NBC’s Free Agency preview: Top 5 point guards

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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).

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.

With momentum gone and interest down, NBA finally will give out awards tonight

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When the NBA season ended, there was a passionate debate to be had about the end-of-season awards.

Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year? James Harden was the MVP favorite, but what about LeBron James and his monster season? Did Rudy Gobert play enough games to win Defensive Player of the Year? Not only was picking the Coach of the Year hard, narrowing the list down to three for the ballot out of the seven or eight candidates was brutal.

NBA fans — and NBA Twitter — had roiling debates over all those topics. Fans backed their man and defended their positions and media members who announced their votes — as we did — had to defend those choices. As they should.

That was mid-April.

Now, the NBA fandom has moved on — the Finals are over, the draft just happened, and everyone’s focus is on free agency and the possibility of a Kawhi Leonard trade and where he might land.

So now, finally, more than two months after the regular season ended, the NBA will get around to giving out its awards at its second annual awards banquet Monday night (televised on TNT, starting at 9 p.m. ET). The league will hand out the official awards for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved, Sixth Man of the Year, Executive of the Year (voted on by other executives), and a series of fan-voted awards (Best Style, Dunk of the Year, Block of the Year, Clutch Shot of the Year, Assist of the Year and Handle of the Year).

The league needs to do something about the timing of the awards show, they have lost all momentum getting around to it now.

I get it, the NBA wants a big awards event and broadcast that can be televised (the league just used to announce them during the playoffs via press release, with the recipients getting the award at a playoff game in their home arena, if there was still one). The NFL does a great awards show, but they have a natural (if too long) two-week break between the AFC/NFC finals and the Super Bowl, which allows them to have their event at the peak of interest for the sport.

The problem for the NBA these are regular season awards now given out 10 weeks after the regular season ended.

The NBA is entering the phase of the calendar that is its most popular — free agency. The draft draws interest as the unofficial start of this off-season, as teams start to reshape their roster. Trades and player movement — and the rumors and breakdowns around them — draw more interest than the NBA Finals or the games themselves (just check the traffic at any NBA website, including ours). Fans of all 30 teams are invested in playing armchair GM and, along with the media, second guessing every move they make to build that roster. (By the way, that second guessing is just part of the job for a GM, they can’t have family members on burner Twitter accounts trying to defend them.)

There’s no easy answer here for the NBA as to the timing of the awards show. There isn’t much of a gap between the end of the regular season and the playoffs and pretty much every player or coach who will win an award is prepping for the postseason at that point, they don’t want to fly to Los Angeles (this year) or New York (last year) for chummy banquet with their soon-to-be rivals. As this year showed, when the conference finals run seven games there isn’t much of a gap there before the Finals start (and again, key players will be involved in the Finals every year).

Where the league has it is the most convenient place on the calendar.

It’s just too late. The momentum of the regular season is gone, the attention of fans has turned to free agency, and this just feels like an odd break.

But Monday night the NBA is getting around to it. And we can try to revive old debates, they will just die out fast in the wake of free agency talk.

LeBron James’s son Bronny Jr. just misses breakaway dunk. At 13.

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LeBron James is spending his summer like a lot of fathers of children who play AAU basketball (or other travel team sports) — going to gyms, local and sometimes not so local, to watch his son play.

And Bronny Jr. can ball.

At age 13, he can almost dunk.

Gotta love LeBron’s reaction.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.