Free Agency Preview: Top 10 restricted free agents

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Jeremy Lin. Isaiah Thomas. Chandler Parsons.

All good players, albeit with flaws, but ones teams saw as potentially part of the long-term future for their teams. However, when they came up as a restricted free agent another team valued them more, came in with a big offer, and the team where they had been playing chose not to match it. That’s how Dallas snatched Parsons away from the Houston, while Houston did the same thing to get Lin from New York. Kings fans loved second-round pick Isaiah Thomas but team management wasn’t willing to pay to keep him.

This is what restricted free agency is: First round picks with enough flaws they and the team couldn’t reach a deal on an extension, or a second round pick or undrafted player who had a team option on the end of their contract.

The team that has the player’s rights can keep him — they have the right to match any offer. That’s why it’s restricted. Just sometimes they do not.

Who are the guys at the top of the restricted free agency food chain? Here’s our list. (Note, come back tomorrow for our list of the top unrestricted free agents, such as LeBron James and Chris Paul.)

1. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets). Rockets Grand Poobah Daryl Morey has made it clear he will match any offer and bring Capela back — as he should. Capela averaged 13.9 points, and 10.8 rebounds a game (with a 24.5 PER), plus was a crucial part of the Rockets starting lineup and switching defense (because he can handle himself on the perimeter fairly well, plus protect the rim). The Rockets were 4 points per 100 better with him on the floor, and he was a big part of their playoff run. He’s going to get near a max salary and while there are certainly other teams that would like him (he’d be a perfect fit in Dallas) the Rockets will match anything and keep him in-house.

2. Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic). There are times Gordon looks like a sure-fire franchise cornerstone player (usually the first half of the season), the prototype modern NBA four. Then there are times he looks pedestrian. Last season before the All-Star Game, Gordon averaged 18.4 points per game, hitting 34.6 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage of 54.7 (above the league average). Then after the All-Star break he had his problem with his shot, scoring 16 a night, hitting 31.6 percent from three and a 49.3 true shooting percentage. He can defend the three but performs offensively better as a four. Talking to teams around the league, they expect the Magic will match any offer, but another team who believes in the high-flying Gordon may try to poach him with a max deal (it would probably take that to get Orlando to balk, and the new management team may well match that anyway).

3. Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers). The Lakers like Julius Randle and how he’s developed into a bull of a player — he’s strong, attacks the basket, and can be the definition of “bully ball” as he pushes his way to the rim. Randle averaged 16.1 points and 8 rebounds a game last season, with an efficient PER of 19.9. He’s also a guy a number of teams are eyeing because they think he can be gotten — if the Lakers spend their cap space on two max free agents (which is the goal, landing both LeBron and Paul George) then they will not have the money to match an offer to Randle. Dallas has been linked to him, but they are looking at bigger name targets and may only come around on Randle if they strike out there; however, other teams could come in quicker with a Randle offer to try to force the Lakers’ hand (Indiana?).

4. Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics). The definition of the kind of player with flaws who ends up on the restricted free agency list: Smart is one of the better defensive two guards in the NBA, he can cover point guards and wings with anybody. He can switch, he plays with a high motor and gets loose balls, he can get steals. But on the other end of the court, you can help off him and not guard him on the perimeter, daring him to shoot. Boston values him in the $12-$14 million a year range, he thinks he deserves more than that. If another team agrees with him and comes in with a big offer in the higher teens, it will be interesting to see if Danny Ainge lets a key emotional part of his young team walk.

5. Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors). He just came in third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting because he was the face and emotional leader of the best bench unit in the NBA last season. VanVleet has said he wants to return to Toronto, and Raptors head man Masai Ujiri has called keeping him one of the team’s highest priorities. The question is at what price? Likely at least $10 million a year, maybe a couple million more than that. If another team comes in hot and goes higher than that the Raptors may have to rethink their position, but that’s not likely. It’s hard to picture a deal not getting done.

6. Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks). Is there a team out there willing to gamble that Parker can get back to his old form? He’s an incredibly versatile scorer, but he has had two ACL surgeries now, and when Parker came back last season he was solid to good, but not the 20-point-a-game guy he had been before. That scoring made up for his poor defense in the past. The Parker/Giannis Antetokounmpo pairing is not the frontline cornerstone of the future in Milwaukee, but they would like to keep him. A number of teams, including Sacramento, have been linked to him, but to get him away from the Bucks a team is going to have to come in with a big offer. That money may not be out there for Parker right now.

7. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls). He’s got a world of potential, but his game is based on athleticism and he is coming off an ACL surgery, then had to be shut down last season with knee tendonitis. If he can get back to his old form and improve his defense, LaVine would be one of the better young two-guards in the league, a guy Chicago wanted in the Jimmy Butler trade. But will he? The injury and questions may keep teams from coming in with the max or near-max offer it would likely take to poach him away from Chicago, but as teams strike out on other options it’s something to watch. Most likely LaVine and the Bulls find some middle ground and get a deal done.

8. Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers). For a couple of seasons now, he has been the inside to the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum outside in Portland, and last season he averaged 14.3 points, and 9 rebounds a game with a very efficient 19.2 PER. However, he’s not consistent, and with the growing emergence of Zach Collins the Trail Blazers may want to consider what they are willing to spend on Nurkic. That said, there are rumors around the league that Portland and Nurkic have a handshake deal in place already, it just can’t be signed until July 6. Maybe. But if a team was looking for a solid big man they could potentially steal with a healthy contract, Nurkic could suddenly find himself with options.

9. Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs). “Slo-mo” is a crafty pick-and-roll ball handler and a long, switchable defender, he’s got an unorthodox game that fits well with what the Spurs will do, but would it work as well with another team? He averaged 8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists this past season. Where he fits in with the Spurs ties into the bigger questions about the Spurs direction and what happens with Kawhi Leonard, but in a tight financial market is there another team that has the resources to come in hard and get Anderson? The two sides likely will work out a deal to keep him a Spur, but it’s something to watch.

10. Rodney Hood (Cleveland Cavaliers). No player has cost himself as much money in the past year as Hood. He went into last season as the expected go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz, and by the end of the season couldn’t get off the bench in Cleveland. Throw in some malcontent moments in the locker room, and teams will be hesitant. That said, 6’8” players who can score and defend are limited, so there will be interest (New Orleans is one rumor), and while the Cavaliers may want to keep him they will be focused on the LeBron situation to start free agency, and that outcome will dictate their moves after. A team may be able to slide in their and get Hood away from them.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Three things to Know: Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

We are officially nine days away from the NBA trade deadline, and the rumors and transactions tend to pick up speed when the calendar flips to February. Let’s round up the latest trade talk around the league, starting with the fact that this trade deadline may be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

• This is shaping up to be a dud trade deadline. Trade chatter has picked up in the past couple of weeks, but those talks do not seem to be gaining traction in most cases. Blame the play-in tournament and compact standings — teams that see a path to the postseason are less likely to be sellers. And, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Monday on NBA Countdown, “I also think there’s more of a reluctance than ever to put 1st round picks for players.”

• If you want an action-packed deadline, you are begging the Toronto Raptors to become sellers (if not, the best player traded could be Jae Crowder). The Raptors change that in an instant if they make a player such as Fred VanVleet, or especially someone like Pascal Siakam, available. However, right now when teams call they are being told Toronto is going to make its decision on how to approach the deadline — sell, stand pat or buy — closer to the Feb. 9 date. (The Raptor most likely to be traded, whatever they decide, is Gary Trent Jr.)

• If the Raptors do jump in and decide to trade multiple players, the Knicks will be at the front of the line for O.G. Anunoby (a very Thibodeau-style player). That said, there will be a lot of interest in the defensive wing, and the price to get him will start at a couple of first-round picks.

• Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was crystal clear Monday: Myles Turner is off the trade market. (His two-year contract extension made that kind of obvious, although technically he could be traded.)

• The Milwaukee Bucks may be the frontrunner in the Jae Crowder sweepstakes, they are the only team given permission by the Suns to talk to the disgruntled forward, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The sides are still working out the parameters of a deal, but it will not include Grayson Allen, Phoenix isn’t interested.

• The Sacramento Kings — who sit third in the West and look sure to break their 16-year playoff slump, but don’t have the defense to be a serious threat in the postseason — are monitoring to see if Philadelphia makes defensive wing Matisse Thybulle available in a trade, according to Marc Stein.

Dallas is all in on finding a second star to go with Luka Dončić. Good luck with that, as noted above there is not a star on the market. However, the Mavericks are open to throwing in Dorian Finney-Smith in the right package to get a star, something they rebuffed when teams called before.

• There is increasing buzz that neither the Hawks’ John Collins nor the Pistons’ Bojan Bogdanovic will be traded. The new front office in Atlanta led by Landry Fields is higher on Collins as a long-term fit in Atlanta (even if Collins doesn’t feel that way) and is more likely to keep him than trade him. The Pistons are keeping their price high on Bogdanovic — an unprotected first-round pick — because they would be happy to keep him for next season, and have told the player precisely that.

Denver is very open to trading second-year point guard Bones Hyland for some defensive help, to the point Stein said he’s one of the most likely players to be traded now (clashing with your coach over playing time will speed your trip out the door).

• There are a lot of teams watching the Timberwolves waiting to see if Jaden McDaniels becomes available. The Pacers, Spurs, Raptors and Jazz are among the interested teams.

2) Luka Dončić returns to court, drops 53 on Pistons in win

Don’t make Luka Dončić angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The Pistons bench, led by assistant coach Jerome Allen, started chirping at Dončić from the opening tip, Dončić chirped back and admitted after the game the trash talk got him going. The result was a 53-point night in his return after missing a game with a tweaked ankle.

The list of players who have had five or more 50+ point games in their first five seasons in the league now consists of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Luka Dončić (with four of Luka’s coming this season).

For Dallas, the win moves them up to sixth in the crowded West right now and out of the play-in (a place they expected to be all season). For Detroit, trade target Bogdanovic scored 29 points while Saddiq Bey added 18.

3) Kings’ De'Aaron Fox is clutch again, leads team to OT win

De’Aaron Fox is unquestionably one of the frontrunners to win the NBA’s new NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award (which the NBA league office not-so-helpfully defined as the player who “best comes through for his teammates in the clutch”). Fox leads the NBA in total clutch points scored (in the last five minutes of a game within five points) with 119, and is shooting an impressive 60% in those minutes. (If you’re curious, the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan is second in points scored in the clutch and Dončić is third.)

That was evident on Monday night when Fox took control of the Kings’ offense late, started getting to the rim and creating out of that, scoring 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, leading the Kings to an overtime win on the road against the Timberwolves.

In the overtime it was a lot of Trey Lyles for Sacramento, he scored eight of his 11 points in OT, playing because Domantas Sabonis had fouled out.

Anthony Edwards has been making a leap in recent weeks and scored 33 on Monday, the fifth time in the last six games he has scored 30+. However, he is still learning hard lessons and had six turnovers, mostly when facing double teams down the stretch.

“He’s drawing a big crowd,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, via the Associated Press. “For the most part, he’s trying to make the right play. Maybe he needs to see it a little earlier.”