How 2019 NBA Draft impacted what happens in free agency

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The NBA Draft already had a league-changing impact on free agency.

Or, to be more accurate, the NBA Draft Lottery did. When the Lakers moved up to get the No. 4 pick, it sweetened the offer enough to make the Anthony Davis trade happen. That changed the plans of the Lakers and Pelicans — and to a degree the Celtics, Knicks, and anyone else who thought they had a shot at Davis — heading into the draft and free agency.

That said, many of turning point moments coming this July were completely unaffected by what happened in the Draft. Let’s take a look.

WHAT CHANGED

• The Lakers traded for Davis and now it’s about rounding out the roster. Los Angeles might have landed Davis anyway — his agent, Rich Paul, could not have pulled more levers to try to make that happen (as an agent should for his client) — but the Lakers getting the No. 4 pick put the offer over the top. At the draft, the Lakers also picked up second-rounder Talen Horton-Tucker, who has potential but is not ready to contribute much in the coming season. Now for the Lakers it becomes about how to best build out the roster around Davis and LeBron James: Clear the cap space and chase one more star, such as Kemba Walker; or, use that money to land three players (give or take) in the $7 million to $10 million range to go around the three quality rotation players the Lakers already have (meaning chase players such as Trevor Ariza, Danny Green, J.J. Redick, and others in that range).

One thing on draft night made the timing of the Lakers’ moves clear: With the Pelicans trading the No. 4 pick to Atlanta, is Davis trade will be executed on July 6. The floated of pushing the trade itself back to July 30 to create more Lakers’ cap room to sign players will not happen with another trade now hinged on the Laker/Pelican deal going through. That was agreed to before the trade, if the Pelicans moved the No. 4 pick then the Davis deal got done the first chance it was allowed (July 6). That means the Lakers will have between $24 million and $32 million in cap space. One part of the equation is if Davis waives his $4 million trade bonus. For the Lakers to have the full $32 million in cap space, they need to trade Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner, and Alex Caruso into cap space somewhere and get them off the L.A. books. Expect the Lakers to pull that off in the coming weeks.

• Boston made trades on draft night, but of the slow build, not grand, variety. Kyrie Irving‘s disenfranchisement with Boston — the city, his young teammates, Brad Stevens, clam chowder, pretty much everything — blew up Danny Ainge’s plans. Trading for Davis was off the table, Al Horford isn’t sticking around for this, and the Celtics aren’t quite back to square one there is a reset. Boston made a couple of trades on draft night and ended up with a nice haul of young players — Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters, and the Bucks’ 2020 first-round pick (protected). Danny Ainge will have a new plan, and he has some cap space this summer, but there will be no panic moves.

• The Knicks are on the Plan C. Or D. Or E. Maybe all the way to R at this point. The Knicks dream summer? Win the lottery and get Zion Williamson and pair him with Durant and Irving (or maybe Kemba Walker). Now? They will still chase Durant and remain the reported frontrunners, but there are more teams seriously in the mix, and Durant will not play next season as he rehabs anyway. The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but they are a longshot to land him. Next season in New York may be about seeing how just drafted R.J. Barrett fits with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. It’s not the summer Knicks fans dreamed about.

• What are the Pacers planning? No doubt center Goga Bitadze was the top player on the Pacers’ draft board when they took him No. 18, but it raises a question: What is the plan in Indiana? There have been rumors of them wanting to go with either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis at center, not the platoon we saw last season, and Bitadze gives them some cover for it. The Pacers want to sign or trade for one more good playmaker to go next to Victor Olaidpo, and with Mike Conley now in Utah one target is off the board. Ricky Rubio at the point is a top target, but they have the room to be bolder. They are a team to watch.

WHAT DID NOT CHANGE

• Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power. No one decision this summer will change the landscape of the NBA like Leonard’s — whatever team he chooses instantly becomes a title contender. While the Lakers and Knicks want to get meetings (and may, nobody knows what Leonard’s process will be, exactly) I have heard from sources for almost a year now that those two teams were not mix in a meaningful way, and numerous others have reported that as well. This is a two-team race: Stay with the Raptors and be the favorites in the East, come back to Los Angeles and be a Clipper, turning a 48-win team into a contender. While speculation is rampant, nobody knows which way Leonard himself is leaning, and he has not tipped his (giant) hand. Whatever he chooses, it tips the balance of power between the conferences.

