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.

Gilbert Arenas thinks Carmelo Anthony should join the Lakers

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The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts on their roster and now need to go out and add another traditional center to the mix after DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL. (Dwight Howard is in consideration for that slot.) The Lakers eventually can get a Disabled Player Exception for Cousins (saying he is not likely to play this season) to create another roster spot.

Gilbert Arenas thinks Carmelo Anthony should go to the Lakers as a 15th man.

Here is what Arenas told Landon Buford in a phone interview:

I remember the reports named Houston as a possible destination for him to land. I said ‘Hell no’ don’t go there it is going a disaster and it is not going to work. You just for the first time in your career played with two ball-dominant players and it made you the third option. So, to go right back to a team that is going to make you again the third option is a disaster.

Go to the Lakers where you might come off the bench, but you are going to be the first option in the fourth quarter because that is what they are going to need from Melo. They need a 6’9 guy that can open up the floor, play your iso basketball, and that helps the rest of the Lakers. LeBron passes to everyone else, and you play iso basketball it all works. He goes to Houston and after ten games he is gone. Melo needs to me in a position where the last five minutes of the game he is the go-to guy. If you are not the go-to guy what are you on the court for because don’t have any other skill to be used. You are a fourth-quarter last five-minute iso guy that is your skill.

A few things here:

On a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Arenas thinks ‘Melo would be the go-to guy in the last five minutes of a game? Um… no. Not exactly how that would work.

The reason Anthony is not on a roster is not a question of skills or if he can still get buckets — he can, no doubt — but if he could accept a role and do that on a team for 15 minutes a night coming off the bench? That’s where his game is now but is that where his head is? Would Anthony be happy in a Sixth Man role, or maybe a seventh or eighth man role? Anthony has said he can do whatever is needed to help a team, but that’s not what he showed in Houston last season. If teams believed Anthony could accept a bench role and not be disruptive he’d have an NBA contract by now.

Anthony will eventually get picked up. Somewhere. And if LeBron pushed for it that could happen in Los Angeles. A team will bet on him because he can still get buckets and at the end of the day putting the ball through the basket is the name of the game. But it’s just hard right now to see what team around the league is going to make that bet. Things will shift and some team will, but for now, Anthony will have to wait.

Lakers reportedly interested in Dwight Howard as possible Boogie Cousins replacement

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DeMarcus Cousins was a big part of the Lakers’ plans this season, but he is now out until next year with a torn ACL.

That leaves a big hole at center — the Lakers don’t want to play Anthony Davis extended minutes at the five — so the Lakers are looking at the free agent center market. Which is pretty slim.

One guy they want to talk to is former Laker Dwight Howard, currently on the Grizzlies roster (but expected to be bought out), reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The first question to think about here: Who benefits from this report being out there? I’m in no way questioning the validity of the report — Charania is one of the best-connected reporters around the NBA — but things are told/leaked to media members with perception and spin in mind. In this case, who benefits from this being out there? Draw your own conclusions, it’s just something to consider.

Howard’s last time in a Laker jersey did not exactly go well. In the same way the Titanic’s maiden voyage did not exactly go well. Howard rushed his return from back surgery to join a perceived superteam (with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant) but never got healthy and right, and it showed on the court. Plus, Howard’s “I want to have fun, joke around, and eat Skittles” approach to the game at that time clashed with Kobe’s “I am Batman” approach. Howard became the scapegoat in Los Angeles for a disaster of a season.

Some Lakers fans will not want to hear this but… Howard is not a bad option to seriously consider. For the three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18 Howard was a solid, above-average NBA center, who efficiently averaged low 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, plus was a big body on defense. Most importantly, he played at least 71 games in all of those seasons, he was healthy and reliable. Not great, certainly nothing near the Defensive Player of the Year and perennial MVP candidate he was early in his career (the guy the Lakers thought they were getting the first time around), but a solid NBA big who could play 28-30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use right now.

However, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season following another back surgery and some hamstring issues. He was not healthy. The Lakers have to seriously assess Howard’s health because both LeBron James and Davis are going to get plenty of DNP-Rest nights and the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes. Can Howard be that guy? Do the Lakers want to bet he can be?

Joakim Noah, who has had his health issues but impressed a lot of people around the league with his solid 41 games for Memphis the second half of last season, also is mentioned in the report. Noah is a free agent, brings a defensive mindset, is a good passer, and will not demand touches on the offensive end.

Also on the free-agent market is Kenneth Faried, who played well for 25 games in Houston last season when Clint Capela was out. Faried hustles, can get buckets (he averaged 12 points a game with the Rockets) but is not much of a defender at this point in his career.

Joseph Tsai to buy rest of Nets, Barclays Arena for $3.4 billion

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NEW YORK — Joe Tsai has agreed to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals that two people with knowledge of the details say are worth about $3.4 billion.

Terms were not disclosed Friday, but the people told The Associated Press that Tsai is paying about $2.35 billion for the Nets – a record for a U.S. pro sports franchise – and nearly $1 billion in a separate transaction for the arena. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the transactions have not yet been completed.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. He already had purchased a 49 percent stake in the team from Prokhorov in 2018, with the option to become controlling owner in four years.

Instead, he pushed up that timeline for full ownership of a team on the rise after signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July.

Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, became the NBA’s first non-North American owner in 2010 and oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years later. He spent big in the first couple years after the move in a quest to chase a championship, but the team soon became one of the worst in the NBA before rallying to return to the playoffs last season.

“It has been an honor and a joy to open Barclays Center, bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and watch them grow strong roots in the community while cultivating global appeal,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “The team is in a better place today than ever before and I know that Joe will build on that success, while continuing to deliver the guest experience at Barclays Center that our fans, employees, and colleagues in the industry enjoy.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of September and is subject to approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

That would put Tsai, a native of Taiwan, in full control of the team by the time the Nets head to China to play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October. That comes at the start of a season of renewed excitement for the Nets, who just three seasons ago won an NBA-worst 20 games but are set to make a big move up the standings after landing two of the best players on the market when free agency opened.

“I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago. He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank,” Tsai said. “I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Brett Yormark, the CEO of BSE Global, which manages the team and the arena, will oversee the transition before leaving for a new role.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.