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Looking ahead: Top free 10 free agents in the wild summer of 2019

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There was one big theme NBA’s summer of 2018: The one-year contract.

Nearly half of the contracts signed by free agents took either a one-year contract or a two-year deal that gives them the ability to opt out after one year. Why? Because 2018 was a very tight financial market with only a few teams having cap space to spend and a lot of teams up against the luxury tax (thanks to the cap-spike spending binge of 2016). However, look ahead to 2019 at least half the teams in the NBA are expected to have $20 million or more to spend. Agents and players see the potential another 2016-like summer of paydays, with teams spending big, and everyone wants to cash in.

I mean everyone — there are 450 players in the NBA and nearly 200 will be free agents next summer. As one team executive told me at Summer League, it’s going to be a saturated market. Not just the elite players but a couple of teirs down will get paid as well, however, many others will be disappointed with what is left on the table when it’s their turn.

The summer of 2019 is going to be wild, and we’re looking at the best players on the market next summer.

One non-free agent thing to watch in July 2019: The Pelicans will be able to offer Anthony Davis a super-max five year contract extension in the $235 million ballpark (depending on the cap in a couple of years). Does he sign it and stay committed to New Orleans? If not the jockeying for trades will come fast and furiously.

Here are the top free agents of 2019 broken out into three categories, only the last — the guys with the most potential to change teams — have been put into the official top 10.

Free agents who are not not going anywhere:

Kevin Durant (player option): He may not choose to opt out after just singing a two-year contract with the Warriors, but KD has the right to. Either way, nobody around the league thinks he will be on the move.

Klay Thompson: He is the target of fan bases around the league, and on paper he is the one of the Warriors’ big four they could come closest to replicating the production of with other players. Thing is, Thompson doesn’t want to leave and the Warriors don’t want him to go. Thompson is a different cat, not driven by the “me-first” ego of some who would want their own team or a larger role (or more marketing focus on a less crowded team). Thompson’s priprity is winning and the Warriors are doing that. Thompson has talked about taking a discount for the Warriors and likely will, and they will re-sign him.

The Restricted free agent big names:

Kristaps Porzingis: The Knicks and KP will work out the terms of a max extension before the season starts. Even if something went wrong and he went to restricted free agency, New York would still match any offer. He is not going anywhere.

Karl-Anthony Towns: The Timberwolves and Towns are already talking max extension (that offer is on the table but Towns wants to talk to management first), that contract will get done. That may signal more about the future direction of the franchise and who will be on their way out, but no way the Timberwolves do not get this done.

Terry Rozier: He is one quality rotation player that could be gone from Boston due to saving financially in the future. If he is not traded this season (a real possibility) he may be someone who can be poached next summer.

Other restricted free agents include D'Angelo Russell and Kelly Oubre.

The 10 biggest name remaining free agents:

1) Kawhi Leonard (player option): He will opt out and the Lakers are considered the frontrunners. However, Toronto has a season to woo him, and next summer the Knicks, Sixers and other teams will come calling (as long as he stays healthy and proves he is still close to the MVP-level player of a couple of years ago). Leonard will have options.

2) Kyrie Irving (player option): Danny Ainge traded the much-desired Brooklyn pick for Irving and sees him as the kind of shot creator and scorer the Celtics need with all their versatile talents at other positions. Ainge will want to pay the man, and winning does matter. But if Irving and the guy next on this list want to team up, as they reportedly have discussed, there will be teams that can absorb both contracts.

3) Jimmy Butler (player option): He is frustrated in Minnesota and is looking to get out — he could get traded during the season, but even if he stays a lot of things will have to change for him to want to stay. With the Timberwolves maxing out Towns, Butler seems the man on the way out the door. He will have options from Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between.

4) Kevin Love (player option): Update: Love has agreed to sign a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavaliers (beyond the one remianing year on his contract. So, it took all of a few hours for this list to become dated, you can scratch him off the free agent list. Love scored 17.6 points and grabbed 9.3 rebounds a game last season, and he shot 41 percent from three. There aren’t many bigs as good or who fit the modern game like Love.

5) Al Horford (player option): The versatile big man may not opt out (he is scheduled to make $30 million), but if he does the Celtics will keep him — he is the glue that binds this roster. His ability to anything well provides the flexibility Brad Stevens needs, and Danny Ainge knows that. The two sides could talk contract extension as well.

6) Kemba Walker: The All-Star point guard has said he wants to stay a Hornet, and right now new GM Mitch Kupchak (on orders from owner Michael Jordan) say they want to keep him and compete, not rebuild. However, a lot can change in a year and a lot of teams with money looking for better play at the point guard spot will come calling — Walker will have options. Will he take any of them, or stay in Charlotte?

