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Top 20 free agents still on the market

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There wasn’t much money available in the free agent market this season, and that message got through to players — they were grabbing the cash in a Piranha-like feeding frenzy starting on July 1. More than 50 players agreed to contracts in the first five days of free agency, and more than half of those were one-year contracts.

That’s bad news for anyone without a chair as the music stops — there is not much money out there for the guys still on the free agent market. Restricted free agents, in particular, have found the market dry and now have almost no leverage (every player can’t use the Kings as leverage, although they may try).

Those restricted free agents dominate the top of our list of the 20 best players still available as of Friday morning. If your team is looking to round out their roster, these are they guys they are considering, and most are going to sign for a lot less than they expected.

1. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets). He’s a max or near max player but there have been no offers for the restricted free agent because Rockets GM Daryl Morey made it clear he will match any offer and bring Capela back. That has left Capela with no leverage. Capela averaged 13.9 points, and 10.8 rebounds a game last season (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. Houston needs to make a fair offer, low-ball him and he can play for the qualifying offer then walk as a free agent in a year.

2. Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics). He’s frustrated that no offers sheets have come in that would force the Celtics to match (he’s a restricted free agent), and “hurt and disgusted” by the fact the Celtics have not not made a big bid (the two sides, have talked, despite reports). Boston is letting the market set the price, and Smart isn’t seeing what he expected. Smart is one of the better defensive two guards in the league who can guard one through three. 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. He wanted more than the $12 million a year or so the Celtics had offered, now he’s likely going to take a lot less.

3. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls). UPDATE: He was the one restricted free agent able to use the Sacramento Kings as leverage — he signed a four-year, $80 million offer sheet with the Kings. The Bulls decided to match it, so he remains in Chicago. LaVine has 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. It’s a concern, but if healthy he has the tools to be a quality two guard in the NBA.

4. Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks). Coming off two ACL surgeries, interest in Parker has been lukewarm (the Kings reportedly have had talks, but nothing came of them yet). He’s a versatile scorer who was a 20-point-a-game guy before the second surgery. That scoring made up for his poor defense in the past. Expect the Bucks to keep him, the only question is at what price and for how many years (Parker may want a short contract to prove himself and get back out on the market).

5. Isaiah Thomas (Los Angeles Lakers). His fall from near max player to today has been hard to watch (or imagine from when he was with the Celtics). However, the combination of his hip injury that sidelined him for the first half of last season, and perceived attitude problems in Cleveland that helped lead to a trade, has teams hesitant. He likely will have to take a one-year deal for a few million — maybe the minimum — and prove he deserves more money.

6. Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers). UPDATE: Nurkic has reached terms on a four-year, $48 million contract to stay in Portland. He’s a solid big man who averaged 14.3 points, and 9 rebounds a game with a very efficient 19.2 PER. While teams have moved away from more traditional centers he provides the inside balance, scoring, defense, and rebounding to allow Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum work on the perimeter. They needed to keep him.

7. Wayne Ellington (Miami Heat). Every team could use more shooting, and Ellington shot 39.2 percent from three last season, so it’s a surprise he’s still on the board. Ellington doesn’t bring much defense, rebounding, or anything else, but if a team is looking for a sniper Ellington can be their guy.

8. Luc Mbah a Moute (Houston Rockets). The switchable wing defender was a key part of the Rockets’ regular season defensive success — the team was 4.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the court last season. Plus he shot 36.4 percent from three. It’s a little surprising there have been no offers, the Rockets would like to bring him back.

9. Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs). The Spurs want to bring him back, but they have a lot of other balls in the air right now, and no other team has stepped up with an offer for the restricted free agent. “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.

10. Jamal Crawford (Minnesota Timberwolves). Even at age 38, he can still get buckets. Not as efficiently as he once did, but the three-time Sixth Man of the Year can still score the rock. He’s also good in the locker room. He opted out in Minnesota and some team is going to get him to bolster their bench (the Warriors have long been rumored with a minimum deal, Crawford is waiting to see if anyone else will offer more).

11. Rodney Hood (Cleveland Cavaliers). Another player (like Isaiah Thomas) who saw his stock fall — 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.He’s 6’8” wing who can get buckets, more than a few teams could use that. Is Cleveland one of them?

12. Brook Lopez (Los Angeles Lakers). He has some versatility, he can shoot the three (34.5 percent) and took 41 percent of his shots from deep last season. Plus, he’s an efficient scorer around the basket, hits the boards hard, and uses his size and length to defend the paint. A lot of teams are not looking for his style of traditional center, but a lot of teams could use him for depth off the bench.

13. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers). This may be too low for him on this list. L.A. liked Harrell, a restricted free agent who found his scoring touch last season and averaged 11 a game for the team. He was very efficient with a PER of 24.7 for the Clippers. Other teams have not made an offer on the restricted free agent because it is assumed the Los Angeles would just match, but he may choose to play for the qualifying offer then hit the open market in a year.

14. Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs). UPDATE: It’s hard to picture, but Parker will be wearing teal on the court next season after reaching a two-year, $10 million deal with Charlotte. Parker admitted it was hard to leave San Antonio, where he has played for 17 seasons, but with the franchise in a state of change he went to the East where he felt wanted and where he could play a bigger role on a team gunning for the playoffs. Parker will backup Kemba Walker (unless Walker gets traded, then…).

15. Michael Beasley (New York Knicks). The man can still get buckets — he averaged 13.2 points per game and shot better than 50 percent overall, plus 39.5 percent from three. He’s not the most focused guy, not much of a defender, but for a mid-level or near-minimum contract coming off the bench he could help a lot of teams.

16. Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat). The real question here is does he retire? If not, if Wade returns, it will be to the Miami Heat for one more season. He’s not chasing a ring with LeBron James (not that the Lakers are winning one next season anyway) or anyone else, he’ll play for the Heat until he hangs it up.

17. Greg Monroe (Boston Celtics). Monroe has game — a below-the-rim game where he can score in the post efficiently and get some boards. Problem is, that’s not what teams want in a center now. He had some value for Boston last season (after falling out of the rotation in Milwaukee) but his style of play has him limited. New Orleans has been rumored, another team could jump in.

18. Kyle O’Quinn (New York Knicks). UPDATE: Literally as this story was going live online, O’Quinn messed it up by accepting a one-year, $4.4 million deal with the Pacers (they are using their room exception, so he got more than the $4.2 million he opted out of with the Knicks. He averaged 7.1 points per game for the Knicks last season, plays within himself, can hit midrange jumpers and can pass.

19. Shabazz Napier (Portland Trail Blazers). The unrestricted free agent had a strong first half of last season and looked like he and his game had grown up, but he struggled after the All-Star break and slid out of the rotation. With Seth Curry in house a return to Portland is unlikely. He should land a deal as a bench point guard somewhere, but for the minimum.

20. Dante Cunningham (Brooklyn Nets). The veteran forward gave Brooklyn and before that New Orleans about minutes and some points (5.7 average) a night last season. He’s not a classic shooter but he can hit a three and will keep defenses honest. Can provide solid depth for a team and a fair price.

Western Conference, NBA Finals predictions: Is another title coming to Los Angeles?

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The NBA season tips-off tonight night, which leaves us time for one last thing:

Our Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and yesterday we laid out who we thought would win the East. Today we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Western Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Denver
2. Utah
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Houston
5. L.A.Lakers
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. San Antonio
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Philadelphia

I’ve never gone into a season less confident in my predictions. For example, I think Dallas has a very good shot at the eight seed (maybe Sacramento, too), but I simply cannot pick against the Spurs. The order of these teams could easily shift, the West will be so close that just losing a star for a few weeks to a sprained ankle could dramatically change a team’s seeding. I’m comfortable that systems and continuity will keep Denver and Utah at the top of the regular season standings, but the playoffs will feel completely different. The Los Angeles teams are better built for the postseason than anyone else (although I think Utah has a chance to crash the party). I trust the depth and the wing defense of the Clippers more than the Lakers, so Doc Rivers will get back to playing in June. For the Finals, I’ll take the Clippers over the Sixers, but I don’t say that with a lot of confidence.

Dan Feldman:

1. Houston
2. Denver
3. L.A. Clippers
4. L.A. Lakers
5. Utah
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Milwaukee

There’s a rare divergence between teams prepared for the regular season and teams prepared for the playoffs, which makes this prediction difficult enough. Adding to the complications: The West is so deep, leaving few postseason locks. For some teams, a few moderate breaks in either direction could make the difference between making the Western Conference finals and missing the playoffs entirely.

The last playoff spot was an extremely tough call between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Kings weren’t that far behind, either. Kawhi Leonard just showed an ability to get through the regular season and bring elite production to a deep postseason run. LeBron James has done it the previous several years. That’s why the Clippers and Lakers get so much benefit of the doubt. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis is a better second star than the Clippers’ Paul George, but I have more trust in the Clippers’ depth — from the front office to the coaching staff to other players.

