Top 10 NBA free agents still available: Leonard, Schroder, more


There have been a few changes since the last time we put together this list, so it was time for an update.

John Collins, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kelly Oubre, and others got their deals put together, and with them took a lot of the available cap space. Outside of a sign-and-trade — and a few players are hoping for that — the most money available now is either the mid-level exception ($9.5 million) or something in that range.

So who is left on the market? Here are the top 10 free agents heading into Friday in NBA free agency.

1) Kawhi Leonard

The longer this drags out — with the cap space dried up from the teams that would have pursued him — the more likely it appears Kawhi Leonard will re-sign with the Clippers. Eventually. At the start of free agency, there was the report he would listen to offers from other teams, but the teams that would have made a max offer — the Knicks, Heat, Mavericks, among others — moved on with other plans.

It’s still radio silence out of Leonard’s camp, and nobody is exactly sure what he is thinking. At this point, it would take a sign-and-trade to get Leonard a max deal with another team, and the return to the Clippers in that case would be Harden-esque. Despite the offseason ACL surgery that will cost him most, if not all, of next season, Leonard is a clear max player with a salary that would start at $39.3 million (other teams could offer up to four-years $176.2 million in a sign-and-trade).

So we wait, expecting a deal with the Clippers. But nobody knows what Leonard is really thinking.

2) Dennis Schroder

Schroder has become this year’s cautionary tale about overplaying your hand. If you’re going to reject a four-year, $84 million extension offer, as Schroder did with the Lakers, you better know exactly which team is lined up to offer the $100 million contract you think is coming. Schroder thought that money was out there for him, but it never was, and especially not after a lackluster playoff performance.

With the Hornets using their remaining cap space on Kelly Oubre, it looks more like the $9.5 million mid-level exception (or something in that range) is what’s left, and it’s not exactly clear what team is stepping up with that offer. Schroder’s best option may be a short-term deal (1+1 probably) and the chance to play his way into a bigger payday in a summer or two.

3) Josh Hart (restricted)

More than a few teams could use Hart’s skills as a backup wing — he averaged 9.2 points and eight boards a game last season, shooting 32.6% from 3 — but considering the Pelicans have his rights and will likely match any offer, the deals have not been forthcoming. The Cavaliers and Pelicans had some talk about a sign-and-trade, but nothing concrete has come from that so far. A team may jump into the mix, but the smart bet is he winds up back in the Big Easy for another season.

4) Reggie Jackson

Jackson hit the market at the best possible time, coming off an impressive playoff run — he averaged 20.3 points a game against the Suns in the Western Conference Finals — and while that certainly generated interest around the league, that interest has yet to become a contract for the 10-year NBA veteran. The Clippers are at the top of the list and want to bring him back — he is still working out with the team — but other teams are still in the mix, including the Pelicans, who have the most buzz right now. Which one of those teams will step up with the most cash for the backup point guard? Probably the Clippers. Still, his strong postseason didn’t end up leading to the windfall Jackson might have hoped.

5) Lauri Markkanen (restricted)

There had been talks between Markkanen and the Hornets, but they spent their money on Kelly Oubre, leaving few options for the Finnish stretch four. Remember, the Bulls have the rights to match any offer for him, so teams need to negotiate a sign-and-trade, and that just has not come together as teams are not looking to give up an asset to land Markkanen. He was hoping for more money and a larger role than the one he had in Chicago — a role that shrank with the arrival of Nikola Vucevic — but market interest has been tepid, especially at the prices Markkanen thought were out there for him. The latest buzz was about him in Minnesota (Jaden McDaniels is the current starting four), but that has not generated a deal yet.

6) Andre Iguodala

Iguodala has reportedly narrowed his choices down to three teams: The Nets, Lakers, and Warriors. While Iguodala struggled on the court last season in Miami — 4.4 points per game, 38.3% shooting overall, and 33% from 3 — he could help those contenders in a limited role. The question is money (and leaking that he was down to three teams was likely a push to get one of those teams to dip into their mid-level exception to make an offer above the league minimum). Will any of those teams step up with extra cash?

Most speculation from league sources has Iguodala ending up back in Golden State, but wherever he lands, he will be chasing a ring.

7) Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap is not returning to Denver — he’s even selling his home there — but it’s unclear where the 36-year-old will play next season. There was some buzz about a return to the Hawks, or going to the Warriors for their mid-level exception, but nothing has come to pass so far. Because of his age, Millsap likely only gets a one-year deal, but he still brings real value — he averaged 9 points and 4.7 rebounds a game last season in Denver, plays solid defense, and shot 34.3% from 3. A lot of teams could use a guy like that.

8) Hamidou Diallo (restricted)

It’s a bit of a surprise he is still available, but this is the trap of restricted free agency — teams know the Pistons will match any reasonable offer, and nobody is coming in over the top for the athletic wing who still needs refinement. Diallo is 23 and took a big step forward last season, shooting 34.1% from 3 (39% after being traded to Detroit) and averaging 11.6 points a game. He can slash to the rim and draw fouls, and while he needs to finish better and shoot better from the free throw line (64% last season). His off-the-charts athleticism makes his upside interesting. He’d be a smart pickup on a two-or-three year deal for more $4-$5 million a season, but will another team make that offer only to watch the Pistons match? So far, no team has.

9) J.J. Redick

A veteran shooter who teams can trust in clutch moments on the court and who is good in the locker room is going to land a new contract — likely a one-year deal at age 37, but a new contract nonetheless. Redick struggled last season in large part due to injuries — 7.4 points per game, 37.1% from three — but could regain his form in a limited role and really help a contender. It feels like a team with title aspirations will step up soon for Redick, but at this point the focus is more on his podcast than the offers coming in.

10) Justise Winslow

The challenge for Winslow is he is a wing who can’t shoot well from the outside — 18.5% from 3 last season, and he basically struggles with any shot outside 10 feet — and while he’s a decent defender and secondary playmaker, the lack of shooting limits his role. It’s why the Grizzlies chose not to pick up his $13 million option for this season, but his athleticism and potential make him a good roll of the dice as a backup by a team rounding out its roster with smaller contracts. A return to the Grizzlies is not out of the question.

Brittney Griner WNBA star freed in US-Russia prisoner swap

Brittney Griner

WASHINGTON — Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, American officials said. The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden, but carried a heavy price — and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.

The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.

Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.

The swap was confirmed by U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations who were not authorized to publicly discuss the deal before a White House announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. Biden spoke with Griner on the phone Thursday while her wife, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office. The president was to address reporters later in the morning.

Russian and U.S. officials had conveyed cautious optimism in recent weeks after months of strained negotiations, with Biden saying in November that he was hopeful that Russia would engage in a deal now that the midterm elections were completed. A top Russian official said last week that a deal was possible before year’s end.

Even so, the fact that the deal was a one-for-one swap was a surprise given that U.S. officials had for months expressed their their determination to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government has said are baseless.

In releasing Bout, the U.S. freed a a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. Bout, whose exploits inspired a Hollywood movie, was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.

The Biden administration was ultimately willing to exchange Bout if it meant Griner’s freedom. The detention of one of the greatest players in WNBA history contributed to a swirl of unprecedented public attention for an individual detainee case — not to mention intense pressure on the White House.

Griner’s arrest in February made her the most high-profile American jailed abroad. Her status as an openly gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LBGTQ community, infused racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal saga and made each development a matter of international importance.

Her case not only brought unprecedented publicity to the dozens of Americans wrongfully detained by foreign governments, but it also emerged as a major inflection point in U.S.-Russia diplomacy at a time of deteriorating relations prompted by Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

The exchange was carried out despite deteriorating relations between the powers. But the imprisonment of Americans produced a rare diplomatic opening, yielding the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow — a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — in more than five months.

In an extraordinary move during otherwise secret negotiations, Blinken revealed publicly in July that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia for Griner and Whelan. Though he did not specify the terms, people familiar with it said the U.S. had offered Bout.

Such a public overture drew a chiding rebuke from the Russians, who said they preferred to resolve such cases in private, and carried the risk of weakening the U.S. government’s negotiating hand for this and future deals by making the administration appear too desperate. But the announcement was also meant to communicate to the public that Biden was doing what he could and to ensure pressure on the Russians.

