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Top 10 players still available after Day 1 of NBA free agency

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That. Was. Insane.

An estimated $1.7 billion in NBA contracts were handed out. Mike Conley is now the owner of the richest contract in NBA history. Joakim Noah is a Knick for $72 million. Dwight Howard has gone home to Atlanta for $70 million. From minutes after the clock struck midnight on July 1 deals were flying with a few reasonable deals (Jeremy Lin to Brooklyn for $36 million) and a few head scratchers (Evan Turner got $70 million?).

Who is left? Here are the Top 10 free agents still on the board, with an update on where things stand with them.

1) LeBron James. We’re required to lead with the best player on the planet because he is technically still available as a free agent. We all know he’s signing a short-term deal to stay in Cleveland (although the numbers are a little complex), but he remains a free agent so we’ve got to put him here.

2) Kevin Durant. Durant met with Oklahoma City Thursday night (he could do that before free agency officially started because he was a member of the team still), then sat down with the Warriors and Clippers on Friday. (There were reports Durant was “blown away” by the Clippers’ presentation, which is great but because they cannot offer him a max contract it’s hard to see that deal getting done.) Up on Saturday are the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, while on Sunday Pat Riley and the Miami Heat get their shot. The feeling around the league is still Oklahoma City likely wins out in the end.

3) Al Horford. By signing Dwight Howard and re-signing Kent Bazemore to $70 million deals, the Hawks essentially ended Horford’s run in Atlanta (they are not going to pay the luxury tax for him, and while in theory they could make trades to clear out cap space for him that seems unlikely). Horford met with the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Houston Rockets (plus a “mystery team” according to Ramona Shelburne). He may well hold off his decision a few days to see where the Warriors and Spurs fall after Durant makes his decision.

4) Pau Gasol. He had a very quiet first day of free agency, which is how he likes it. Portland is reportedly interested right now. But like Horford, it could be wise for Gasol to let the Durant situation play out because both the Warriors and Spurs reportedly would come calling.

5) Harrison Barnes (restricted). There have been rumors that the Sixers, among other teams, are poised to make a big offer to Golden State’s starting wing player. But in a familiar theme (read the notes on Horford and Gasol) what happens to him is tied to Durant and others — if the Warriors get KD they will not match an offer for Barnes. If they don’t, that door starts to open. Barnes would sign his offer sheet from whatever team on July 7 (the day the signing moratorium ends), and the Warriors have three days to match.

6) Dwyane Wade. The report is Miami’s first offer to Wade was for $10 million a year — if that is true, he has a right to be insulted. The Heat are going to pay Wade Jared Dudley money? Wade reportedly has been offered more like $20 million a season from The Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks. He reportedly put out feelers to the Spurs (who likely would not offer that much) and Knicks (who can’t). In the end, he probably uses this as leverage to get a better deal with the Heat, but apparently the door is at least cracked open.

7) Dirk Nowitzki. Friday was a rough day for Mark Cuban and the Mavericks. They met with Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside, and Nicolas Batum, all of whom used Dallas as leverage to get bigger deals and re-signed with their current teams. Also, Chandler Parsons bolted (for a max contract in Memphis). Nowitzki will take his time reaching a deal and do whatever helps Cuban and the team the most; he doesn’t want to leave and go somewhere else (unless Cuban decides to blow the whole thing up).

8) Ryan Anderson. The prototypical stretch four saw a lot of interest: The Raptors, Nets, Lakers, Kings, and Wizards have all expressed some level of interest. Other teams could step up as well (teams that strike out on Durant included). About the only thing that became clear on Friday is that Anderson is not going back to New Orleans, they seemed to move on reaching deals with guys such as Solomon Hill.

9) Bismack Biyombo. With Hassan Whiteside and Joakim Noah off the board, the pace of action around Biyombo should pick up. He may be the best center left on the board — and the fact Timofey Mozgov just got $64 million has to make Biyombo (and his agent) optimistic about the offers that should start to roll in.

10) J.R. Smith. The shirtless wonder is expected to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers (who lost Mozgov and likely Matthew Dellavedova in free agency so far, although the Cavs can match the Delly offer). Things seemed quiet on the Smith front on Friday, no teams were public about trying to poach him, which is likely a good sign for his eventual return to Cleveland.

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

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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?’

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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’

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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)

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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.