Grizzlies guard De'Anthony Melton and Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Seven most intriguing impending free agents in NBA resumption

Leave a comment

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.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.