Besides the efforts of U.S. officials, the release also followed months of backchannel negotiations involving Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a frequent emissary in hostage talks, and his top deputy Mickey Bergman. The men had made multiple trips abroad in the last year to discuss swap scenarios with Russian contacts.

Griner was arrested at the Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July, though still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case.

She acknowledged in court that she possessed the canisters, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing.

Before being sentenced on Aug. 4 and receiving a punishment her lawyers said was out of line for the offense, an emotional Griner apologized “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.” She added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

Her supporters had largely stayed quiet for weeks after her arrest, but that approach changed in May once the State Department designated her as unlawfully detained. A separate trade, Marine veteran Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted in the U.S. in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, spurred hope that additional such exchanges could be in the works.

Whelan has been held in Russia since December 2018. The U.S. government also classified him as wrongfully detained. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

Whelan was not included in the Reed prisoner swap, escalating pressure on the Biden administration to ensure that any deal that brought home Griner also included him.

Three things to know: Pelicans take over No.1 seed in West after Suns crushed by Celtics


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Chris Paul returns, Celtics don’t care and thrash Suns

There are no statement games in December, but if there were this is what they would look like.

This could have been billed as a potential Finals preview — the top team in the East, the Boston Celtics, against the West-leading Phoenix Suns, who were getting Chris Paul back (he showed his rust after being out 14 games, with as many turnovers as points, four). However, the reality is there is a gap right now — based on Wednesday night, a rather large gap — between the top of the East and West.

The Celtics got 25 points each from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, while the Boston defense held Phoenix to under a point per possession on offense on their way to a crushing 125-98 win. Boston led by 27 at the half and the final 24 minutes felt like garbage time.

“Feels like that game should count for two losses,” was how Devin Booker put it postgame (via Duane Rankin).

What it felt more like — especially paired with the Suns’ recent 130-111 loss to the Mavericks — is that Phoenix is the same team as a season ago: An outstanding regular season team with some deficiencies that get exposed in playoff-like (or actual playoff) games.

The loss dropped the Suns to the No.2 seed in the West for now — keep reading to check on the Pelicans — but whether it’s Phoenix or New Orleans or Memphis at the top of the conference right now, they are on a different tier than the teams at the top of the East. Boston and Milwaukee are just better.

The West’s preseason favorites — the Warriors and Clippers — both had ugly losses on Wednesday: The Warriors fell apart at the end against the Jazz (keep reading for more on that) and a Clippers team with their two stars fell to an Orlando team that had lost nine in a row. The Clippers and Warriors are keeping their heads above water and both are playing the long game, but we’re approaching a third of the way into the season neither has put it all together and looked like a threat for an extended period (injuries play into that in both cases).

Phoenix had looked like the best team in the West, and now we see the gap between them and Boston.

2) Pelicans take over top seed in West with win over Pistons

The New Orleans Pelicans are the new No.1 seed in the West.

While the Suns were getting their doors blown off by the Celtics, the Pelicans took care of a feisty Pistons team 104-98 behind 29 and 10 from Zion Williamson.

The Pelicans are legit: Sixth in the NBA in offense, third in defense (the real surprise and a sign of the work coach Willie Green is doing), and second overall in net rating behind only the Celtics. New Orleans has a balance of veterans and youth, athleticism and savvy. Having a locker room leader like CJ McCollum to get everyone pulling the rope in the same direction has been critical in the Big Easy.

The Pelicans are on a 54-win pace. If that seems high to you know Cleaning the Glass thinks that underestimates the Pelicans’ current performance and says they have played more like a 57-win team. The more conservative estimation of’s RAPTOR model still has the Pels winning 50 games.

Part of that is there Pelicans also have done what great teams do: Keep winning despite its stars being out. McCollum, Herbert Jones and Brandon Ingram have recently missed time, but New Orleans has won five in a row and 10-of-12 despite the shifting lineups. They have depth, balance and an identity that carries them.

The next couple of weeks will be a real measuring stick for New Orleans: They host the Suns for two games, travel to Utah for two, then face the Suns again, followed by the Bucks. Six games against quality teams.

