Getty Images

Ten things learned on wildest day in NBA history

10 Comments

Insane.

Sunday ended up being the wildest, most frenzied day in NBA history — 48 contracts and $3.1 billion worth of frenzied. Seriously, that is how much money was agreed to in one eight-hour window on Sunday. And that is with a big contract or two left hanging out there.

It was too much to absorb, but after taking a deep breath, here are the 10 things we learned on the first day of NBA Free Agency

1) Kevin Durant wanted to play with his friends more than anything and with that Brooklyn thought it won the day…

Who is the King of New York now?

All season long Durant was linked to the Knicks — some around the league thought it was a done deal — and midway through the year suddenly Kyrie Irving was in the same rumors and joining the same party.

Then Brooklyn swooped in and got them both. The Brooklyn Nets — the team that had the worst record in the league two years ago — landed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Let that sink in. It wasn’t about chasing more rings with the Warriors or moving to the biggest brand in the biggest market, it was Durant and Irving going where they wanted so they could play together as friends.

Speaking of friends, Durant and Irving both took slightly less than the max so the Nets could drastically overpay Durant’s good friend DeAndre Jordan (four years, $40 million).

Durant likely doesn’t play next year coming off a torn Achilles, but the Nets will still have a playoff team. We’ll see if Jordan ends up taking minutes away from up-and-coming Jarrett Allen. He shouldn’t, but politics sometimes win out in these things.

In a couple of years, the Nets could be a contender out of the East.

2) …But then Jimmy Butler was signed-and-traded to Miami, and Philadelphia’s day of moves made it the East favorite.

When the first reports of Jimmy Butler wanting to go to Miami came up, it was greeted with a lot of “how are they going to make that work?” Giving up the talented Josh Richardson is how. Miami and Philadelphia worked out a sign-and-trade that shook the league (but they need a third team, ideally to take on Goran Dragic, to make it all work out. They are expected to be able to iron that out).

Miami gets a star they have coveted and who is a great cultural fit in Butler. There is still a lot of roster building to do in South Beach but Butler, Justise Winslow, and Bam Adebayo is an excellent place to start.

Philadelphia replaces Butler with Josh Richardson — not as good, but not dramatically worse, younger, and cheaper — and that was just one of the smart moves they made on Sunday. They retained Tobias Harris on a max $141 million contract. Then they signed Al Horford as a free agent to a four-year, $109 million contract.

The Sixers’ starting five is now Ben Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford, and Joel Embiid. That is the best starting five in the East and keeps them in the mix as serious title contenders. Add a little depth — they also retained Mike Scott — and the Sixers will be tough to beat.

3) Golden State kept Klay Thompson and added D’Angelo Russell, but had to let Andre Iguodala go. That team is interesting.

The award for “least surprising thing to happen when free agency opened” goes to Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors, who reached the expected five-year, $190 million max contract extension. Without any drama.

The Warriors were saving the drama for a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets that brings D’Angelo Russell to Golden State on a max four-year, $117 million contract. Russell, a pick-and-roll, ball dominant point guard is an interesting fit next to Stephen Curry, but it gives the Warriors another talented player as they try to adapt to Kevin Durant’s departure and Thompson missing most of the season due to his ACL injury. Curry, Russell, and Draymond Green should be able to get the Warriors to the playoffs (and Russell is a good trade asset if the Warriors decide to go that route).

That sign-and-trade for Russell will ultimately send Iguodala to Memphis to make room under the cap. That move is a punch to the gut for the players on that team. Iguodala is an admired leader.

(By the way, now the real drama is Green’s contract next summer. Will the Warriors give him the full max of five-years, $204? Will Green take the four-years, $157 another team can offer? He doesn’t fit everywhere, he fits the Warriors, but do they want to pay him that kind of money.)

4) Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard is taking his time, leaving Lakers/Raptors/Clippers dangling on the hook.

While everyone else was moving at light speed on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard was laying low. He met with no teams. He will get to that over the coming days and then make his decision. Good for him, don’t rush the big decisions.

