Ten most interesting players to watch in NBA free agency

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NBA free agency — and this entire offseason — is going to be a frenzy. It will be a short offseason — possibly just more than 70 days between the end of the Finals and the start of the next season, about half a regular offseason —  and everything will be a sprint, not a marathon.

Free agency is going to be a blur. Some players may have already agreed to deals.

With that, here is our list of the 10 most interesting NBA free agents to follow this offseason. This is not the 10 best players — Anthony Davis (once he opts out) and Brandon Ingram are the best players, but both will be maxed out and re-signed by their teams (the Lakers and Pelicans). That’s not interesting. The players on this list may switch teams, have options in the market, or just have a unique situation.

1) Fred VanVleet

Let’s start with the best player available who could switch teams, the rock-solid two-way point guard who helped Toronto win a title. VanVleet averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game last season for the Raptors, plus he is a quality defender who specializes in deflecting passes and getting steals. After betting on himself again and again over the years, VanVleet is about to cash in. He could get up to $20 million in the first year, or maybe $85 million over four years.

Will a team with cap space that needs a quality backcourt presence — Charlotte, Atlanta, New York — come in a little higher and poach VanVleet away from Toronto? Nick Nurse has said VanVleet is part of Toronto’s core and they want to keep him, but if the contract gets above $20 million it becomes hard for Toronto to maintain max cap space for the 2021 offseason (a priority for a team that thinks it has a shot at Giannis Antetokounmpo if he leaves Milwaukee).

2) Montrezl Harrell

Before the pandemic hit — in reality, before the playoffs started — it would have been a lock that Sixth Man of the Year Harrell would have multiple suitors and was in for a big payday in NBA free agency. Then came the playoffs, when he missed time in the bubble (due to the death of his grandmother), he struggled on the court (especially defensively), and the Clippers were -11.6 per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. It hurt Harrell’s free-agent stock.

He still will get a healthy raise — probably from the Clippers — but at the top end he’s likely going to land in the mid-teens ($14 million-$17 million) a season, which is below what he hoped. If a team looking for help up front tries to poach him, it’s up for debate how hard the Clippers would fight to keep him.

3) Danilo Gallinari

Oklahoma City is starting a rebuild — as evidenced by moving on from Billy Donovan as coach — and Gallinari is not part of OKC’s future. He is a stretch four who averaged 18.7 points a game and shot 40.5% from three, a skill set a lot of teams could use. What is interesting about him is he should get paid in the mid-teens ($14 million to $17 million a year), but the teams with the cap space to do that are not going to spend that money on a 32-year-old with an injury history. Gallinari would fit beautifully on a few contenders, but they can only offer the mid-level exception ($9.3 million). Is he willing to take that much less to go to a contender? Is there a sign-and-trade in his future?

4) Davis Bertans

Bertans knew his payday was coming and skipped playing in the bubble so he didn’t risk injury (it’s not like the Wizards were suddenly going to win a lot with him). Bertans is a stretch four who averaged 15.4 points a game for the Wizards, shot 42.3% from three last season, and is a catch-and-shoot specialist who could help many teams. The Wizards want (and need) to re-sign him if they have playoff dreams with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the lineup. He would fit beautifully on a number of contenders (the Sixers kicked the tires on trading for him at the deadline), but Washington can pay him in the low-teens ($13 million or so a year) while contending teams just have the mid-level exception (or the taxpayer MLE). Bigs who can shoot always have options in NBA free agency.

5) Joe Harris

The best shooter in NBA free agency, Harris averaged 14.5 points a game, shooting 42.4% from three last season. He is a fantastic fit next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, GM Sean Marks has said re-signing him is the team’s top offseason priority, and Harris has said he wants to stay, but he will have options. Every team needs more shooting. Harris is going to make in the mid-teens ($14 million to $17 million a year), and there will be multiple suitors for his services.

