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).

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Nick Grace/Getty Images

BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract


Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.