Top 12 free agents to watch as NBA free agency opens

San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors
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Things are about to get wild.

At 6 p.m. Eastern tonight, NBA free agency starts, the flood gates open, and there is always a rush of deals by 6:01 (but there is no tampering in the NBA, why would you even think that?). Other big ones will follow quickly, but there are always a few surprises, too.

Here are the top 12 players to watch during the early hours of NBA free agency. Some of these deals will get done quickly, but expect a few to drag out a while.

1) Kawhi Leonard

He is the best player to hit free agency this offseason, an All-NBA player last season and a two-time Finals MVP — we know he can lead a team to a championship. Despite the fact he will miss most or all of next season following ACL surgery, teams will line up to pay the man — and he apparently will listen. Sources have told NBC Sports for months — and it’s been the conventional wisdom around the league — that Leonard would re-sign with the Clippers, and the only question was years. He’s a clear max player, with his first year starting at $39.3 million and a four-year deal worth $176.2 million. Now comes word Leonard will listen to other team’s pitches. Probably. Good luck reading what Leonard is thinking.

Is Leonard frustrated enough with the Clippers to bolt and head to New York or Dallas or Miami? Probably not. But if he’s willing to even listen to offers, that has to worry Clipper fans and their front office.

2) Chris Paul

Paul opted out of the $44.2 million he was owed for this season, but don’t mistake that for a desire to leave the team he just led to the NBA Finals. Because of what he brings as a floor general and leader, teams with cap space have called (*cough* Knicks *cough*), but they are all getting shot down. Paul is expected to re-sign with the Suns for three years, $90-$100 million. It is as close to a lock as things get in free agency.

3) Kyle Lowry

The best player likely to switch teams this postseason, there were a lot of teams that have made their push to land the 35-year-old point guard — and it looks like Miami has won the race.

Lowry and Jimmy Butler are tight — which gave the Heat an upper hand from the start — and combine those two with Bam Adebayo, and you have a serious contender in Miami. What the Heat can offer (besides a three-year contract) is a sign-and-trade that works for Toronto, sending point guard Goran Dragic and promising young big man Precious Achiuwa back north of the border.

Since it would be tampering to work out this kind of deal before free agency officially opens — and we know there is no tampering in the NBA, nope, nothing to see here move along — other teams are still trying to sway Lowry. Dallas has a strong pitch and there was buzz around the league they were the frontrunners at first (looking to pair Lowry with Luka Doncic), the Knicks had the money to go big, and New Orleans created cap space to go after Lowry as they look to put together a roster that can make the playoffs (and ease the frustration of Zion Williamson). But it looks like Lowry is taking his talents to South Beach.

4) DeMar DeRozan

The second DeRozan said in a recent interview that winning a championship was the most important thing, the speculation started: Would he take a lot less money to come back home join the Lakers? Or, maybe the Clippers Don’t bet on it. With the Lakers trading for Russell Westbrook they have their secondary playmaker, and besides, both L.A. teams can only offer DeRozan $5.9 million a season — a guy who made $27.7 million and scored 21.6 points per game last season, one who will get much bigger offers than that. (Neither the Lakers nor Clippers are in a position to sign-and-trade for DeRozan, either.)

The Knicks reportedly have interest, but a lot of the recent buzz around the league has been focused on DeRozan to Dallas, where he would be a secondary playmaker next to Doncic (assuming the Mavericks miss out on Lowry). DeRozan may be the Dallas Plan B but he is a good fit.

5) Mike Conley

The Utah Jazz didn’t have much of a backup plan at point guard if Conley left as a free agent, so they wooed the veteran to stay and have reportedly come in with a three-year, $75 million offer to keep him. That likely gets the job done. Conley — who averaged 16.2 points and 6 assists a game, and was a steadying influence on the court for Utah — will be back, and hopefully will be healthy come this postseason. There is not much if any talk of a team trying to poach him.

7) Spencer Dinwiddie

There are a lot of teams searching for a point guard this offseason, which has kept demand for Dinwiddie high even though he is coming off an ACL surgery that caused him to miss almost all of last season in Brooklyn. However, that demand is not at the $20+ million a season Dinwiddie wants, most offers appear to be in the mid-teens ($15-17 million a year). There had been a lot of buzz about a Wizards sign-and-trade with the Nets to land Dinwiddie after Washington cleared out Russell Westbrook, but that has apparently cooled as Brooklyn reportedly is not that high on taking back Kyle Kuzma or Montrezl Harrell.

