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

Boston Celtics v LA Clippers
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

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.

Malone’s message clear to Nuggets, ‘I don’t think we played well in Game 1’


DENVER — Game 1 was a coach’s dream in some ways for Michael Malone and the Nuggets staff.

They got three-quarters of dominating play — the Nuggets were up by 21 entering the fourth quarter — and they got the win. But they also have one quarter of struggling, sloppy play that gives Malone a valid reason to call guys out and have a candid film session.

“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Michael Malone said, despite his team picking up an 11-point win. “I watched that tape, and they were 5-of-16 on wide-open threes. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open threes is problematic, and if you think that Max Strus is going to go 0-for-9 again or Duncan Robinson is going to go 1-for-5 again, you’re wrong. The fourth quarter, we gave up 30 points, 60% from the field, 50% from three, 6-of-12 from the three-point line.”

Malone added he thought the Nuggets offense struggled in the fourth quarter because they didn’t get stops so they were constantly going up against the Heat’s set defense.

“That fourth quarter, you know, we came out in the flat,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We had a great looks at the basket, we just didn’t knock them down. But we want to get into our offense a little bit earlier than like :14 seconds on the clock and just play normal basketball, our basketball.”

It was all part of a theme Malone wanted to drive home: They are still three wins from a title and those will not be easy to get.

“I told our players today, don’t read the paper,” Malone said (do any of those 20-somethings get an old-school paper?) “Don’t listen to the folks on the radio and TV saying that this series is over and that we’ve done something, because we haven’t done a damn thing.”

There were positives for the Nuggets to take away from Game 1, particularly on the defensive end.

“I think when you see the last game, us against Miami, in the first three quarters, they score 65, 68 points [Ed. note: it was 63]. I think that’s really amazing,” Nikola Jokić said. “And then you can see the fourth quarter, they scored 30-something. When we are collectively really good, then I’m really good [defensively], too. But when we are collectively not good, I’m not really good.”

Jimmy Butler had praise for Jokic’s defense.

“He moves his feet well. He’s constantly making guys make decisions whenever they get into the paint. Then his outlet passes from a defensive rebound are very, very elite; that, he’s been doing his entire career,” Butler said. “As much as everybody looks at what he does on the offensive side of the ball, he’s a hell of a defender, as well.”

“I think overall, I think Nikola’s defense has been a real positive,” Malone said. “I think you have to get past the eye test with Nikola because I think most people just think of great defensive players as a guy who is blocking a shot or just making a great athletic play. Nikola does it differently. He has a tremendous IQ. He’s got great anticipation. He’s got unbelievable hands for deflections, blocks. He’s got unbelievable feet for deflections.”

In the postseason, the Nuggets have held their own in the non-Jokić minutes and that continued in Game 1 — the Nuggets were only -3 in the non-Jokić minutes in that game (-1 in the first half and -2 in the fourth quarter).

“Defense,” Aaron Gordon said of the focus in non-Jokić minutes. “So, when he’s sitting on the floor we need to lock in on defense. That’s probably the most important, crucial aspect of the non-Nikola Jokic minutes because that’s how we get our offense, as well.”

In its last couple of series, the other team had to be aggressive with adjustments because the Nuggets were forcing them to. The Finals may prove a little different, we could see some defensive tweaks early from the Nuggets.

Denver’s offense is going to get points, if its defense can be as good as Game 1, Malone is going to have to look hard to find things before the Game 3 film sessions.

Heat look for ways to make Nuggets uncomfortable in Game 2


DENVER — One thing was clear from Game 1 of the NBA Finals: The Nuggets are not going to assist in their own demise the way the Celtics and Bucks did against the Heat. When Miami made their fourth-quarter run Thursday, the Nuggets showed poise, got the ball to Nikola Jokić, and got the comfortable home win.

If Miami is going to win Game 2 and, eventually, this Finals series, they have to make Denver a lot more uncomfortable.

The Heat need to be the team applying pressure.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive putting pressure on the rim,” Jimmy Butler said, echoing his comments after Game 1 when he didn’t get to the free throw line once. “I think that makes everybody’s job a lot easier. They definitely follow suit whenever I’m aggressive on both sides of the ball. So I have to be the one to come out and kick that off the right way, which I will, and we’ll see where we end up.”

Jokić only had to defend two shots at the rim in Game 1. The Heat want that number to go up exponentially in Game 2. To a man Heat players discussed playing with more “intention” or “force” on Sunday.

It would also help if they hit their jumpers.

The Heat as a team were 5-of-16 on open 3-pointers (using the Second Spectrum tracking data). Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin combined to shoot 2-of-23 from 3 in Game 1.

“We did see some things that we liked and we got some great looks, myself included,” Strus said. “We’ve got to knock those down.”

“In terms of the shooters, that’s pretty simple. Let it fly. Ignite. Once they see two go down, it could be three, it could turn into six just like that,” Erik Spoelstra said, snapping his fingers, when asked what he told his shooters heading into Game 2. “As long as we are getting those clean looks, that’s what matters.”

