Best free agent left, Clint Capela, getting pinched without suitors to push Rockets

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Timing is everything.

NBA players are learning that lesson — and, some league officials would suggest learning the cost of not smoothing in the salary cap spike of 2016 — the hard way. Players are looking at the ridiculous contracts of two summers ago (Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, Bismack Biyombo, Luol Deng, etc.), knowing they contribute more than those guys, then looking at the money available today, and frustratedly taking what they can.

Nobody left on the board is getting pinched like Clint Capela, who is now stuck with a choice of two options he does not like.

The Rockets’ center is the best free agent (albeit restricted) still unsigned. He averaged of 13.9 points, and 10.8 rebounds a game (with a 24.5 PER), plus 1.9 blocks a night last season, but that sells his contributions short. Capela is central to Houston’s top-10 defense and a perfect offensive complement to James Harden and Chris Paul, he is an ideal fit as a modern NBA center.

With that, Capela wants to be paid like one of the top centers in the league — his max deal would have been five-years, $148 million from Houston.

Problem is the Rockets wanted to save some money, and Capela was a restricted free agent in a tight market. The Rockets made an offer on July 1, but it was well short of what Capela hoped to see.

That offer well below $20 million a season — it’s less than the Bulls will pay either Zach LaVine or Jabari Parker next season, and anyone sane would rather have Capela than either of those two. The Rockets offer is basically Ian Mahinmi money.

One problem for Capela is there were a lot of centers on the market — not ones as good as Capela, but ones that came in for much less money. With a lot of teams not having cap space and some up against the luxury tax, they couldn’t make offers, and the few that could looked elsewhere (figuring the Rockets would just match any offer anyway).

The other problem for Capela now is no team has much cap room left, the Kings have the most at $11 million, which they can get up to $14-15 million or so, but that’s less than the Rockets’ offer. Besides, the Kings are inclined to take on a bad contract with a sweetener pick/player, not spend on another free agent at this point.

That leaves Capela with two choices:

1) Sign the qualifying offer, play one season for $4.7 million, and become an unrestricted free agent next season.

2) Sign the Rockets’ offer, get paid life-changing money (even if it’s less than you think you’re worth) and continue to contend in Houston for years.

He doesn’t like either.

The early buzz was Capela was leaning toward taking the qualifying offer. However, he has made about $6 million in his NBA career so far, making $85 million is hard to walk away from. That is more than life-changing money, that is generational changing money. Will he risk injury and the vagaries of the market to make what he feels he is worth next summer?

Capela does not have to decide now, he can let this drag out through the summer. Maybe that pressures the Rockets to up or alter their offer.

Either way, it’s the biggest free agent decision left on the board, and it’s not an easy one.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”