Teams that strike out in the Lowry sweepstakes — New York and New Orleans in particular — could turn their attention to Dinwiddie. In his last healthy season with the Nets (before KD/Irving/Harden took the floor), Dinwiddie averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists a game. He’s not a shooter (career 31.8% from 3), but he can get to the rim and knows how to set up teammates.

8) John Collins (restricted)

By far the best free agent power forward on the market, there was a lot of early buzz about teams trying to step in and poach the athletic restricted free agent from Atlanta. Two teams with cap space — San Antonio and Dallas — are reportedly still lurking around, but Jake Fischer at Bleacher Report and others have said that the likely outcome now is Collins re-signing with the Hawks for four years and around $120 million.

Collins averaged 17.6 points and 7.4 assists a game last season and is a shot blocker/rim protector on the other end, but it’s hard to imagine someone coming in and offering more for Collins than that. And even if they did, the Hawks might just match to keep him paired with Trae Young.

9) Dennis Schroder

He turned down a four-year, $84 million extension offer from the Lakers because he thought there was more money out there for him, and he could go somewhere and get a larger role (LeBron James has the ball in his hands in L.A.).

So far, it doesn’t look like more money is there. He is in the second tier of free agent point guards this offseason, but teams seem more interested in Lonzo Ball or Dinwiddie or Conley — both Washington and Sacramento reportedly didn’t want Schroder in sign-and-trades — and when the music stops Schroder might not have a chair. Or, at least the one he expected.

While there are teams that could sign him outright — the Knicks and Pelicans — the more likely outcome is a sign-and-trade that brings some depth back to the Lakers. At least that’s what Los Angeles is hoping for. Eventually, a team will land a solid point guard in Schroder — he averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists a game last season, although he’s not a great shooter — but he’s not generating the buzz of other guards in this class.

10) Tim Hardaway Jr.

From the start, Mark Cuban and everyone else in Dallas said re-signing Hardaway Jr. was a top priority this offseason. He averaged 16.6 points a game shooting 38.1% from 3 last season, and he brings the kind of floor spacing needed around Doncic. The price tag likely will be in the high teens to retain him, and after missing out on Lowry (apparently, that’s not finalized) keeping Hardaway seems more important. Detroit has its eyes on the sharpshooter, too. If Dallas moves slowly or lowballs him, and other teams that strike out on their Plan A could try to get into the mix.

11) Lonzo Ball (restricted)

Chicago needs a point guard and it looks like they found their man in Ball. Reportedly they are ready to make him a four-year, $80 million offer — one the Pelicans could match, now that they struck out on Lowry. This well could end up with a sign-and-trade that lands Ball in the Windy City.

Ball brings elite passing and play in transition, plus fantastic on-ball defense. He’s a smart player. He’s improved running the halfcourt offense and shooting 3s (38.8% on eight attempts a game last season), but it’s finding guys on look-ahead passes or in the corner on the break that is his specialty. That works well with Zion Williamson, and the Pelicans want to keep him happy. That said, they don’t seem to want to pay Lonzo starting point guard money, so Chicago seems his likely new home.

12) Kelly Oubre Jr.

The athletic wing — who had his best success last season as a small ball four — is drawing a lot of interest despite the fact he shot 31.6% from 3 last season. He may be 25, turning 26 next season, but a lot of teams think he has another big step to take and they can bring it out of him. There is a lot of buzz lately about Oubre ending up with the Spurs, there is mutual interest, and he could step into some of DeMar DeRozan’s role. However, the Mavericks, Knicks, and Heat are all rumored to be in the mix as well.

Oubre made $14 million last season and probably is in that ballpark again (maybe a little less). The Warriors would bring him back if Oubre was willing to take a paycut and accept a smaller bench role, but that seems highly unlikely (he said he felt he was put in “a box” last season and wants more freedom).

Celtics’ Grant Williams undergoes hand surgery as he enters pivotal offseason

Boston Celtics (102) Vs. Miami Heat (128) At Kaseya Center
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

BOSTON (AP) — Celtics forward Grant Williams had surgery Friday to repair a torn ligament in his left hand and is expected to be sidelined from basketball activities for the next two months.

The team said that Williams, 24, will need 6-8 weeks to recover following the procedure.

