Winderman: After the big name free agents, what will be left for everyone else?

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Thumbnail image for GHill_dunk.jpgAmid Game 3 of the NBA Finals and Izzo-gate in Cleveland, two small but telling stories fell somewhat through the cracks Tuesday.

In Phoenix, amid Amare Stoudemire’s garish grab for a six-year, $134 million free-agent contract, Grant Hill exercised his $3.3 million option to return to the Suns next season.

And in Atlanta, Mo Evans exercised his $2.5 million option to stay with the Hawks.

Granted, loyalty certainly was a factor for Hill, who has enjoyed a rebirth during his time in Phoenix. And considering Evans was part of one of the most feeble benches of any playoff team, taking the money and running certainly was prudent.

But the moves also speak to a greater story of how this summer may play out.

LeBron, Wade, Stoudemire and Bosh certainly will get theirs, as will Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Rudy Gay.

But the flip side of the free-agent frenzy is that there might not be all that much left over for the other tiers in the process, especially with so many teams operating with cap space, and thereby forfeiting the use of their mid-level and lower-level exceptions for the NBA’s 2010-11 fiscal calendar.

And even the mid-level has become a much-debated approach, with a notably poor rate of return when extended for significant lengths.

It will, in fact, be interesting to see how others handle player options, as the June 30 deadline for those decisions draws closer.

Chris Wilcox has already said he’s in for the $3 million option he holds with the Pistons. Kris Humphries has hinted at similar plans for the $3.2 million he would be due from the Nets.

Similar decisions in what could prove to be a tight market after the early-July splashes also figure to have Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jared Jeffries, Darius Songaila, Willie Green and Jason Kapono opting in.

And considering how they surely will be overshadowed in the process, it is difficult to imagine Richardson Jefferson, Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Peja Stojakovic not cashing in on their player-option years on the types of mega contracts they never will see again.

There will, however, be a few with players with options who will face decisions.

Matt Barnes, after a stout defensive season with the Magic, has said he plans to opt out of the $1.6 million option he holds for next season. Shannon Brown has mentioned opting out of the $2.1 million he otherwise is due from the Lakers. And John Salmons, at least in terms of years, probably is wise to opt out of his $5.8 million next season from the Bucks.

But in many ways Tuesday might have only been the start of a withdrawal process.

With so much of the 2010 cap cash going to so few, the little guys already are ducking for cover.  

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.