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Free Agency primer: Top 25 free agents to watch

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At midnight tonight — as Friday officially flips into Saturday and the calendar flips to July 1 — NBA free agency opens and the floodgates will open. Some of the wild action of the past few weeks, such as Jimmy Butler going to Minnesota or Chris Paul to Houston, will influence what happens next.

There are things we know will happen, some we expect, and with some players we have no idea what is about to go down.

Here are 25 top free agents and what to expect, broken down by category.

ELITE FREE AGENTS NOT LEAVING THEIR TEAM

We feel obligated to mention these guys, but your team isn’t stealing them away.

1) Stephen Curry. The heart and soul (if not the best player anymore) on the Golden State Warriors, he is going to get the richest contract in NBA history — five years, nearly $201 million. He will sign the first “designated veteran” contract in NBA history, then will hit the golf course, relax a little this summer, savor another ring, then show up in the fall ready to humiliate defenders again.

2) Kevin Durant. The Warriors best player and Finals MVP, he opted out of the second year of his contract with the Warriors. However, that was just a formality, one which allows the Warriors a better chance of retaining free agents such as Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston. He will re-sign with the Warriors closer to the end of July, and he said he will take a little less than the max, but on another 1+1 deal so he can opt out next year and get paid even more.

TOP FREE AGENTS WHO COULD BE ON THE MOVE

3) Gordon Hayward. He’s an All-Star, near All-NBA level wing player in a league where some elite teams are looking for one. He will have as many max offers as he wants, but the race appears to be down to Miami, Boston, and Utah. He will meet with all three then decide early next week, but around the league there is a sense Boston may have some momentum (getting him and Paul George, however, is very difficult financially). If he leaves Utah will in part come down to if they move to keep George Hill (keep reading, he’s on this list) and would be a huge setback for one of the West’s up-and-coming teams.

4) Blake Griffin. Chris Paul has left Los Angeles, now the Clippers want to retain Griffin, run the offense through him, put some good shooters around him, and basically put together an interesting, if not contending, team. The question is does Griffin want that? He’s meeting with Phoenix, and we know Boston and Miami are interested (if they strike out on Hayward). Denver wants in the conversation, and there will be others. He has options but if the Clippers come with a five-year max that may be enough to retain him.

5) Paul Millsap. The Hawks seem set to lose LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap in free agency in back-to-back years for nothing (which is why they would like a sign-and-trade, and why Mike Budenholzer wanted to move him at the deadline). If teams give Millsap a four-year max they may regret the last season when he’s 36, but he can rebound, defend well, shoot threes and can help almost any team. Denver, Phoenix, and Sacramento are interested and there will be others.

6) Kyle Lowry. The least likely guy on this part of the list to move on. The Raptors want him back and will pay for him, the question is will they max him out? Do they have to max him out as the market has dried up some — Philly, Sacramento, Brooklyn all were reported targets then all just got young guards around the draft, so they are out of the mix. He’s not going to find a better spot, but he may look around a little.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS ANOTHER TEAM MAY TRY TO STEAL

7) Otto Porter. A lot of teams like the Washington Wizards’ wing and he’s the kind of player a team with cap space — such as Brooklyn or Sacramento — likely try to poach with an oversized offer. While John Wall would rather have Paul George, the Wizards don’t have the space for PG13 (unless Washington and Indy want to so a sign-and-trade, meaning the Pacers lowered their asking price), which means they will pay Porter, or match whatever offer sheet he gets. Porter is about to be a max or near-max guy, and John Wall is going to need to make it up to him.

8) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Stan Van Gundy has hinted that he will match any offer for KCP — an impressive defensive wing who shot 35 percent from three last year (but has more work to do to be a real offensive threat) — and he should. Still, a team like Brooklyn will take a shot and try to sign him on the chance Detroit decides not to pony up, just expect the Pistons to match. They have to, they can’t lose him, they don’t have the cap space to replace him.

9) Nerlens Noel. Teams are no longer allowed to say “we will match any offer” because it’s seen as trying to dampen the market. So the Mavericks have said everything around that phrase — “he’s a central part of our future” — to hint they will match anything. Dallas traded for him at the deadline last year to see him as part of the future, the only question now is the price, and if they have to match someone else’s offer.

10) Tim Hardaway Jr. He’s developed well under the Hawks tutelage and last year scored 14.5 points a game shooting 35.7 percent from three. That said, he’s not much of a defender, and it’s fair to ask how much a now rebuilding Hawks team (assuming Millsap moves on) is willing to pay for his game. It’s going cost in the eight digits a season to keep him, but how high up into the teens might a team go to steal him? If one guy on this list can be stolen with a big offer, it’s Hardaway Jr.

GOOD PLAYERS WHO ARE/MAY GET PAID HEAD SHAKING AMOUNTS

11) Jrue Holiday. Do you think Holiday is a $30 million a year point guard? He’s about to get paid in that ballpark — and by the Pelicans. New Orleans has no choice, they have gone into a win-now place with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and if they loose Holiday they will have about $12 million to replace him, and they are not going to get anyone near as good for that price. Denver and a few other teams are interested, but he meets with the Pelicans first and they aren’t going to miss this chance.

12) Andre Iguodala. There are a lot of teams interested in Iguodala — Minnesota, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Orlando, Brooklyn and Utah among them. We’ve also heard the Warriors are “concerned” about the tax bill for Iguodala (after they give Curry and Durant massive new deals). All that hints that Iguodala could be on the move, but in the end, can the Warriors really let him go? He’s crucial to Golden State’s small lineups, and with KD taking less to keep him it’s hard to imagine him leaving. The Warriors would like to get him for around $12 million or less. Iguodala has talked to GM Bob Myers about it. But if another team comes in over the top… who knows.