6) Christian Wood

He’s not a household name, but the 25-year-old center out of UNLV has drawn a lot of interest in NBA front offices. He is coming off a breakout season where he averaged 13.1 points a game. Wood has to be respected from three (38.9%), is a strong rim-runner and finisher around the basket, has good handles for a big man, and his defense is improving. He was fourth in Sixth Man of the Year voting and is going to get paid more like a starter (more than the mid-level exception of $9.3 million a year, maybe a few million more), even if he’s in a sixth-man role. Detroit has the cap space to re-sign him (and traded Andre Drummond to create space for him at center). Are they willing to bet he will put in the work to keep making strides (work ethic was the concern about Wood at the draft in 2015)? Other teams with cap space and a need in the paint (Charlotte, for one) could try to poach him.

7) Serge Ibaka

An 11-year NBA veteran, he is a strong shot blocker on defense who averaged 15.4 points a game last season, scoring inside and shooting 38.5% from three. He was a key part of Toronto winning the title in 2019, and a lot of other contenders could use him. Ibaka could make starter money (more than the mid-level, likely around $11 million a year), but would he take that MLE to play for a contender? He’s not part of Toronto’s long-term future, but they may pay up to retain him (especially if Marc Gasol leaves). At age 31, how long a contract will teams offer Ibaka?

8) Carmelo Anthony

‘Melo revived his career in Portland last season, averaging 15.4 points a night, shooting 38.5% from three (on almost four attempts a game), and accepting and playing solidly in a role for the Trail Blazers. He said he thinks he found a home in Portland. The thing is, that home is changing: Zach Collins and Rodney Hood will be healthy and back in the rotation, and Trevor Ariza — who chose to skip the bubble — also will be in the mix. All of them are better than Anthony at age 36 and will take minutes that ‘Melo got last season. Anthony has a role as a reserve, but he was not as efficient as a scorer and still is a defensive problem. Will he accept a smaller role in Portland or seek a bigger one elsewhere? A Knicks reunion is not out of the question.

9) Goran Dragic

He was Miami’s leading scorer in the playoffs and a critical reason for their run to the Finals, but he tore his plantar fascia in Game 1 and did not get his star turn on the big stage. He averaged 16.2 points a game last season, but he will turn 35 next playoffs and has a long injury history. Expect Miami to come with a big one-year offer (more than $15 million a year, maybe up to $20 million), but would Dragic listen to a contender in need of a scoring point guard — like the Clippers — if they offered three or four guaranteed years at the mid-level exception ($9.3 million)? Dragic will have options among playoff and contending teams during NBA free agency.

10) Bogdan Bogdanovic

Bogdanovic is the kind of quality player and starter the Sacramento Kings should want to keep on their roster — except he plays the same position as Buddy Hield, whose $88 million extension kicks in this season. Bogdanovic averaged 15.1 points a game for the Kings last season, can create his own shot, hit the three (37.2% last season), and is a guy teams should give the green light to from the midrange because he is deadly from there.

Bogdanovic should make quality starter money ($15 million a year or so) but does new Sacramento general manager Monte McNair want to pay him that, and Hield, and have to give De'Aaron Fox his extension? That’s a lot of backcourt money, and Bogdanovic will have other suitors. As an aside, the Kings could be a surprisingly active team in the next year as McNair remakes this roster.

Just missing the cut: Marcus Morris, Jordan Clarkson, Dwight Howard, Jae Crowder.

Luka Doncic leaves game with sprained ankle, X-rays negative

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Mavericks fans everywhere were holding their breath.

Just more than three minutes into a showdown with the Suns Thursday, Luka Doncic drove on Cameron Johnson but didn’t get around him, so Doncic stopped, spun, tried to step back, and stepped on the foot of Mikal Bridges‘ and rolled his left ankle.

After a Torey Craig 3-pointer, Doncic left the game and hobbled back to the Mavericks locker room to be checked out. While X-rays were negative Doncic is out for the remainder of the game.

It will be tomorrow before the Mavericks can get a feel for how long Doncic might be out. They can’t afford for him to be out long, Dallas has been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when Doncic is off the court. He has been playing through ankle soreness for a few weeks but has missed only a couple of games.

