Top 10 free agents still available: Kawhi Leonard, Dennis Schroder, more

Boston Celtics v LA Clippers
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It’s been a wild couple of first days of NBA free agency.

Miami loaded up for a title run, Chicago became respectable but also paid DeMar DeRozan a head-scratching amount of money, the Lakers got old but added needed shooting, and Chris Paul may have been the biggest winner of all. There was a dizzying amount of deals agreed to in the first 48 hours of free agency.

Who is left for teams to pick up? Here are the top 10 free agents who have yet to commit to a team, although a couple of them have all but committed.

1) Kawhi Leonard

Can anyone read Kawhi Leonard? Around the league, the conventional wisdom and expectation long had been that the two-time Finals MVP — and All-NBA player last season — would opt out then re-sign with the Clippers, maximizing the money he would make. He worked too hard to get back home to Southern California to bolt, right?

Then came word he would listen to other offers from other teams. Despite the offseason ACL surgery that will cost him most, if not all, of next season, teams would gladly pay to pry him away from Los Angeles. He’s still a clear max player, which in his case starts at $39.3 million in the first year of a four-year deal worth $176.2 million.

It has been radio silence from Team Leonard. Per usual. Your guess as to what he’s thinking is as good as anyones. Considering the cap space around the league has been eaten up by other deals (the Spurs had some money but that was never happening), he probably re-signs with the Clippers. As expected. But nobody knows what Leonard is really thinking or what he might do.

2) John Collins (NOW HAS REACHED A DEAL)

And literally one minute after this story was published, the word came down Collins was off the market. From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

That’s not max money, which is what Collins wanted, but it’s pretty close and still generational money (most teams around the league didn’t see him as a clear max player anyway). Collins took a couple of days to think about it, but he really had no choice. He can look around the league and see that only the Thunder and Spurs have serious cap space left, and if they weren’t making an offer Collins bigger than that (and those teams know if they did max Collins, the Hawks probably just match).

Collins averaged 17.6 points and 7.4 assists a game last season and is a shot blocker/rim protector on the other end — he was a key part of the Hawks’ deep playoff run.

3) Spencer Dinwiddie

While he is technically still available, a sign-and-trade that brings him to Washington is reportedly nearly done. The only question is how to make the sign-and-trade work for the Nets, who are over the cap and have no desire to take back Kyle Kuzma in a trade with the Wizards. The most likely way is to make the three-team Russell Westbrook to the Lakers trade (remember Aaron Holiday going from the Pacers to Wizards was folded into this deal) and make it a four-team, where the Nets generate an $11.5 million trade exception. Except someone will have to throw the Lakers a sweetener, they don’t want to help the Nets out of the goodness of their hearts.

It’s complex, but one way or another it almost certainly gets done, and Dinwiddie will be in a backcourt with Bradley Beal in our nation’s capital.

4) Dennis Schroder

That four-year, $84 million extension offer from the Lakers Schroder turned down is looking pretty good right about now.

The market has dried up, with Chicago landing Lonzo Ball, the Knicks spending their big chunk of money on Evan Fournier and getting Kemba Walker, while the Pelicans added Devonte' Graham, Tomas Satoransky, and Garrett Temple. Schroder’s best hope is that another team comes in with a short-term deal (1+1 probably) at around the mid-level exception (the Knicks were a candidate until the Walker deal). Schroder is not getting his long-term security and is going to have to take a short deal and hope his play earns him a bigger payday next summer (or the one after).

5) Kelly Oubre Jr.

There had been a fair amount of buzz about Oubre ending up in San Antonio with the Spurs, but nothing has come together so far. The challenge is Oubre made $14 million last season and expected to at least get offers in that ballpark, but when other teams came calling — Miami was one — the offer was closer to the mid-level exception of $9.5 million. Oubre has waited out the market for a couple of days and… is still waiting.

Oubre should intrigue teams. He’s an athletic wing who can play as a small-ball four, but he shot 31.6% from 3 last season. At age 26 when next season starts, does he have another big step forward in him. He wanted more offensive freedom in his new home, but his options are dwindling, and he may have to take a short-term deal and play his way into the contract he wants next offseason.

6) Josh Hart

The Pelicans extended a qualifying offer to Hart and can — and likely will — match any offer for the guard. That has kept the market for him down. According to a report, one possibility is the Cavaliers, who have stepped in and are talking sign-and-trade.

Outside of this trade or something similar, it’s hard to see Hart landing anywhere but the Big Easy. Hart averaged 9.2 points and eight boards a game off the bench for the Pelicans last season, shooting 32.6% from 3.

7) Reggie Jackson

There has been a fair amount of interest in Jackson as a backup point guard after his impressive playoff run — 20.3 points a game against the Suns in the Western Conference Finals. Of course the Clippers would like to bring him back, but the Celtics, Pelicans, Knicks, and Nuggets are all reportedly in the mix. It all comes down to which one of those teams steps up with the most cash — Jackson is a 10-year NBA veteran and is going to take the biggest kick at the can he can get. At this point he likely lands a short-term deal, either a 1+1 or a two-year contract.

8) Danny Green

Teams that see themselves as contenders — the 76ers, Celtics, Bucks, Bulls — plus the Pelicans have reportedly reached out to Green about his services. While he played last season in Philly, the 76ers and Green are nowhere near a deal, reports Keith Pompey at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Green made $15.4 million last season, but at age 34 offers appear to be coming in lower this season so far. Green averaged 9.5 points a game for the Sixers, shot 40.5% from 3 (but is a bit streaky), plays solid defense on the wing, and is the kind of veteran glue guy off the bench every contender could. The only question is price.

9) Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls extended a qualifying offer to Markkanen, so they have the right to match any offer, and they are looking to set up a sign-and-trade for the Finnish big man. Markkanen wants a bigger role than the shrinking one he had in Chicago after the arrival of Nikola Vucevic. However, Markkanen may have overestimated his market value; the Spurs were interested but his asking price was too high and the deal fell apart, according to Brian Windhorst on The Hoop Collective podcast. (The Spurs turned around and signed Zach Collins despite his ankle surgeries.)

The buzz now is about Minnesota being interested in Markkanen (Jaden McDaniels is the current starting four for the Timberwolves). There are not a lot of deals Markkanen may like if that one falls through.

10) Andre Iguodala

Miami did not pick up the veteran wing’s $15 million option — as expected — and now the buzz is a reunion with Golden State is the most likely option for the 37-year-old former Finals MVP. The Lakers are also in the mix (Laker GM Rob Pelinka is Iguodala’s former agent). Iguodala struggled on the court last season in Miami — 4.4 points per game, 38.3% shooting overall and 33% from 3 — but a lot of his value is in the locker room with younger players and intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Iguodala will want more than the minimum. Would the Warriors dip into their mid-level exception to make that happen? Would the Lakers? Still, all the buzz around the league is about Iguodala returning to the Bay Area; expect that to happen.

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

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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.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.