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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).)

Rudy Gobert on dynamic with Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell: ‘I’m the a—hole’

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
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Rudy Gobert is the Jazz’s best player.

Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz’s biggest star.

That situation naturally creates tension. Gobert and Mitchell testing positive for coronavirus exacerbated it.

Mitchell was upset with Gobert, whose reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus. Now, Mitchell sounds ready to move on.

But other issues remain.

Mitchell quickly became Utah’s go-to offensive player. He’s a sensational scorer with a magnetic personality and electrifying dunks. But he’s still developing as a playmaker, which can frustrate Gobert.

Most famously, Gobert cried when discussing his All-Star snub last year. Gobert plays a complementary style that can be underrated. He’s an elite defender who cleans up for his teammates. On offense, does all the little things – screening, finishing, rebounding. Yet, all that diligent screening isn’t always rewarded with passes when he gets open.

Should Mitchell pass more to Gobert? Yes. But Gobert has also let his effort slip this season when not getting touches, and that’s not the right solution, either.

Gobert, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I understand that I’m annoying. I can be very annoying,” said Gobert, adding that he knows Mitchell’s job is difficult as the focal point of defenses. “I think maybe because he was really good really early, I’ve been very demanding and maybe in not always a positive way. Sometimes you don’t realize it.

“Like with me, people can be hard on me and I can handle it, but for some guys, it can become very frustrating. I can understand that 100 percent. Donovan has gotten better every year since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to keep getting a lot better. It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”

“If I was 12 years old, I wouldn’t want to be watching f—ing Rudy Gobert. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell. I wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert get dunks and alter shots. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell cross people up and do crazy layups, crazy dunks, of course.

“I totally understand how it works, and I’m fine with it.”

There’s an endearing amount of self-awareness in these quotes.

Gobert and Mitchell have a chance to form a highly successful partnership in Utah. Winning could bond them. On the other hand, losing could push them further apart. Another potential complication: Mitchell – with all his talent and about four years younger than Gobert – will probably soon surpass Gobert as a player. Then what? How will each handle that?

The future is unpredictable, but it’s worth understanding the current relationship between Gobert and Mitchell. To do that, I highly recommend reading MacMahon’s excellent article.

Nets’ Taurean Prince tests positive for coronavirus, will sit out restart

Taurean Prince Nets
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Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Nicholas Claxton all had pre-existing injuries and were never expected to play in the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Wilson Chandler opted out of the restart to spend time with his family.  DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie both tested positive for the coronavirus and did not join the team headed to Orlando on Tuesday. That’s six players from the Nets roster not playing in the restart.

Make that seven — forward Taurean Prince tested positive for coronavirus and will sit out restart as well. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Prince started at the four for the Nets and averaged 12.1 points and six rebounds a game.

The Nets are free to sign a substitute player to fill in for Prince, however, that player must have fewer than three years of NBA experience. Whoever the Nets line up, it will be a drop off in quality from what Prince brought to the table.

Expect the Nets to look at big men for substitute players because they need size. Jarrett Allen is the only true center on the roster, and there are only two other players — Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa — are taller than 6’9″. Amir Johnson is one Nets’ big man target, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Brooklyn enters the restart as the seven seed in the East, but just half a game up on eight seed Orlando, a team that is largely healthy and bringing its full roster. It’s likely the Nets slide back to the eight seed, but likely make the playoffs (Washington, playing without Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans, would have to make up two games on the Nets during the eight seeding games, then beat Brooklyn in a two straight play-in series games, a tall order). The Nets reward for making the playoffs? Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee.

WNBA players call for ouster of Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia senator

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)
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NBA players showed their power by getting Donald Sterling removed as Clippers owner.

WNBA players might be having a similar moment with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Sterling committed incredibly harmful racist and sexist acts for years. Ironically, something far more benign – telling his girlfriend not to post pictures with black people or bring them to games – did him in. But he went too far in a time of growing sensitivity to speech.

Now, there’s even less tolerance for people saying the “wrong” thing. And Loeffler has said things lately that range from disagreeable to offensive.

The WNBA announced its plans for promoting social justice during its upcoming season:

The WNBA will begin its season in late July with a weekend of competition centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, during which teams will wear special uniforms to seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Throughout the season, players will wear NIKE-branded warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front.   Additionally, “Say Her Name” will adorn the back of the shirts.  “Black Lives Matter” will also be prominently displayed on courts during games.

In response, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. A portion of that letter, via Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.

The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.

The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.

Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.

Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League’s decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.

Women’s National Basketball Players Association:

WNBA:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice.  Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”

That is a strong statement from the union. Several players previously criticized Loeffler, especially in the wake of a recent interview.

She was asked, “It is not every day you see people carrying long guns in big cities in America. What is happening on the streets of Atlanta this morning?” While Fox News showed armed black men, Loeffler said, “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow mob rule. We’re a nation of the rule of law.”

If Loeffler – a self-avowed Second Amendment advocate – were specifically denouncing legal gun carrying because the carriers were black, that’s racist, hypocritical and completely unacceptable. But it’s unclear whether Loeffler could see the images and videos as she answered. It’s also unclear whether she was answering more generally about everything happening in Atlanta.

Regardless, backlash spread.

Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream:

Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Washington Mystics:

Natasha Cloud of the Phoenix Mercury:

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty:

Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky:

There is room for legitimate debate on the issues raised in the tweets and articles they link, including gun control, abortion and the best tactics for fighting racism. Loeffler shouldn’t be forced out simply because she disagrees with some vocal players. (I suspect, in a league as large and diverse as the WNBA, some players agree with her on some of these issues.)

But Loeffler’s letter to Engelbert is particularly off-putting.

Disagreeing with some elements of the Black Lives Matter organization would be one thing. But condemning the Black Lives Matter political movement is something else. Within that movement, there are disagreements on methods and goals. The unifying thread: Believing black lives matter. That’s why Black Lives Matter, despite some extreme views, holds such mass appeal.

It’s also gross for Loeffler to use a false claim about Secoriea Turner to fit her agenda. Protesters have decried the girl’s killing.

The players who are using their platforms to promote racial justice deserve praise. Their plan is good for the WNBA. It’s good for the United the States.

The truth is there has always been politics in sports. White people can more easily ignore it, but that’s their privilege. The many black players in the WNBA still live in a country with systematic racism. Their humanity doesn’t end when they show up to work, and they shouldn’t be told to be quiet and just wear an American flag on their jerseys.

It’s telling that Loeffler’s solution to politics in sports is to put a political symbol on jerseys.

She doesn’t want politics out of sports. She wants politics she disagrees with out of sports.

Now, the WNBA will determine whether it wants her out of its sport.

 

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on playing at Disney World: ‘Still not excited, not thrilled’

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
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Celtics forward Jayson Tatum wasn’t going to sit out the NBA’s resumption due to injury concerns. Players like Tatum got the enhanced insurance they wanted, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Tatum is eager to go to Disney World.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

I don’t blame Tatum one bit. Players are facing tight lifestyle restrictions, including be separated from their families and friends for weeks. Coronavirus is an ever-present threat. There’s a very important protest movement sweeping the country.

Who can easily focus on basketball at a time like this?

Of course, Tatum decided the pros outweigh the cons. The money is substantial (for players collectively more so than Tatum individually, though there’s a case for all players to do their part for each other), and the Celtics have a chance to win a championship.

But before coronavirus, Tatum thought he’d get that money and title opportunity. The only new aspects are the downsides.

I appreciate Tatum’s openness about the situation. He’s certainly not alone in feeling this way.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s just the unfortunate reality of the pandemic.