Williams averaged career highs in minutes (25.9), points (8.1) and rebounds (4.6) during the regular season. But each of those numbers fell during the playoffs as he slipped in and out of the rotation.

He is a restricted free agent this summer with interest from teams around the league.

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said last week that he thinks Williams got caught in a numbers’ situation regarding his reduced playing time this season.

“He is a good player who was on a really deep team,” Stevens said. “With the addition of (Malcolm) Brogdon last year it was going to require that guys that had gotten a little more opportunity weren’t going to get as much. That obviously hit a few of our players. … But everybody around the league knows Grant can add value to any team.”

Three reasons Denver has a commanding 3-1 Finals lead over Miami


MIAMI — The Heat are on the NBA Finals stage because they are relentless. They never quit when things got hard in the postseason, they would just up their intensity and pressure their opponent.

When they cranked up that pressure on the teams with the two best regular season records in the NBA — the Bucks and Celtics — those teams melted. Miami was left standing.

Denver will not melt. They will not beat themselves.

If anything, the Nuggets are putting the pressure back on the Heat, which is why they are up 3-1 and in command of these NBA Finals after an impressive Game 4 win. The best example was when the Nuggets withstood more than five minutes in the fourth quarter without their two-time MVP (due to foul trouble) and didn’t miss a beat.

It feels like Game 5 in Denver could be a coronation of Jokić and the Nuggets. Here are the three reasons we got to this point, with the Nuggets one win away from the franchise’s first title.

1) Miami can’t score enough to hang with Denver

The Heat were always going to have to put up a lot of points to keep pace in this series — the Nuggets had a top-five offense in the league this season led by a two-time MVP. They were not going to be shut down by anyone and had just come off having an impressive 118 offensive rating against the best defense in the NBA after the All-Star break in the Lakers. Maybe Maimi could slow Denver some, but the Heat were going to have to put up offensive numbers like they did against the Celtics.

Through four Finals games, the Miami Heat have a 109.5 offensive rating. That is 3.8 behind their unimpressive regular season offense (25th in the league) and 9.2 below what they did against Boston. Or, look at it this way: The Heat had a 129.1 in its Game 2 victory, but 102.2 in the other three games, all losses (stat via John Schuhmann at

The Nuggets’ length across the board is clearly bothering Heat shooters inside the paint and out at the arc.

Outside of the fourth quarter of Game 2, nothing has worked the way the Heat wanted on offense. In Game 4, the emphasis was on playing downhill and getting to the rim, maybe getting Jokić in foul trouble.

“[Coach Spoelstra] definitely made it an emphasis to attack the rim, to really get to the rim, me and Jimmy, everybody included, really get downhill and make things happen,” Bam Adebayo said of his team’s Game 4 strategy.

Miami did as its coach asked and shot 14-of-18 in the restricted area. But look at the rest of the shot chart.

That’s a lot of red.

Jimmy Butler and Adebayo have put up numbers throughout the Finals but haven’t been efficient. Game 4 was the perfect example, the Heat All-Star duo combined to score 45 points, but they shot below 50%, 17-of-36, to get there. They have not been the force they have been in other series. Butler will never blame his sore ankle, re-aggravated in Game 7 against the Celtics, but he’s not showing the same lift or explosion he did last series.

Neither of the Heat’s stars are expected to space the floor, that shooting falls to the role players, but the Heat were 8-of-25 from 3 in Game 4. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus combined to go 0-of-7 from deep.

Spoelstra has to try something in Game 5, maybe start Duncan Robinson (5-of-7 on the night, shooting 3s and attacking closeouts) over Strus. There are other tweaks he can make. But at this point it’s really as simple as the Heat need to start finishing their chances, contested or not.

“All we are going to focus on is getting this thing back to the 305,” Spoelstra said. “Get this thing back to Miami. And things can shift very quickly,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be a gnarly game in Denver that is built for the competitors that we have in our locker room. By the time we are getting on that plane, all we’re thinking about is get this thing back to Miami.”

2) Miami can’t stop Denver from scoring

Through four games, Miami has a 119.6 offensive rating (and a +10.1 net rating in the series). That is an offensive rating close to Sacramento’s league-best throughout this season.

What makes the Nuggets so hard for the Heat or anyone else to stop is it’s not just one thing.

However, it starts with the Jokic and Jamal Murray two-man game.