Kevin Durant has to decide where he wants to do his rehab, and eventually play. Durant is a kingmaker just like Leonard, but not in quite the same way because he will miss most or all of next season recovering from his torn Achilles. The Warriors are in the mix, but the Nets (theoretically with Kyrie Irving), Knicks (they also would like to play the Irving card), Clippers, Lakers, and others would like meetings and a chance to make their case. What does Durant want? Not to be recruited. After that, nobody knows because nobody knows how the injury changed his mindset.

• Kyrie Irving has to decide if he wants to go to Brooklyn, the Nets have to decide if they want Irving without Durant. Irving is not the same level of franchise player that Durant and Leonard are — his leadership reputation took a serious hit this past season — but he is still an All-NBA level guard who makes a team much better. The Celtics wanted him for his play and to help win Anthony Davis over after the trade but that plan blew up. The Nets remain the frontrunners to land him, but some in the organization wonder if they want him without Durant. They probably sign him either way — Irving is an elite player, not just bait — but the Nets aren’t the same with just him replacing D'Angelo Russell.

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

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Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.

Bobby Portis says watch out for underrated Knicks, they could make playoffs

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You don’t want a player on your team that heads into the season thinking, “we suck, I just hope we can get to 20 wins and not be embarrassed every night.” Even if that might be the reality for that roster.

Enter Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks. The Wizards let him walk to save money and he has ended up on a Knicks team with a lot of guys who see themselves as underrated: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Julius Randle. Plus New York has young players with a lot to prove — especially after Summer League — in Kevin Knox, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson.

Portis likes this underdog team, he told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

I love being underrated, man. I’m an underdog. I say that every day. We’re the team that’s being counted out right now. People are looking past us. They’re talking about stars going to new teams and this and that, and that’s okay. Everybody on this team has a huge chip on their shoulder. We’re the guys who are always picked second. I think that’s going to make us close. Our practices are going to be top-notch; we’re all going to be competing and that’s going to make us better. We have a lot of dogs on this team, which will help us out as well. Collectively, we all have a chip on our shoulder – a log on our shoulder – so we’re going to go out there and play with an edge. I think that’s great for us.

So… playoffs?

Yeah, for sure, for sure. The naysayers, the haters, the people who are doubting us will say that we’re crazy as hell for saying that. But we have a bunch of guys who are coming in each and every day with that log on their shoulder and that’s going to push us to become a great team. We have a lot of pieces who can play. I think we’re loaded at every position; there are two-to-three players who could start at every position. When you have that much talent, that rises the competitiveness and improves the team as a whole.

That is exactly the attitude you want to see heading into the season.

The Knicks are going to struggle this year, talent wins out in the NBA and the Knicks don’t have enough of it. However, if the goal is to build a culture of gritty players who go play all out and are tough to play against — the cultures the Nets and Clippers developed that drew stars to them — the Knicks are on a decent road. New York didn’t pull a classic Knicks this year and overspend on a couple of second-tier stars when they struck out on the big guns, they went out and got decent players on short contracts. Stay flexible, build a culture.

We’ll see if Portis will be part of that going forward, but he has the right attitude.

Report: Lakers claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.

Big-market teams are licking their chops.

That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.

Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.

It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.

Harden on fit with Westbrook: ‘When you have talent like that, it works itself out’

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It was the question everybody asked about 30 seconds after they heard Russell Westbrook had been traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul (after the initial shock of the deal wore off):

Do Westbrook and Harden, two of the most ball-dominant, isolation heavy players in the NBA, actually fit together?

Harden says yes. Of course, what else is he going to say, but he was earnest about it in comments to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle at the Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event last Friday.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”…

“It works,” Harden said. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

That is essentially is what Mike D’Antoni said, and what Rockets GM Daryl Morey is betting on.

Will Westbrook, and to a lesser degree Harden, be willing to make sacrifices and adjust their games? It is the question that will define the Rockets’ season.

My prediction: The duo works it out on offense and becomes one of the hardest teams to stop in the NBA. They will work it out. However, having to play Harden and Westbrook together on defense for extended stretches will cost Houston in the playoffs earlier than they planned.