NBC’s Free Agency preview: Top 5 point guards

6 Comments

Point guard is becoming more and more like quarterbacks in the NFL — you’ve got to have a quality one to be a real threat. Look at the points for the final four teams in the NBA Playoffs this year: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kyle Lowry.

The problem for teams in need of a good (or at least solid) one is 2016 is a very thin point guard free agent class. There is one elite, All-Star level guy at the top and after that things fall off quickly. Here are the top five point guards available on the market this year, ranked in order of preference.

1) Mike Conley, unrestricted. He is one of the better defensive point guards in the league, a quality floor general, he’s good at running the pick and roll, scored 15 points with six assists a game, and he has three-point range. If he hadn’t been in a West overly stacked with great point guards, he’d have been an All-Star already. A lot of teams have interest in him, but the buzz around the league is that he is going to re-sign a five-year max deal with the Grizzlies. Look at it this way, there is no way the Knicks make the Derrick Rose trade if they thought they could land Conley (a known target of theirs). If he does open the door to other teams, a lot of them will be interested.

2) Jordan Clarkson, restricted. Some team may try to poach the young guard from the Lakers. They will fail, the Lakers will match, but teams will try. Clarkson is a combo guard who can play next to D'Angelo Russell and run the team when he sits. He’s a big-bodied guard who can get into the lane — although settles for too many pull-up jumpers — and can knock down the three (34.7 percent last year and improving). There’s a lot to like for a guard who can be part of the rotation for many years. The question is what team will come in with the big offer for Clarkson that forces the Lakers to pony up? He’s listed in front of the guys below in part because he’s younger.

3) Jeremy Lin, unrestricted. The first guy teams looking for a point guard have a real shot to land, as it will be difficult for Charlotte to keep him with their focus on re-signing Nicolas Batum. He wants to get paid after having to take a pay cut with Charlotte after a rough season in Los Angeles before that. His stats didn’t change much in Charlotte — 11.7 points and three assists per game — however, he had the ball in his hands more in a sixth many role than in Houston or Los Angeles, which allowed him to play to his strengths of attacking and creating. His defense isn’t good but it’s improved. He just looked more comfortable.

4) Rajon Rondo, unrestricted. He put up 11.9 points and 11.7 assists in Sacramento last season, and he was DeMarcus Cousins‘ best friend in the locker room. But there was a feeling around the Kings that he was chasing stats, and beyond that his once lock-down defense isn’t what it once was. If a team could get him to accept a reserve role for 20ish minutes a night it would be a great fit, but that’s not how Rondo sees himself. A lot of buzz about him landing in Brooklyn (where he would start), but how much are they willing to pay? And how many years?

5) Deron Williams, unrestricted. At this point, he’s a solid veteran point guard, one who averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 assists a game for the Mavericks last season. He’ll give a team a solid 28-30 minutes a night. He is expected to re-sign with Dallas, but another team in need of a point which strikes out elsewhere could come in with a surprise offer and try to steal him from the Mavs.

Other names of note: Matthew Dellavedova (he almost got the fifth spot, he is younger than D-Will and that matters), Tyler Johnson (restricted), Ty Lawson, Mario Chalmers, Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin, Langston Galloway (restricted).

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.