Seven most intriguing impending free agents in NBA resumption

Grizzlies guard De'Anthony Melton and Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
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After a breakout season, Davis Bertans decided he’d done enough. Bertans chose not to join the Wizards for the NBA resumption at Disney World. He’ll bide his time before free agency, where he’ll almost certainly cash in.

Bertans stayed.

Many more impending free agents are hitting and trying not to bust.

NBA players seeking new contracts this offseason will face a tough environment. Economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will reduce revenue and owners’ discretionary spending. Even optimistic projections for next season have the salary cap remaining roughly flat (with greater salary withholding) – a disapointment after expected 5% growth.

With cap room dashed around the league, there will be greater importance in impending free agents impressing their own teams, which can re-sign players through Bird Rights. And, of course, there’s still value in creating leverage with the few teams that have cap space or are willing to spend the full mid-level exception.

For some players, the seeding games, potential play-in games and playoffs could be particularly important.

These are not the best impending free agents. Lakers star Anthony Davis will get max offers no matter what happens the rest of the season. Plenty of other impending free agents have already shown their level of play and are unlikely to swing their fortunes in this condensed finish.

Here are the impending free agents with the widest range of possible outcomes based on how the rest of the season goes:

Marcus Morris, forward, Clippers

The Clippers reportedly offered Morris a three-year, $41 million contract last summer. He instead signed a one-year deal with the Knicks (after initially committing to the Spurs)… then got traded to the Clippers. Obviously, L.A. has some interest. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer also has the deep pockets and winning desire to keep spending amid the economic downturn. As third forward behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Morris is more of a luxury. A luxury the Clippers are willing to pay big for? It probably depends how well Morris fits the rest of the way – and how far L.A. goes. The cap-space teams skew younger and might not have interest in the 30-year-old Morris. His most likely path, by far, to a contract above the mid-level exception is with the Clippers.

Jerami Grant, power forward, Nuggets

Paul Millsap, power forward, Nuggets

By trading a first-round pick for Grant last summer, Denver clearly signaled an intent to re-sign him. Grant has been solid at power forward. The 26-year-old could definitely make sense with the Nuggets long-term. But he hasn’t quite played well enough to absolutely seize the long-term job. At 35, Millsap remains steady, and his interior defense particularly covers well for Nikola Jokic. Millsap helps Denver win right now, and Denver is eager to win right now. But how long will he remain this good? How will expensive will he be? For that matter, how expensive will Grant be? Could Michael Porter Jr. or even Bol Bol be ready for larger roles sooner than later? Though the Nuggets will be allowed to re-sign both Grant and Millsap at any price based on salary-cap rules, the luxury-tax line (or lower) will likely serve as a hard cap. The playoffs could clarify which power forward Denver will pay.

Derrick Jones Jr., forward, Heat

Miami is clearly prioritizing 2021 free agency. That’s why – even if re-signing free agents like Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Meyers Leonard – the Heat are are unlikely to give multi-year guarantees. Jones could be the exception. He’s just 23, already helpful and still has clear areas for growth. Jones’ length and athleticism make him a defensive weapon, especially in Erik Spoelstra’s creative schemes. The reigning dunk contest champion, Jones is an excellent finisher with emerging shooting range. This is the time for him to convince Miami it’s important enough to keep him despite complications in 2021.

De'Anthony Melton, guard, Grizzlies

Ja Morant gets – and deserves – so much credit for lifting Memphis. But the Grizzlies have actually been outscored with him on the court. Make no mistake: There’s a lot of value in a rookie point guard who can lead a starting lineup to break nearly even against other starters. But the Grizzlies have really made their hay with their reserves – particularly Melton. He’s a menace defensively and good secondary ball-handler/passer. There are still plenty of rough edges with his game – outside shooting, turnovers (especially when playing point guard). But the 22-year-old will make for a compelling restricted free agent, particularly to the young teams with cap space. Melton is big enough to get an expanded role at Disney World with small forward Justise Winslow sidelined.

John Konchar, wing, Grizzlies

Konchar was incredibly productive in college. He shot 2-pointers efficiently. He shot 3-pointers efficiently. He rebounded. He defended. He passed. The only drawback: He was doing all that at IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne). So, he went undrafted last year. But after signing a two-way contract with Memphis, Konchar is playing similarly effectively – in the NBA! He has played just 167 minutes with the Grizzlies, so sample-size caveats obviously apply. But he had cracked the rotation when the season got suspended, and there’s plenty of interest in seeing more. With a strong finish, the impending restricted free agent could tempt a risk-taking team into an offer sheet Memphis would find difficult to match.

Mike D’Antoni, coach, Rockets

After an unfruitful summer of contract negotiations, D’Antoni coached the Rockets on the last year of his deal this season. And coached them well. His offensive creativity helped unlock a small-ball lineup that features, depending on your perspective, either P.J. Tucker or Russell Westbrook at center. But it’s still unclear whether Houston will keep D’Antoni. Most teams would’ve extended him by now. So, a breakup appears likely – unless D’Antoni forces the Rockets’ hand with a deep playoff run. Though moderate postseason success might not be enough to save his job in Houston, D’Antoni could gain interest from other teams. So much of his arguments about continuing to coach despite his age putting him at high risk of severe symptoms if he contracts coronavirus seem to be predicated on an underlying argument: He wants to keep coaching beyond this season.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.