Dane Delgado:
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.

Everyone is picking the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, and for good reason. This is not just a team that lumped together several superstars trying to make a playoff push. This time around, it’s a bit different. Los Angeles was already a solid team before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived and their most important players from last year — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley — are all back. Doc Rivers, whose reputation as a coach was in question heading into last season, has solidified is legacy simply by what he could squeeze out of this the Clippers team last season. If L.A. can make it to the Western Conference Finals this year, it would not surprise anyone. The real question will be health. Leonard has shown he is willing to battle through various ailments to perform on the highest stage, but George’s shoulders are a real concern. Still, if you were placing bets on the best team in the west, it makes sense to go with the team that’s been able to stay intact while at the same time adding to generational superstars. It may be a bridge too far to pick the Clippers to win the NBA championship in 2020, but it’d be a safe move at this juncture to slot them in as the West champs.

Michael Jordan says Stephen Curry is not a Hall of Famer, yet

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Three-time NBA Champion. Two-time MVP. Six-time All-NBA. Six-time All-Star. Scoring champion. And the best pure shooter the game has ever seen, a player whose style helped revolutionize the way the game is played. A player idolized and imitated by youth on blacktop courts around the globe.

Even if he quit the sport today and walked away, Stephen Curry is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer…

Unless you ask Michael Jordan.

Jordan just did a few interviews around the opening of a medical clinic he paid for in Charlotte to help the underserved, and Hoops & Brews caught this gem in Jordan’s interview on NBC’s The Today Show (h/t Bleacher Report).

Yes, he is.

Technically Curry can’t be let into the club until five years after he retires, and at age 31 he’s got a few more good years in him — including this one, where he could have an MVP-level season. However, in practical terms, he is in. It’s not close. Done deal. Move along, nothing to see here.

It’s good the NBA games are starting because we need things to talk about other than this silliness.

 

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”

 

Doc Rivers says Los Angeles Lakers counting Minnesota titles “actually bugs me a little bit”

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Los Angeles is a Lakers town.

The Dodgers can get close to energizing the city the same way, although Dodger fans are a little cautious after the past few playoffs. The Rams and Chargers are in a league that ignored Los Angeles for a couple of decades, lost a couple of generations of fans, and it’s going to take time to win them back. The Kings’ following is passionate but not massive (same with the two MLS teams in town).

The Lakers are the team that fathers take their sons to see, like their fathers did before them. The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles…

About that, it’s really 11 in Los Angeles. The first five carried over from Minnesota (where the name Lakers makes more sense). That kind of bothers’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, something he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated in a story previewing the Clippers’ season.

“It is a Lakers town. I’m good with that. I have no issues with that,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told The Undefeated from his Staples Center office recently. “They have how many titles that they’ve won here? You know, they claim them all, but they only won a certain amount here. I will say that. That actually bugs me a little bit. … Having said that, that’s generations of loyalty.

“I look at us as, we’re creating our own movement. … We’re not trying to take away shine from the other. We’ve got our own thing going. I never thought we could get our own thing going. That was what I was so frustrated with being here. And now we got our own thing going.”

Carrying titles over is common… and controversial. Should the Dodgers be able to count Brooklyn titles? It feels wrong to think Oklahoma City could count Seattle’s titles. Should Sacramento be able to count the 1951 Rochester title? Personally, the Lakers carrying Minnesota’s doesn’t seem a big issue, but you know Rivers is going to take a shot at the Lakers when he can.

That hallway rivalry at Staples Center is building.

Few things seem to irritate Lakers fans like the Clippers putting posters of players over the Lakers’ title banners at Staples Center for Clippers home games. Lakers fans think of Staples as their building — and it might not exist but for the draw of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. However, Staples is owned by AEG (whose primary owner is Philip Anschutz, who owns the NHL’s Kings), not the Lakers. It’s a hockey building.

Doc is right about one thing: The Clippers have their own thing going.

The Clippers, on paper, are the better Los Angeles team and better built for the playoffs with versatile wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have more trusted depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Tuesday night’s Clippers’ home opener will go how it goes — LeBron James and Anthony Davis will go for the Lakers, Paul George is out for weeks still for the Clippers — but a playoff battle between these teams this season could be epic.

And decide who gets to hang the next banner in Staples Center.