One dozen NBA free agents to watch (not named Howard or Paul)

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Chris Paul is going to stay a Clipper. Dwight Howard is going to do whatever it is Dwight Howard is going to do.

But those two are not the only guys who became free agents at the stroke of midnight and we ventured into Monday.

Here are a dozen other newly minted free agents worth watching during this free agent period.

• Josh Smith: He’s one of the best players in what is generally considered a down free agent class — 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Nobody doubts that he is a good player, one that annually just misses the  All-Star cut line. The issue for him as a free agent is simply his shot selection. This chart pretty much sums it up.

source:

Smith is very effective around the rim but loves his jump shot. Too much. Also, Smith wants a max contract. He likely doesn’t get it, the question is what will a team pay? He can be amazing if the fit is right, and that team will get some nights of good defense. The Detroit Pistons want him and another 4-5 teams are said to be interested. The question is, at what price? How much tax are you willing to pay for Smith and his penchant for jumpers?

• Andre Iguodala: Part of the glue that led Denver to 57 wins. It’s not so much the 13 points a game and the 5.7 rebounds, it’s the strong perimeter defense and the impressive finishing in transition. He has versatility. He’s the ultimate glue guy. He opted out of the $16 million to get the security of a long-term deal. But as our own Dan Feldman pointed out, the team that gives him four years (and one will) may regret that decision in a few years.

• J.R. Smith: He’s the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and a gunner without a conscience. He is perfect off the bench — he comes in and brings energy and shooting. But he is anything but consistent. The Knicks have only his Early Bird rights and are limited with what they can offer; the most is just above the league average salary (so a little over $5 million a year for at least two years). It is possible another team swoops in, the Suns, Bucks and Pistons are reportedly interested.

• Andrew Bynum: He is the real test of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement: How much are teams willing to pay a guy that two seasons ago was one of the top three centers in the league (if not the best outright), but missed all of last season with a knee injury that is chronic? Under the old CBA somebody would have overpaid, but now… There are real questions about his passion for the game, but some team will take a gamble (two or three years at $9 million per?). You can bet that contract will have an out that they can cut him and not pay him if he can’t play due to a preexisting knee condition.

• Monta Ellis: He reportedly turned down two years, $24 million and he is going to regret that. Ellis is an old school volume scorer — he scores a lot of points and shoots a lot of shots. Don’t expect efficiency (41.6 percent shooting overall last year, 28 percent from three). The new breed of NBA GM doesn’t want a guy like Ellis and he is going to find a more shallow market than expected. That said, the Hawks and Mavericks are both reportedly interested.

• David West: The steady forward who was a key to the Indiana Pacers success (within one game of the NBA Finals) is not expected to sign anywhere but Indiana. The Pacers will make a fair offer of around $10 million per season, but this is going to be a short-term deal, likely just a couple years. West is 33, he’s not getting four years.

• J.J. Redick: His half a season in Milwaukee taught him he wanted out of Milwaukee. He’s one of the best pure shooters in the league and has worked to improve other parts of his game (for example, his defense is better than you think). He’s going to get a nice contract from someone who needs a two who can space the floor.

• Kyle Korver: Another pure shooter in this draft, he’s older than Redick and not quite as well rounded, but when it comes to shooting threes he is good. The early buzz is the Nets want and are in the lead to get him.

• Kevin Martin: The final sharpshooter on our list — he shot 42.6 percent from three last season for Oklahoma City, a team that could draw attention away from him. He has a very efficient offensive game, but he’s not going to give you much defense. He has a role in this league as the No. 3 guy on a good team, but we’ll see who steps up to pay him.

• Al Jefferson: He is a genuine NBA big man who scored 17.8 points and added 9.2 rebounds per game last season for the Jazz. He’s age 28 and in his prime, so he should be expecting a big contract. And he’s going to get a big contract. But he’s a defensive liability on the pick-and-roll and really does his work in the post and on the boards and not much else. Someone is going to pay him then be frustrated.

• Paul Millsap: He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Jazz can match any offer. It’s going to be interesting, he is a guy who comes in with almost but not quite All-Star numbers — 14.6 points on 49 percent shooting with 7.1 rebounds a game. He’s solid and efficient, a poor man’s David Lee kind of guy. He’s the kind of guy that a GM could decide he needs after missing out on his first choice and puts up a good offer that will leave the Jazz in a pickle.

• Brandon Jennings: Another restricted free agent (the Bucks can match) who is going to get the kind of offer that will leave the Bucks in a tough spot. He’s a score first point guard (he did have 6.5 assists per game, to be fair) but he doesn’t score efficiently. He shot under 40 percent last season and he struggles to finish in the paint, which makes that amazing first step and quickness less frightening. I got the feeling someone is going to offer him a lot of money in hopes his game grows.

• O.J. Mayo: Another guy who can score (15.3 points per game) but doesn’t do it efficiently and had Rick Carlisle so frustrated last year he called him out on a couple of occasions. He can score so he will land somewhere, but he’s not loved by GMs. The advanced stats teams are not going near Mayo but somebody will and they will get what they get with him.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.