In Game 3, that duo ran 32 pick-and-rolls and the two stars each had 30+ point triple-doubles on the night. Miami learned its lesson, and in Game 4, the Heat were determined not to let Murray get rolling and beat them. The Nuggets defense focused on Murray, blitzing him with the ball when he came off picks, pressuring even the inbounds after baskets, bringing double-teams on drives and doing whatever it took to get the ball out of his hands.

It worked on a superficial level, Murray had 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting in Game 3.

He also had 12 assists and no turnovers. His teammates stepped up and made plays.

“Jamal, regardless of what’s going on, he’s going to step up. He’s going to find a way to impact the game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The most impressive thing for me was he had 15 points tonight, and he was 5-of-17 from the field. But 12 assists and zero turnovers, and just kind of, all right, they’re putting two on me, let me make the right play. He did not get bored with making the right play. He did not say, I’m going to save us and try to carry the team. He just read the defense, made the right play, and trusted. That’s a big part of our culture is trusting one another.”

Murray’s teammates are the other key to this series.

3) Denver’s role players outplaying Heat role players. It’s not close.

Miami had a game plan and executed it. They completely sold out to stop Murray, while Bam Adebayo continued to battle and challenge Jokić. The two Nuggets’ All-Stars combined to shoot just 13-of-36 on the night.

But Aaron Gordon stepped up with 27. Bruce Brown scored 21, including 11 in the fourth quarter, taking over the offense in the clutch.

On the other side, Heat starters Max Strus and Gabe Vincent combined to shoot 1-of-10. Caleb Martin was better in Game 4, with 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting, but he’s not looked anything near the player who nearly won the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. The list just goes on.

“Every time we felt like we got it to six or eight, they were able to push it to 12,” Spoelstra said after Game 4. “That was certainly a frustrating part of the game…

“For the most part, I thought that that part of the game [Miami’s defense on Jokić and Murray] was okay. It’s the Gordon dunks or cuts; [Michael] Porter had a couple cuts; and then Brown, when Jokic was out, those drives and plays that were kind of just random plays, attacking plays, which he is fully capable of doing. Those were probably the most costly things.”

Malone had enough trust in Brown to give him the keys to the offense in the second half of the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“Bruce Brown in the fourth quarter was amazing,” Malone said. “He had I think 21 points, 11 of those were in the fourth quarter. They were giving Jamal so much attention that [we decided] let’s get Jamal off the ball, let Bruce make some plays. He was aggressive, got to the basket, made shots, and tonight was an impressive performance.”

“When he did a step-back three, I wanted to punch him, but when he made it, I was so happy,” Jokić said.

Brown had a chance to step up because Gordon had been making plays and finishing all night long. He ended the night with a game-high 27. But it was the team aspect of the Nuggets, the variety of ways they can beat you — and the execution of those players under pressure — that has proven too much for the Heat.

“I thought Aaron Gordon was huge all night long,” Malone said. “He brought his hard hat tonight and was just a warrior on both ends for us. Nikola, he had another great game. And one of the best stats of the night was Jamal Murray had 12 assists, no turnovers. In a game where he was getting blitzed and bodies thrown at him all night long, did not have one turnover, and that’s just remarkable.

And the Nuggets are now, remarkably, within one win of an NBA title.

Denver keeps executing under pressure, Gordon and Brown spark win to take command of series


MIAMI — The Nuggets just kept executing.

Nikola Jokić gets sent to the bench with five fouls — after Bam Adebayo earned an Oscar nomination drawing it — and it feels like the game and the series were about to turn. The crowd rocking and the Nuggets’ lead that was at 10 when he went out quickly was just five. But when Jokić returned after 5:16 of game time the Nuggets were still up nine. Without the two-time MVP, the Nuggets just kept executing their offense.

The Heat played their most physical, intense defense of the Finals, selling out to slow Jamal Murray in particular and not letting him score 30+ again. The Nuggets just executed their offense, and Murray finished with 12 assists without one turnover while others stepped up — led by Aaron Gordon with a game-high 27 and Bruce Brown with 21 points off the bench, including 11 in the fourth, highlighted by a critical step-back 3.

“When he did a step-back three, I wanted to punch him, but when he made it, I was so happy,” Jokić said.