7) DeAndre Jordan: He is poised for a bounce-back season in Dallas (not that 12 points per game on 64.5 percent shooting plus 15.2 rebounds per game and a 20.2 PER is bad) — he missed Chis Paul feeding him the rock, and now he will have Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic throwing lobs. Jordan is one of the few old-school style centers who can still be a major contributor in the NBA, and after this season he will be looking for a payday and security. He will want multiple years. Dallas may give it to him (depending on how this season goes) but there are other teams with quality point guards who could use him.

8) Goran Dragic (player option): He will be 33 when the next free agency period roles around, and his player option is for $19.2 million, but he may seek the security of multiple years (in Miami or elsewhere). He is still a dangerous pick-and-roll man with the ball in his hands (it accounted for 55 percent of his possessions last season) and he scored 17.3 points per game, dished out 4.8 assists, and shot 37 percent from there. There will be demand for his services if he wants to test the market, or he could stay in Miami.

9) Marc Gasol (player option): He will b e 34 next July, his skills have been in decline for a couple of seasons now, players at his position are finding it hard to get paid, and he has a $25.6 million player option. He may well pick that up. If not, he still is a big man who can play in the modern NBA — he averaged 17.2 points per game last season, shot 34.1 percent from three, is strong on the boards and is a big body in the paint. He will have suitors, just not as many as he might expect. He has said before he does not plan to leave Memphis.

10) DeMarcus Cousins: This could be too low for him on this list. If he bounces back from his ruptured Achilese and is 90 percent of who he was before — and if he fits in as a good teammate in Golden State, maybe helps them win a ring — he will have a number of teams clamoring for his services (and he will make a lot more than the $5.3 million he is getting this season). That said, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury is not good, so there is a wait and see attitude about his free agency next summer.

Donovan Mitchell goes off for 19 in fourth quarter, Jazz hold off elimination with win

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This game just felt different — the Utah Jazz were playing with a passionate desperation we had not seen from them all series. Down 3-0 to Houston, Utah did not want to be swept out of the playoffs on their home court. The Jazz defended better, got a big night from Jae Crowder (14 points in the first quarter alone), and were knocking down shots.

But Utah could not pull away. Houston was always within striking distance.

Until the fourth quarter.

That’s when Utah went on a 12-1 run early, sparked by Donovan Mitchell who had 19 in the fourth, and the Jazz created some separation and held on for the 107-91 win.

Mitchell finished with 31 on the night.

Mitchell had some help. Crowder finished with 23 points, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists.

“We were okay until the last quarter… again, they had more of a desperation than we had,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said.

James Harden got his, 30 points on 19 shots, in part because he went 6-of-12 from three. Chris Paul had 23 as well. All the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night. In the fourth, the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

For the Rockets this is a blown chance to get more rest. The Warriors play Wednesday night in Game 5 of their series, if the Rockets had closed the series out they could have had a little more rest. Instead, they also now have a Game 5 Wednesday.

For the Jazz, this was a matter of pride, they finally found what it would take for them to beat the Rockets. It was their most energized defensive performance of the series, and the shots were falling. The series is not in doubt — no team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series — but the Jazz showed the fight and resilience we have come to expect from a Quin Snyder coached team.

Will that be enough Wednesday night is another question.

Phoenix Suns fire coach Igor Kokoskov

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Following a 19-63 season where the man who hired him — GM Ryan McDonough — was already shown the door, there was a lot of speculation that coach Igor Kokoskov was next on the chopping block.

That happened Monday night, the Suns decided to move on from Kokoskov.

“After extensive evaluation, I determined it is best to move in a different direction with our head coaching position,” said Suns general manager James Jones in a statement. “I want to thank Igor for his work this past season and wish him the best with his future endeavors.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN added some detail.

The Suns recently hired Jeff Bower as their senior vice president of basketball operations. Bower gave Monty Williams his first head coaching job, hiring him to coach the Hornets back when Bower was the GM there.

Williams will have his second interview with the Lakers next week. Williams is rumored in some quarters to be the frontrunner for the Los Angeles job (he and Tyronn Lue will have second interviews coming), the Suns are starting this race from behind but do have a relationship there.

Kokoskov was the first European born person to be a head coach in the NBA. He was Luka Doncic‘s national team coach, but the Suns took Deandre Ayton No. 1 (reportedly at the urging of owner Robert Saver).