One of those shooters, Martin, was not at practice due to an illness on Saturday, but he likely plays on Sunday.

Another shooter the Heat could use is Tyler Herro, but his status remains “unchanged,” Spoelstra said. Herro has been out since fracturing his hand in the first round of the playoffs, although he is nearing a return. Spoelstra would not rule out Herro for Game 2, but he wasn’t making it sound likely.

The hard part of making the Heat uncomfortable is slowing Jokić, and just as important is not letting the Jokić and Jamal Murray pick-and-roll get flowing. Heat players across the board talked about needing to tighten up on the defensive end as they adjust the off-ball movement and the more untraditional style of play the Nuggets use.

“I think it’s an opportunity to learn,” Robinson said of going against the Nuggets offense in Game 1. “You watch the film, go to school on it, try to take away some things that you did well, and then certainly learn from some things that you can do better. I think in that sense there are some encouraging aspects of it.”

One thing the Heat have done better than their opponents in every round is adjust — Miami got better faster than the teams they beat along the way to the Finals. That won’t be easy against a Nuggets team with a strong coach and a high-IQ MVP in Jokić.

Expect a much more aggressive Heat team in Game 2. Whether that is enough to make the Nuggets uncomfortable remains to be seen.

Coach, front office moves update: Pistons make Williams hiring official, Borrego or Stotts to Bucks bench?


There are far from settled across the NBA in both the coaching and front office circles, with news still leaking out daily. Here’s an update on things which have come to light in recent days.

• The Detroit Pistons made the hiring of Monty Williams official.

“A week ago, I was not sure what the future would hold,” Williams said in a statement, referencing reports he had planned to take a year away from coaching. “But, after talking with Tom [Gores, team principal owner] and Troy [Weaver, Pistons GM], I was excited hearing their vision for the Pistons going forward. They had a thoughtful plan and I am so appreciative of the emphasis they placed on the personal side of this business. They showed tremendous consideration for me and my family throughout this process.

“They also showed a commitment to success and doing things the right way,” he said. “As we discussed the team and expressed our collective goals, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for me to help a talented young team and build a strong culture here in Detroit. This is obviously a special place with a deep basketball history, and my family and I are looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this city and organization.”

Williams has a six-year, $78.5 million contract with the team and that reportedly could grow to more than eight years, $100 million if incentives are hit. He was brought in to help build a culture of defense and discipline for a franchise with some nice young players but many questions.

• Kevin Ollie, the former NBA player and UConn coach who was in the mix for the Pistons’ job before Williams was hired, will be on the bench in Brooklyn next season.

• While Adrian Griffin has not officially signed his contract as the new Bucks head coach, he is sitting in on meetings running up to the draft and has essentially started the job, reports Eric Nehm and Shams Charania at The Athletic.

More interestingly, The Athletic reports the Bucks plan to put an experienced, veteran head coach next to the rookie Griffin, and are speaking to former Hornets head coach James Borrego and former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Bringing in an experienced staff to put around Griffin is the smart move, with what we saw this season with Joe Mazzulla in Boston as an example of why this is the smart path.

• The Wizards have hired former Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk to be the right-hand man next to new Wizards president Michael Winger. This is a quality hire. Schlenk was rumored to have questioned Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray to put next to Trae Young — a move ownership wanted — and by mid-season he was pushed out the door. Having Winger and Schlenk in the Washington front office is a lot of brain power, the question remains will they be given true freedom by owner Ted Leonsis to make moves for the long term and not prioritize just making the playoffs? The Wizards have a big offseason coming up with questions about new contracts/extensions for Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

• Aaron Nelson, the training staff guru hired by the Pelicans away from the Suns in 2019 to help Zion Williamson and others, appears to be out of the mix in a restructured staff, reports Christian Clark at the Times-Picayune. Zion did not have a great relationship with Nelson, but the question is was Nelson the scapegoat for players issues beyond his control? From Clark’s article:

Williamson’s relationship with Nelson became strained during his rookie season. At different points, Williamson refused to work with him…

Brandon Ingram sat out 29 consecutive games with an injury the team described as a left toe contusion. Ingram kicked the back of a Memphis Grizzlies player’s foot in November. Two days after the injury, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Ingram was “day to day.” Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Ingram did not play again until Jan. 25 — exactly two months after hurting his toe…

Ingram has sometimes seemed unwilling to play through minor discomfort, to the point where some of his teammates have become frustrated with him over the past two years. The Pelicans thought they had solved their player care and performance problem by hiring Nelson. Four years later, Nelson’s time in charge of the department is over.

When the Pelicans have all their stars on the court, this is at the very least, a playoff team in the West and potentially a dangerous one. I’m not going to speculate on the internal dynamics of the Pelicans front office and training team, but after years of injury issues it’s fair to ask if this is a matter of the training staff, or is this on the players themselves?

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.