13) J.J. Redick. He’s one of the best pure shooters in the NBA, he hit better than 40 percent from three last season and works very hard off the ball, plus is a solid team defender. The Clippers aren’t expected to keep him, and we know that Brooklyn (where he has a home) and Philadelphia are interested, and other teams will step up. This is Redick’s last big NBA contract and he’s going to want to maximize it, he’s not going to take less to contend.

14) George Hill. Gordon Hayward reportedly wants the Jazz to re-sign Hill, but I’ve heard he’s leaning towards moving on. Obviously, it will come down to who offers the most money, but teams such as San Antonio. Minnesota (if they move Ricky Rubio), and New York reportedly all are interested. Hill is a guy good at everything — good defender, can shoot the three, strong floor general, can attack the rim — and that versatility makes him valuable.

15) Danilo Gallinari. When he’s healthy he puts up numbers: Last season the 6’10” wing scored 18.2 points with 5.3 rebounds a game, shot 38.7 percent from three, he can create shots for himself, and he’s a solid defender. However, last season he played in 63 games, and that’s the most he has played in four seasons. Denver seems to be looking at other options (Paul Millsap, even Kevin Love) but it will come down to money. Gallinari is the kind of guy that GMs talk themselves into after missing their first couple of targets, which means he’s going to get a big payday.

GOOD PLAYERS NOT GOING ANYWHERE

16) Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks didn’t pick up his $25 million option so they could go after some free agents, but there is no way Mark Cuban is letting his talisman player go. And Nowitzki doesn’t want to leave. The two sides will work out a deal at some point, and it could be a two-year deal so Nowitzki has options.

17) Pau Gasol. He opted out of the $16 million he is owed next year and likely will make less per year for that, but will get the security of a longer deal with the Spurs. Gasol did this to help the Spurs chase free agents, we’ll see who they can land with that space (and if LaMarcus Aldridge stays, that’s another discussion). Gasol is still a fundamentally solid big who can score inside, make smart passes, and defend the rim all with a high IQ. He’s past his peak but he’s still good.

PLAYER WHO COULD GET PAID MORE THAN HE SHOULD AT THIS POINT

18) Serge Ibaka. There were reports he’s already basically agreed to a deal to return to the Raptors, although how much they really want to pay for a four who doesn’t stretch the floor terribly well or defend quite like he used to remains to be seen. He’s still good, and if Kyle Lowry returns they need what Ibaka brings to be a threat in the East. He could make more than the $12.3 million he made a year ago.

OTHER FREE AGENTS TO WATCH

19) Dion Waiters. He got in the best shape of his life in Miami at age 25, and when the Heat needed scoring the second half of the season he picked up the slack (not efficiently, but he was getting buckets). Waiters is the kind of player that could get a bigger payday than the ballpark two years, $20 million he should get because when a GM strikes out on better targets he talks himself into the idea that the post-All Star break Waiters is here to stay. Miami may keep him, but other teams will come calling.

20) Kyle Korver. He doesn’t move like he used to, he is a defensive liability, but he shot 45 percent from three last season, he knows how to find open space, and he remains one of the best long-range marksmen in the game. He made $5.2 million last year and I could see a salary in that ballpark (which includes the taxpayer midlevel, so a contender could snap him up).

21) Patty Mills. He has gone to Spurs university and come out the other side as a quality NBA point guard who can knock down threes, work off the ball, defend fairly well, and just be a guy who can be trusted on the big stage. He’s likely too expensive for the Spurs to bring back, and a lot of teams that are targeting Holiday/Lowry could come calling when they strike out.

22) Zach Randolph. It would be strange not to see him in a Memphis uniform next season, but it very well could happen. After spending on restricted free agent JaMychal Green – which the Grizzlies absolutely need to do — there’s not a lot of money left for Randolph or Tony Allen. Randolph says he wants to stay in Memphis, and he’s not getting a long-term deal anywhere at age 36, but another team could offer too much money to pass up.

23) Derrick Rose. He put up average numbers last season, on paper he had an average/solid season, but the Knicks did not click when he was running the show and he’s still a defensive liability. He could help a team if he was willing to play for less than the mid-level and come off the bench, but will he do that?

24) PJ Tucker. He played on the Raptors last season and in the playoffs showed his strengths — physical, versatile defending — and his weaknesses on the offensive end. The Clippers and Knicks reportedly have interest, but other teams will line up once the top end of free agency shakes out and GMs realize they could use a veteran defender like Tucker.

25) Rudy Gay. He’s an old-school volume scorer who was already slowing down before he suffered a ruptured Achilles last January. He should be back around the start of the season, but how much does he have left? A few teams have expressed interest, including the Thunder and Clippers. But at what cost?

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results:

 

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.

Clippers’ Lou Williams won second-straight, third overall Sixth Man of Year Award

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The Clippers bench play this season was the reason they made the playoffs (and pushed the Warriors to six games in the first round). Montrezl Harrell blossomed into his own as part of that.

However, it was Lou Williams who made it all work, which is why he won his second straight (and third overall) Sixth Man of the Year Award on Monday night. He garnered 96 of the 100 first-place votes.

Williams spoke from the heart about second chances and his faith in himself.

“Four years ago, I thought I was done, like I was coming to the end of my career,” Williams said.

Williams averaged 20 points a game and he is still one of the better bucket getters in the NBA, an isolation master. What he did better this year, however, was playmaking, dishing out 5.4 assists per game. His teammate Montrezl Harrell — the NBA’s best energy big off the bench last season who finished third in the Sixth Man voting — was the biggest beneficiary of those passes.

Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis came in second in the voting, with Spencer Dinwiddie of the Nets third and Terrence Ross of Orlando fifth. Here is the voting breakdown.