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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).)

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.