But it’s bad news for the Lakers and Clippers (and Raptors, to a lesser degree). The Lakers and Clippers both have bet big on landing Leonard at this point, and both have had to sit on their hands and keep a max cap slot open as free agents are being snapped up around them. For the Lakers in particular, if they don’t get Leonard, other max players like Jimmy Butler are gone, and some of the role players they would have wanted (J.J. Redick, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, for example) are off the board, making it harder to fill out the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

5) Major League Baseball is stupid.

Did you know the MLB All-Star Game players were announced today — at 6 p.m. Eastern. The exact time that the frenzy of NBA free agency started and dominated the sports media.

The MLB runs its entire league like it’s the Knicks.

6) Utah has had a really impressive offseason.

Utah is a legitimate threat to come out of the West next season. The Jazz won 50 games last season and addressed the offensive weaknesses that have hurt them in the playoffs this summer. Utah made a massive upgrade from Ricky Rubio (now in Phoenix) to Mike Conley at the point guard spot. Then on Sunday, they added a lot more shooting to the mix in the 6’8” form of Bojan Bogdanovic — the kind of player a lot of casual fans don’t know but who has his own fans in front offices around the NBA for a reason. He averaged 18 points a game last season for the Pacers and is a great floor spacer to open up room on Donovan Mitchell (and Conley) drives.

To get Bogdanovic, the Jazz had to give up fan favorite Derrick Favors (and his $16.9 million contract), but then they did a nice job replacing a big chunk of his grit and production with veteran, solid big man Ed Daivs (and for two-years, $5 million). Favors is off to New Orleans.

Utah’s starting five next season is probably Conley, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert. With a solid bench behind them. That team is going to win a lot of games and be a postseason problem.

7) Dallas just paid Kristaps Prozingis a lot of money coming off a torn ACL.

The Mavericks really made this bet back at the trade deadline, but on Sunday they made it official by agreeing to a five-year, $158 million extension with Porzingis.

The bet is Porzingis can bounce back from his torn ACL to be an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. Porzingis has the tools, he is a 7’3″ unicorn who can defend inside, knock down threes, and has averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game while shooting 36.1 percent from three. Mark Cuban dreams that Porzingis and Luka Doncic become Dallas’ new Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Dallas also locked up Dwight Powell with a new deal, as they should have.

8) James Dolan and the Knicks continue to find ways to embarrass themselves.

All season long, around the league the Knicks were seen as the frontrunner to land Kevin Durant, and he was going to bring another star player with him. Some league sources had it in an “as long as they don’t blow it” kind of place. Dolan went on the radio in New York and said, “New York is the mecca of basketball… From what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agency.”

Well, Dolan blew it.

And the cross-town Brooklyn Nets swooped in and got both Durant and Irving — and Brooklyn looks like it will be the better team for a while.

Knicks gonna Knicks.

But they did land Julius Randle, which is a quality pickup fans will love. Not like Durant love, but Randle plays hard and is fun to watch.

9) Portland pays Damian Lillard like they should, hang on to Rodney Hood, also.

If Klay Thompson re-signing was the most obvious thing ever, the Trail Blazers giving Lillard a full max — five years, $195 million — was next on the list.

Lillard is an All-Star, an All-NBA player, a clutch player and one of the best guards in the NBA. More than that, Lillard is flat out one of the best guys in the league, great in the community, and loved by Portland. This was a no-brainer.

The Blazers also retained Rodney Hood, and combine that with the addition of Kent Bazemore and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic at some point next season, and this team is going to be better than this year’s squad.

10) Both Lopez brothers in Milwaukee? Robin Lopez signs with Bucks (and they re-signed Khris Middleton).

Let’s not bury the lead here — the Milwaukee Bucks maxed out and retained All-Star Khris Middleton at the wing, on a five-year, $178 million max offer sheet. Is that overpaying a little for Middleton? Yes. But they had to. He’s an All-Star who averaged 18.3 points per game last season, and he fits well with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Who they have to keep happy. So the deal gets done.

In another must-make move, the Bucks re-signed Brook Lopez at four-years, $52 million. They needed his shooting. Brook’s backup is now his brother Robin Lopez, who signed on in Milwaukee. That’s good news for everyone… who is not a mascot.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
2 Comments

James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

Yifan Ding/Getty Images
2 Comments

Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.