Kurt Helin

NBA Free Agency Preview: Top five small forwards

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We’ve talked about the thin free agent crop of point guards, and the more promising group at the shooting guard spot.

Now we look at the position with a lot of star power in this draft: Small forward. We said we would only list five, but because No. 1 is obligatory and not that interesting, we’ve added in a bonus sixth guy. You can thank us later. Yes, some these guys can play the four (and you could argue a couple could play the two), but we went with their traditional slots. Here is our list.

1) LeBron James. The single best player on the planet, and he just proved it again leading the Cavaliers to an NBA title. He is a franchise changer. He is not leaving Cleveland this summer, so discussing him is moot. (I do think he eventually leaves Cleveland, finishing his career elsewhere. But not before a victory tour, at least.)

2) Kevin Durant. Welcome to the Summer of Durant. He biggest name on the free agent board. A franchise changing player who is top five in the league, and while we list him as a three he can play some four. Seven teams reportedly have a chance to sit down with him — Thunder, Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Heat, Celtics, Knicks — but for a long time the buzz around the league has been Oklahoma City is in the driver’s seat (something boosted by the Victor Oladipo trade), but if he does bolt Golden State is the most likely landing spot. The fact that he opened up the process to be recruited should concern OKC fans somewhat. Durant probably signs a one-plus-one deal wherever he lands so he can opt out next summer than re-sign a new max contract, but he wants that to be where he signs this season. This is team’s one chance to pitch him.

3) Nicolas Batum. He has quietly developed into one a “3&D” wing who is a perfect team fit for a modern NBA team. He averaged 14.9 points per game last season in Charlotte, and the Hornets have made a priority of re-signing him, but that likely requires a five-year max (which would mean letting Jeremy Lin go), but Batum will have options as the Spurs and other teams are interested. Smart money is on him staying put.

4) Harrison Barnes (restricted). If you think is off NBA Finals performance cost him money, you haven’t been paying attention to this cash-rich market. Barnes is going to get paid, likely a max or near max contract. He wants to stay in Golden State (understandably), but if the Warriors land a big fish (Durant, Al Horford, etc.) then Barnes will be one of the financial sacrifices. A number of teams with nice young rosters (including the Sixers) are interested in Barnes.

5) Chandler Parsons. No player may better explain the unprecedented NBA market this summer like Chandler Parsons: He is coming off his lowest-scoring season since his rookie year (13.7 per game), plus he only played in 61 games and sat out the end of the last two seasons due to troubling knee issues. He opted out of his $16 million player option for next season because he knew he’d get a raise. He’s right. He has a versatile game, can shoot the three, gets out in transition, and again is a guy who fits into the modern NBA game. When healthy. Orlando (not far from where he went to college at Florida) is known to be very interested in him, but a number of teams are.

BONUS: Luol Deng. He played the four for Miami last year and thrived — while he’s a traditional three his future is at the four. He was solid at both ends of the court for the Heat last season, plus he’s loved by teammates and a rock solid guy in the locker room. A lot of teams could use a guy like that, and that kind of demand leads to guys getting paid big bucks.

Others of note: Marvin Williams, Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Jeff Green, Joe Johnson, Matt Barnes, Gerald Green.

Report: Spurs interested in Pau Gasol

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In the next 24 hours, we may learn what Tim Duncan plans to do — come back to the Spurs for one more run, or opt out (which doesn’t necessarily mean retirement, it just means he’d need a new contract to come back). Whatever he and Manu Ginobili decide (Manu has already opted out of his deal), the Spurs are set for the future with a core of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

And they have the space to add a major star to that. The Spurs have a meeting with Kevin Durant. Also, they have interest in Al Horford if that doesn’t pan out.

How about Pau Gasol instead? They are interested, Adrian Wojnarowski said on the latest Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix (which you should be listening to).

“I’m told that Pau Gasol is a real priority for (the Spurs). They tried to get him before he signed with Chicago. The Bulls were able to offer him a little bit more than the mid-level that year, I think the Spurs had a mid-level for him. They can maneuver in San Antonio and probably be able to offer him market value. We’ll see what that’s going to be.”

Even at age 36, Gasol is still efficient, averaging 16.5 points and 11 rebounds a game last season as an All-Star for the Bulls. Gasol’s high IQ game where he can operate in the low or high post would be a great fit for the Spurs. He’d have to accept a team-first role — if Duncan returns that would meaning coming in off the bench — and know he is option three (likely with extra touches with the second unit), but Gasol would accept that.

Pau’s brother Marc Gasol has said Pau should go to San Antonio. Which was the worst recruiting pitch to get Pau back to Memphis ever, but Pau has agreed and thinks the Spurs are interesting. It’s easy to envision Gasol in the Spurs offense. It makes a lot of sense.

Of course, it will all come down to money. And fit. And whether Gasol — a very urban guy — wants to play for a few years in a smaller, southern city again. But if Popovich sits down with Pau, cracks open a nice bottle of Cabernet, and talks hoops, the deal may be sealed. It’s easy to picture happening.

LeBron, Wade, CP3 vacationing together with banana boat again — now with a Snapchat filter

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Friends vacation together. They bring their families. That’s what LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony are doing right now — for the second year in a row they are all out on a rented boat hanging out together, this time off the coast of Majorca (an island in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain, best known in the sports world as the birthplace of Rafael Nadal). Must be nice.

And they brought the banana boat back.

You remember the banana boat from last summer, right? Which led to ridiculous “who is recruiting who?” and other conspiratorial plots. Because Twitter loves a conspiracy.

Not only are the four All-Stars vacationing together, but Chris Paul got Snapchat to make them a custom banana boat filter (the original pics from last year had Wade’s wife and actress Gabrielle Union on the boat, but now ‘Melo is along for the ride). Here is what CP3 posted on Snapchat:

Banana boat snapchat

Have fun with this.

And while I think it is likely LeBron James leaves Cleveland some time in the next few years, and him playing with one of his buddies is not out of the question, take off the tin foil hat and spare me your conspiracies. Let four friends take a vacation without projecting your insecurities about your team onto them.

Report: Sixers to make run at restricted free agent Harrison Barnes

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After his Finals performance a lot of people are going to say “are you $&@$(% kidding me?!?” But Harrison Barnes is about to get paid. Like near the max of $22 million paid.

Golden State has his rights and can match any offer, but there is a sense around the league that they are looking at a retooling on the fly — targeting Kevin Durant or Al Horford — and they might let Barnes go. Teams are going to try and poach him.

One of those is Philadephia, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This makes sense for the Sixers. They are loaded with young talent up front — Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid — and Barnes fits in with that age group, can play the three or the four, hits threes, and comes with the kind of experience young players often lack.

The free agency signing moratorium plays into the Warriors’ hands here. By July 9 when Barnes can formally sign a contract — either an offer from another team or re-signing with Golden State — the Warriors will know whether they landed Durant or Horford or swung any other big moves. If they did, they let Barnes go, if they don’t they bring him back regardless of price.

Barnes averaged 11.7 points a game, shot 38 percent from three, is active off the ball, and he is long and defends fairly well. His development seemed to stall out last season, but teams are betting that was more due to his role on the Warriors than anything else. It’s a risk to take a role player (even a talented young one) and thrust him into a new situation, but some teams — including the Sixers — will bet that his stock is still on the rise.

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)