Kokoskov was handed a young roster that lacked a point guard or solid veteran leader, so it’s no surprise the Suns and Kokoskov got off to a slow start, going 4-18 and looking a mess. However, the team improved, Kelly Oubre Jr. was added, and the Suns went an improved 8-15 after the All-Star break, including wins against the Bucks and Warriors. Devin Booker improved, Deandre Ayton was growing, and the team showed improvement. That said, there were questions about Kokoskov’s rotations and communication with players.

Phoenix, with meddling owner Robert Sarver at the helm, is known for turnover and instability — whoever is hired next will be the team’s seventh head coach in eight years. This move just fits right in with the perception.

 

Bucks win first playoff series in 18 years, give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak in NBA history

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DETROIT – Between on-court postgame interviews, Giannis Antetokounmpo took a pit stop at the Bucks’ bench for a drink. He appeared to need a few moments to catch his breath, so Fox Sports Wisconsin reporter Katie George asked whether he was ready.

Antetokounmpo nodded as if he didn’t give it a second thought.

Of course he was ready.

Antetokounmpo was ready for everything tonight.

He scored 41 points – the most so far by anyone this postseason – and blocked four shots to lead the Bucks to a 127-104 Game 4 win over the Pistons. By sweeping Detroit, Milwaukee got its first playoff-series victory in 18 years.

“Where we were and where we are right now,” Antetokounmpo said, “it’s been an unbelievable journey.”

The Bucks advance to face the Celtics in the second round, an awaited rematch of last year’s first-round series. But Milwaukee cared far more about its opening round than most 60-win No. 1 seeds do.

Every NBA MVP besides Kevin Garnett, who didn’t advance until his ninth year, won a playoff series in his first five seasons. Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to win MVP this year, just won his first series in his sixth season.

The wait has been even longer for Milwaukee, which ends the fourth-longest playoff-series-victory drought of all-time at 17 seasons:

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The Bucks left no doubt, beating Detroit by 35, 21, 16 and 23. This is just the second four-game sweep with every game won by at least 15 points in NBA history (Celtics over Rockets in 1980).

The sweep gives the Pistons sole possession of the longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time, 14 games:

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Detroit’s streak includes 2009 and 2016 sweeps by the Cavaliers, meaning the Pistons have now gone 11 straight seasons without winning a playoff game. That’s one of the longest such droughts of all-time (record during drought listed):

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Detroit just had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who drew 16 fouls Monday. The most impressive came as he rose to dunk on Andre Drummond, withstood contact and shifted to make a circus shot:

The play left his teammates in awe.

Eric Bledsoe: “I had to tell him, ‘Bro, you don’t understand how athletic you’ve been all season and finessing at the rim.’ That one, it was just unbelievable. It was unbelievable, man.”

Pat Connaughton: “There are sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head at some of the things that he can do. … I think the nickname ‘Freak’ is for a reason.”

Nikola Mirotic: “It was just amazing watching him tonight”

The Bucks will have a little time to lock back in.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals. It’ll be the first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007.

As Antetokounmpo repeatedly said in the locker room after tonight’s game, “I can’t wait.”

Report: Luke Walton sued for sexual assault

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Luke Walton is being sued by a female reporter claiming sexual assault from a hotel room incident that dates back to before he was hired as the Lakers’ head coach (he was recently let go from that position and is currently the coach of the Sacramento Kings).

Kelli Tennant was writing a book and wanted Walton to write the forward, according to a lawsuit obtained by TMZ. The two had a business relationship and she agreed to meet him in a Santa Monica hotel to discuss him writing the forward to the book, according to the report. We’ll let TMZ take it from there:

In the suit, Tennant says when she arrived at Walton’s hotel, he convinced her to come up to his room so they could discuss the book. She claims when they got up to his room, Walton suddenly pinned her to the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body.

In the docs, Tennant claims Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. She claims she screamed for him to stop and tried to free herself, but he held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.

She says he eventually relented and let her get up from the bed, but as she was walking towards the door to leave he grabbed her from behind and again forced his body up against hers.

The lawsuit goes on to say Walton and her would interact after that, because of her job, and he would give her exaggerated hugs, kisses, and would make lewd comments to her.

Walton took over coaching the Lakers for the 2016-17 season. The alleged assault took place while Walton was still an assistant coach with the Warriors, however, some of the comments/actions that made her uncomfortable came later while Walton was with the Lakers.

Walton’s attorney released a statement to Sam Amick of The Athletic.

The Sacramento Kings have made a statement:

“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The Warriors issued this statement:

“We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

The Lakers issued this statement:

“This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”