It was like that all game long. Whenever Miami would make a run — the kind of stretch that became an avalanche and overwhelmed Boston and Milwaukee — Denver would just get the ball to Jokić, or Murray would draw the defense and kick to an open shooter, and the Nuggets executed their offense and got a bucket. They calmed things down, they didn’t contribute to their own demise.

It was championship-level execution from the Nuggets as they closed the game on a 17-7 run. The Nuggets were doing to the Heat in Miami what the Heat had done to every other team they faced this postseason.

Denver won Game 4 108-92, sweeping the two games in Miami (both by double digits), and now have a commanding 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

Game 5 is Monday night in Denver and it may feel more like a coronation than a basketball game.

Miami played hard. The Heat came out with their plan, they attacked the rim and did get 46 points in the paint, outscoring the Nuggets there.

But facing Denver’s elite offense, Miami needs more points and the path to that is knocking down their 3s — Miami was 8-of-25, 32%. Denver was 14-of-28 (50%) from beyond the arc.

Early on this felt like it could be a Heat night. The game was a rock fight from the opening tip, with both teams playing intense defense and missing shots they have hit much of the series. However, Denver appeared comfortable in that style and pushed their lead out to seven. Then Jimmy Butler scored seven points in a 10-2 Heat run to end the quarter and it was 21-20 Miami after one.

The start of the second quarter would prove to be a foreshadowing of the critical stretch of the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets were +1 in non-Jokić minutes to start the second thanks to eight points from Gordon in that stretch. Gordon stretched that out to 16 in the quarter and helped the Nuggets lead by four at the half — 55-51 — in a game that continued to be played in the Heat’s preferred style. Jokić had 16 points at the half but just two assists.

Denver started the third playing maybe their best basketball of the series and looking to blow the game open, getting the lead up to 13. But then came a stretch of sloppy basketball that let the Heat get the lead down to six and hang around the game. Things were getting intense…

Then came a several-minute break to check a bent rim and backboard that were at an angle. They were pulled there by a Bam Adebayo missed dunk (he missed a lot of bunnies this game), a problem noticed by Kyle Lowry. Jokić tried to hang on the rim to fix it, but it took a guy in a suit going up a ladder with a level and some tools.

Soon after Jokić to the bench with 9:24 left in the game and it felt like the entire Finals were going to turn.

The Nuggets just kept executing. Nothing changed.

“Every time we felt like we got it to six or eight, they were able to push it to 12,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the night. “That was certainly a frustrating part of the game. Brown was a big part of — some of his random drives and plays in the middle of the paint when you’re expecting it to be Murray or somebody else.”

Those plays have the Nuggets one win away from the franchise’s first NBA title.

Nuggets reportedly trade draft picks with Thunder to help keep title window open


The Denver Nuggets are just two wins from the franchise’s first NBA championship.

While Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray are trying to pick-and-roll their way to those wins, the Nuggets front office has made a trade to try and keep their title window open. The Nuggets are trading their 2029 first-round pick (protected) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 37 pick in this June’s NBA Draft and the worst of the Thunder’s 2024-first round picks, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Nuggets now control the No. 37 and 40 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, plus this additional 2024 pick. The Nuggets will try to use this 2024 first-round pick to move into the first round of this year’s draft, reports Mike Singer of the Denver Post. (Denver’s first-round pick at No. 27 belongs to Charlotte through a series of trades.)

A first-round pick and some high second-round picks allows Nuggets GM Calvin Booth to bring in several low-priced rookies who can potentially be part of the roster and rotation, freeing up money to keep an expensive core of Jokic, Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and the rest. The hope is to find another Christian Braun at the back of the first round who can contribute as a rookie.

With Jokić, Murray, Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon all locked in on big deals for the next two seasons after this, the challenge for the Nuggets is keeping quality rotation players around them to help them compete for a title without going deeper into the tax than ownership wants. Jeff Green is a free agent this summer and Bruce Brown has a $6.8 million player option that he will certainly opt out of (he will get an offer for more than $10 million a season). The Nuggets already are $7 million into the luxury tax (via Spotrac) and are looking for a way to keep below the second tax apron, making bringing those key players back a challenge.

Hence the trade, as the Nuggets look for ways to fill out their rotation with quality, but affordable, players. Good drafting — like Braun — is a way.

What does OKC get out of this? They have more first-round draft picks than they can use in the coming few years, this spreads a pick out to 2029, which they can use then or trade, depending on their needs at the time.