Expect plenty of New Orleans wins in this stretch. This team didn’t luck its way to the top of the standings, and while we can debate how far they might go in the postseason they have earned the right to be in the discussion of who could come out of the West.

3) Jazz score four points in final :07 seconds, beat Warriors

The Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, so they can shrug off this loss if they want, but when you’re up four with 13.3 seconds left — and Utah’s Jordan Clarkson had just been ejected on a soft Flagrant 2 — this is a game you should close out.

The Warriors didn’t. First, they let this happen.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker curled off a pick and drove to the basket and the Warriors wisely were going to let him have it, but as he drove Klay Thompson “fell asleep” (his words) on Malik Beasley, who was wide open at the arc. Alexander-Walker passed out of the easy two to Beasley, who drained the 3 and made it a one-point game, 123-122.

Still, the Warriors should have closed this out — they were ahead with 6.9 seconds remaining and the ball. Inbound the ball, hit your free throws, get out with the W. Instead, after a timeout, this happened.

Golden State inbounded the ball to the red-hot Jordan Poole — he finished the night with 36 points — but Alexander-Walker stripped him, the ball caromed to Beasley who raced up in transition and he found Simone Fontecchio for the game-winning dunk.

Steve Kerr was understandably frustrated after this one.

“We didn’t take care of the ball,” Kerr said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “We turned it over, and they took the game and it’s a shame because our guys did a lot of great stuff.

“I thought, to that point, they really fought and earned the right to win the game and then we didn’t close it. And you got to close it. You got to be rock solid with the ball. You got to be smart defensively. And we were neither of those things the last 13 seconds.”

The Warriors are 13-13 and sit as the 10 seed in the West. It’s easy to say they have looked better of late and are playing the long-game coming off an NBA title — both of those things are true — but there are games like this that are a reminder this Warriors team is different and not quite as deep as the one from a season ago.

Watch insane Jazz comeback in final 10 seconds, Fontecchio hits game-winner to beat Warriors


The Warriors were up four points (123-119) with 13.3 seconds to go — they had the game on lock.

Then it got wild (well, this game had already gotten wild with a Jordan Clarkson ejection on a soft Flagrant 2 just 15 seconds earlier).

Utah’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker came off a pick and drove to the basket and had an easy layup, but as he drove Klay Thompson admitted he drifted into the paint and “fell asleep” on Malik Beasley, who was wide open at the arc. Alexander-Walker passed out of the easy two to Beasley, who drained the 3 and made it a one-point game, 123-122.

Still, the Warriors were up with 6.9 seconds remaining. All they had to do was inbound the ball and hit their free throws.

Golden State inbounded the ball to the red-hot Jordan Poole — the best player on the floor that night with 36 points — but Alexander-Walker stripped him with a strong defensive play. The ball bounced to Beasley who raced up in transition and he found Simone Fontecchio running the lane and the big man finished the play with a dunk.

“We didn’t take care of the ball,” coach Steve Kerr said after the game, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “We turned it over, and they took the game and it’s a shame because our guys did a lot of great stuff.

“I thought, to that point, they really fought and earned the right to win the game and then we didn’t close it. And you got to close it. You got to be rock solid with the ball. You got to be smart defensively. And we were neither of those things the last 13 seconds.”

The Warriors can shrug this off, they were playing without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green for the night, but still the win was in their hands. For a Jazz team that has struggled since a surprisingly hot start, this is the kind of win that can spark a team mid-season.


Watch Durant, Irving combine for 62 points to lift Nets past Hornets


NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 33 points, Kevin Durant had 29 and the Brooklyn Nets outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 122-116 on Wednesday night.

Seth Curry added 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting to help the Nets won for the fifth time in six games.

Terry Rozier scored 30 points and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 29 for the Hornets. They have lost three straight and seven of 10.

Brooklyn led by 23 points at the start of the third quarter, but was outscored 32-23 in the period. The Hornets cut it to 109-107 with 6:28 left in the game.

Durant then re-entered the game and hit his first shot, and Irving followed with a three-point play to extend the lead 113-107.

Oubre scored five consecutive points, including a 3-pointer that made it a one-point game.

Durant then hit two 3-pointers to increase the Nets’ lead 118-114.