Doncic, who was just voted an All-Star starter, is in the MVP mix this season averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. The Mavericks are 8.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo captains as All-Star starters named

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LeBron James is just 157 points shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record, which he should break early next month. But before breaking that iconic record, he tied Abdul-Jabbar for another NBA milestone.

LeBron was the leading fan vote-getter and is an NBA All-Star Game for the 19th time, tying Abdul-Jabbar for the most All-Star appearances in league history.

James and Giannis Antetokounmpo received the most fan votes in their conferences and will be the captains of the teams for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. This is Antetokounmpo’s third time as captain, it is LeBron’s sixth — and his teams are 5-0 in his previous captaincies.

In a new twist, James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams playground style right on the court before the game. They will choose from a pool of starters announced Thursday — selected by a vote of fans, media, and current players — and then the backups from a list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week). Here are this year’s starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players from each conference):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
Luka Doncic
LeBron James
Nikola Jokic
Zion Williamson

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
Donovan Mitchell
Kevin Durant
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jayson Tatum

This is the first start for Zion Williamson and Donovan Mitchell.

The vote also squeezed Joel Embiid out of a crowded frontcourt in the East. Here is the voting breakdown, where each player’s score is weighted based on 50 percent for the fan vote, 25 percent for player vote, and 25 percent for the media vote.

Eastern Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)      1      1      2      1.25
2. *Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)      2      2      4      2.5
3. *Jayson Tatum (Boston)      3      4      1      2.75
4. Joel Embiid (Philadephia)      4      3      3      3.75
5. Jimmy Butler (Miami)      5      7      5      5.5
6. Pascal Siakam (Toronto)      6     6      5      5.75
7. Paolo Banchero (Orlando)      8      8      5      7.25
8. Bam Adebayo (Miami)      11      5      5      8.0
9. Julius Randle (New York)      9      10      5      8.25
10. Kyle Kuzma (Washington)      7      16      5      9.25

 

Eastern Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kyrie Irving (Boston)      1      1      4      1.75
2. *Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland)      2      2      1      1.75
3. Jaylen Brown (Boston)      3      3      2      2.75
4. James Harden (Philadelphia)      4     5      5      4.5
5. Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana)      8      6      3      6.25
6. DeMar DeRozan (Chicago)      6      4      10      6.5
7. Trae Young (Atlanta)      12      5      6      7.0
8. LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)      7      9      10     8.25
9. Darius Garland (Cleveland)      10      7      6      8.25
10. Jalen Brunson (Milwaukee)      12      8      9      10.25

 *–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Western Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *# LeBron James (Los Angeles)      1      2      2      1.5
2. *Nikola Jokic (Denver)      2      1     1      1.5
3. *Zion Williamson (New Orleans)      4      3      4      3.75
4. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles)      3      7      6      4.25
5. Lauri Markkanen (Utah)      7      4      5      5.75
6. Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento)      9      5      3      6.5
7. Paul George (L.A. Clippers)      6      6      9      6.75
8. Andrew Wiggins (Golden State)      5      19      9     9.5
9. Draymond Green (Golden State)      14      9      9      9.75
10. Kawhi Leonard (L.A. Clippers)      11      14      7      10.75

Western Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Stephen Curry (Golden State)      1     2      2      1.5
2. *Luka Doncic (Dallas)      2      1      1      1.5
3. Ja Morant (Memphis)      3      3      3      3
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City)      4      4      4      4
5. Damian Lillard (Portland)      7      5      5      6.0
6. De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento)      8      5      5      6.5
7. Devin Booker (Phoenix)      10      7      5      8
8. Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles)      6      18      5      8.75
9. Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)      13      8      5      9.75
10. Klay Thompson (Golden State)      5      25      5      10

 *–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Curry, frustrated with Poole, gets ejected for throwing mouthpiece into crowd

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
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Stephen Curry has been ejected three times in his NBA career, and each time the incident was mouthpiece related.

