Top 10 free agents still available

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This list could change very fast. Whenever Kawhi Leonard makes up his mind — today, tomorrow, next week — his choice will be the first domino in a run of signings. The Los Angeles teams have sat on cap space to fit Leonard onto their team, and once the call is made one or both of them could suddenly go on a little spending spree. Dallas is still lurking with money to spend, too.

However, there isn’t a lot for those teams to shop for — there were 50 players signed in the first 10 hours of NBA free agency starting June 30 and it became a feeding frenzy. Teams saw players they wanted get snapped up and felt they had to get the next guy on their list fast before he was gone, agents saw roster spots filling up fast and wanted to make sure their player had a chair before the music stopped. There was far more “you have 45 minutes to decide” sales pitches this year than in years past. A lot of good players are off the board.

As of right now, here are our top 10 free agents still available.

1) Kawhi Leonard

Duh. While LeBron James last year and Kevin Durant this year (along with Kyrie Irving) made quick decisions in free agency, Leonard is going old school, not rushing, meeting with teams and thinking over his decision. As is his right. This is a major life decision about where to work (and with whom) — stay in Toronto where he just won a title, or come back home to Southern California and play for Doc Rivers and the Clippers, or with LeBron James and the Lakers. Leonard, when on the court, may be the best player walking the face of the earth right now and he averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game during the Raptors run to the title. He is worth the wait.

2) DeMarcus Cousins

He’s the biggest name on this list, and with raw talent may be the second-best player on this list, but in terms of demand by teams this ranking may be a couple of spots too high. Cousins averaged 16.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and grabbed 8.1 rebounds a game last season, but he only was in 30 games coming off a torn Achilles and then tore his quad muscle two games into the playoffs. All season he did not move terribly well and could be exposed defensively in space. As the NBA evolves away from traditional centers, teams look at Cousins and aren’t seeing a player they want to pay eight figures because they can get 80 percent of his production for 20 percent of the cost. Plus, some teams don’t want the potential locker room disruption (whether that is fair or not, it’s his rep). Cousins is waiting to jump into the cap space Leonard leaves open on at least one of the Los Angeles teams, but we’ll see if he has to settle for the $4.8 million room exception or maybe even the veteran minimum.

3) Marcus Morris

A solid veteran at the four who can stretch the floor (37.5 percent from three last season), Morris also brings grit and a toughness a lot of teams could use. He is one of the best scorers left on the board and can get buckets in a variety of ways — post-ups, from three, the occasional isolation — and did so to the tune of 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season in Boston. Plus he can solidly defend the four spot. Dallas is among the teams reportedly making a run at this Morris twin.

4) Danny Green

He may have lost a step at age 32, but his value as a 3&D wing who will step up and make plays in big minutes was on display in the NBA Finals. He averaged 10.3 points per game and shot 45.5 percent from three in the regular season (but that fell to 32.8 percent in the playoffs). He is one of the players waiting on Leonard and could end up playing for the $4.8 million room exception wherever Leonard goes, but he also could go his own way. The Raptors, Clippers, Lakers, and Mavericks are all interested.

5) Kelly Oubre

He’s a restricted free agent, meaning the Suns can match any offer, which has dampened his market because no team has wanted to come in with the big contract it would take to get the Suns to walk away. Oubre is incredibly athletic but has never quite lived up to his potential. Traded mid-season to the Suns, the slashing wing averaged 16.9 points a game for them, but he still shot just 32.5 percent from three. With Ricky Rubio at the point Oubre could fit on the wing in Phoenix, the only question now is the price.

6) JaMychal Green

If he can stay healthy (he played 65 games last season between the Grizzlies and Clippers), Green is an underappreciated 6’9″ modern stretch four who can help teams because he plays with high energy and can defend multiple positions. Last season he averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from three, and added 6.3 rebounds a night. In Memphis his role kept changing, he didn’t complain and just tried to make plays. He could fit on a lot of teams.

7) Jabari Parker

Looking for a player who can just get buckets? Parker is the guy. The former No. 2 pick (who had multiple ACL surgeries) averaged 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last season, he gets most of his points around the rim, where he is very efficient. He struggles defensively but is a solid scoring role player off the bench.

8) Rajon Rondo

The veteran, high IQ point guard averaged 9.2 points and 8 assists per game last season with the Lakers. While his defense isn’t near what it used to be (particularly on ball), he is still a solid rotation point guard at the NBA level who has championship experience.

9) Delon Wright

A restricted free agent, meaning the Grizzlies can match any offer. A combo guard but one without a three-point shot. Still, in 26 games at the end of last season with Memphis, where the ball was in his hands more, he averaged 12.2 points per game. He’s got good size and can defend well, too. He would fit on a few teams as a backup point guard who can play some at the two as well.

10) Jeremy Lin

Lin earned a ring last season when picked up by the Raptors after he was waived by the Hawks (who were in Trae Young mode). He averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 assists per game overall last season, and while he fell out of the Raptors playoff rotation he is a solid backup point guard who knows how to run a team, can get to the rim, can hit the three enough you have to respect it, and is a better defender now than his reputation. He could provide good point guard depth to a lot of teams.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley, Kenneth Faried, Ivica Zubac. (For some teams guys on this part of the list are much better fits than Wright or Lin).)

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.