the playoffs. Instead of aggressively working to add talent to chase another championship, the Spurs are surrounding him with the status-quo declining-veteran supporting cast.

That was acceptable this year, once Chris Paul chose the Rockets. But to commit about $16 million toward a similar team in 2018 is a major mistake.

Report: Spurs working toward re-signing Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol
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Pau Gasol declined his $16,197,500 player option, giving the Spurs the ability to chase major free agents.

But once Chris Paul went to the Rockets before free agency even began, San Antonio had a summer it could’ve had if Gasol opted in – re-signing Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili and signing Rudy Gay with the mid-level exception. One more order of business: Re-signing Gasol, whose Bird Rights San Antonio still holds.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Spurs are also working to finalize a new deal with free-agent center Pau Gasol, league sources said.

The Spurs could have massive cap space next summer, and I doubt they’ll jeopardize that for the 37-year-old Gasol. But I also expect them to reward his willingness to opt out and give them flexibility now (even if it went unused).

My best bet: A one-year contract at a rate similar to his option-year salary then – after that overpay – Gasol re-signing for far less next year, when San Antonio can actually take advantage of a discount.

Report: Rudy Gay agrees to two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs

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Rudy Gay has been a target for several teams looking to bolster their front court lineup. Now, he finally has a landing spot.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Gay has agreed to a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs for $17 million.

Gay, 30, played in just 30 games for the Sacramento Kings last season. He did shoot 37% from 3-point range for the Kings, so if he can stay healthy he will be a combination ball handler and a shooting option for Gregg Popovich.

Via Twitter:

At $17 million for two seasons and a player option, the contract for Gay is likely significantly worse than he thought he would get. Gay opted out of the final season of his contract with Sacramento which was worth $14 million.

Meanwhile, Gay will be the ultimate test to see whether or not any player in the NBA really would be better on the Spurs.

The Top 10 NBA free agents still available

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The big names are off the board: Gordon Hayward is heading to Boston, Paul Millsap is going to Denver, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were never leaving Golden State, Blake Griffin is staying in Los Angeles, and Kyle Lowry will remain a Raptor. Even the best restricted free agent on the market has his deal in place — Otto Porter will sign a max offer sheet from the Nets, and Washington will match.

So who is left?

Here are the top 10 NBA free agents still on the board.

1) Kelly Olynyk. A casualty of Boston’s need to clear out cap space for Gordon Hayward, he is suddenly an unrestricted free agent and the best player available. Already Atlanta and Indiana have interest, but there will be a lot more teams lining up. Olynyk is a 7-footer who is mobile and shot 35.7 percent from three last season. He is a decent defender on the perimeter but struggles physically with strong players down on the block. Olynyk is a big who fits the direction the NBA game is evolving and he’s going to get paid handsomely by someone.

2) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Detroit all but flat-out said it would match any offer for KCP and that seems to have depressed the market for the restricted free agent. Still, after the Langston Galloway signing the Pistons are hard capped and would have to shed salary to match a max offer for Caldwell-Pope, it’s surprising no team has stepped up to force them to do that (and take a chance they can steal him). KCP is a long and athletic defensive wing who shot 35 percent from three last year and is working to become a more varied offensive threat. A lot of teams could use a guy like that.

3) Nerlens Noel. Dallas traded for the rangy, defensive-minded center at the deadline last season and see him as part of the future., other teams known that so nobody has stepped up with an offer for the restricted free agent. It would be a waste of paperwork, the Mavs would match. With Dallas bidding against itself, the only question now is what price he re-signs for.

4) Pau Gasol. Not a lot of drama here. Gasol opted out of the $16 million he is owed next year to help the Spurs chase free agents (the Spurs have re-signed Patty Mills and are in the mix on other deals). When all that is done the Spurs will re-sign Gasol, certainly for less per year than before but for multiple years. Gasol is still a fundamentally solid big who can score inside, make smart passes, and defend the rim all with a high IQ. He’s past his prime but he’s still a quality NBA big man.

5) Tim Hardaway Jr. Another restricted free agent trying to land an offer and force his team’s hand. Hardaway has developed into a quality player at Hawks university and last year scored 14.5 points a game shooting 35.7 percent from three. He doesn’t provide much defense, but teams can always use shooting. Atlanta is heading into rebuilding mode and they want Hardaway to be part of that, the only question is the price point.

6) Dion Waiters. He played the best basketball of his career the second half of last season — when the Heat needed scoring he picked up the slack (not efficiently, but he was getting buckets). Waiters was always going to be in the second tier of free agents (when GMs strike out on better targets they come calling) and the Knicks, Bulls, Lakers, and others have their eyes on him. However, with Miami striking out on Hayward and Griffin, expect them to jump into the mix and try to bring Waiters back.

7) Derrick Rose. In a shrinking point guard market, he may be the best choice teams now have. The Clippers reportedly are interested, and the Knicks have been in touch as well, other teams may jump in over the next 48 hours, too. Rose put up solid numbers last season, on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard, but he’s still a defensive liability and kind of only plays one style. The questions now are what teams come asking him to do — start or come off the bench — and at what price?

8) Rajon Rondo. After a rocky start, he played well for the Bulls the second half of last season — after the All-Star Break he averaged 10.8 points and 7.1 assists per game. The Lakers are interested, but they will only offer a one-year deal (they want to keep their 2018 cap space) and Rondo may hope another team will come in with a longer offer. The Clippers and Knicks have been mentioned as possibilities.

9) Rudy Gay. He’s an old-school volume scorer who was already slowing down before he suffered a ruptured Achilles last January (he should be good to go around the start of next season). Both Miami and Utah have become interested since missing out on Hayward. Gay reportedly would like to play for the Thunder, but if Miami/Utah/another team come in with a larger offer he likely will take the money.

10) Andre Roberson. A restricted free agent who almost certainly will end up back with the Thunder next season — he would fit perfectly right between Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and since they need to make both those guys happy so they re-sign in OKC, the Thunder will pay what it takes to keep Roberson. Other teams know that, which means he may not get a huge offer from the outside, nobody is going to poach him. Roberson is a lock-down defender — OKC should be elite defensively next season — who can score in transition but needs to improve his jumper to become a huge threat.