The latest came Wednesday night. With 1:25 remaining in the fourth quarter of a tight game with the Grizzlies, Klay Thompson missed a floater, Donte DiVincenzo tipped the rebound out and kept it alive, Thomspon grabbed it and passed it to Poole out top to reset the offense, with Curry calling for the ball a few feet away from him. Instead, Poole jacked up a three like the shot clock was going to expire. The shot missed and Curry, out of frustration, threw his mouthpiece in the stands. That got him an automatic ejection.

“He knows he can’t make that mistake,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame, via the Associated Press.

Poole had fun with Curry postgame, throwing his mouthpiece in the hallway.

“I did see that,” Curry said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s like one of those ‘too soon’ jokes. I was still hot. I was still hot.”

After the game, some fans tried to argue that, by NBA rules, Curry did not have to be ejected. The NBA rulebook specifically states that any “player who throws or kicks the ball directly into the stands with force” will be ejected, as will a player who throws “the ball or any object at an official.” The argument goes Curry didn’t throw his mouthpiece at an official. However, the rulebook also says a technical can be “assessed to any player on the court or anyone seated on the bench for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game,” and the league has said consistently in recent years that throwing a mouthpiece or anything into the crowd is detrimental to the game, penalized with a technical and automatic ejection. Maybe there should be more leeway with the enforcement of said rule, but Curry knew better.

The Warriors went on to get the win over their rivals from Memphis, the old guard held the new guard off again. But the next time these teams meet, the Warriors will need Curry on the court until the end of the game.

What will happen with Warriors biggest free agent this summer: Bob Myers

2022 Golden State Warriors Victory Parade & Rally
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
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This summer, the Warriors have on their plate a couple of major decisions that could lead to free agency and change the course of the franchise. One is Draymond Green, who has a $27.6 million player option, didn’t get an extension he wanted with the team last summer (while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins did), and could be the guy standing without a chair when the music stops. The Warriors can’t pay everyone.

The other free agent: general manager Bob Myers.

His is an even more complex and nuanced situation — will the Warriors make him the highest-paid executive in the league, and does Myers still want the job — that could be the latest sign that the dynastic Curry era in Golden State is coming to an end.

At the Athletic, Anthony Slater, Marcus Thompson II and Sam Amick break down the situation incredibly well in a story Warriors fans should read.

As the clock ticks and extension talks remain flat, many around Myers are wondering whether – and even predicting that – his days with the Warriors are about to run out…

For all the nuance that surrounds the situation, this much is clear: team and league sources, who like all of the sources in this story were granted anonymity so they could speak freely, say Myers believes he should be among the highest-paid front office executives in the league, if not the highest. He’s been the architect of four NBA title teams, was the lead recruiter in the Durant free agency signing, and has been the trusted conduit between players, coaches and ownership. Myers also has served as chief problem solver, the coolant in an ecosystem that periodically overheats…

Part of the equation for Myers, known for his deep conversations and intellectual curiosity, is the contemplation of what’s next. After more than a decade of building a dynasty, and managing it through the intensity of modern scrutiny, and living beneath the relentless pressure of the Warriors’ championship standard, might Myers be interested in a new challenge? Would it be better for him and his family to move on, build up another franchise away from the Golden State fish bowl? He walked away from a successful career as a player agent to become an NBA executive. Is it now time to leave the front office behind and try his hand in another industry?

While there are other layers, it’s always about the money.

The very top NBA executives make north of $10 million a season. While Warriors owner Joe Lacob has said Myers is one of the highest-paid general managers in the league, titles get fuzzy (and somewhat meaningless) around the league — many guys in Myers’ role have a president or VP title attached to their name. His pay relative to title can get bogged down in semantics that miss the basic “pay me” bottom line of this.

There are no straight lines and simple answers here, but if Myers gets paid like Daryl Morey or Masai Ujiri he is far more likely to stay. Even if he gets that money, how badly does Myers want to stay on for the final years of the Stephen Curry era and start rebuilding whatever comes next? Does he want to walk away? Hang around for a few years then take his leave?

More than whatever happens with Green, the Myers situation will signal what comes next for this era of the Warriors and what they may look like going forward. He is the ultimate architect. This is the biggest decision the Warriors have this offseason.