Who remains? The 10 best NBA free agents still available

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Through two days of free agency, there have been 58 new contracts and nine contract extensions with an estimated net value above $2.8 billion. (From the brilliant Keith Smith, via Mark Stein.)

But there are still a lot of quality free agents on the board — a lot of players who can help teams.

As of Saturday at 4 Eastern, here is our list of the Top 10 free agents still available (with comments).

1) James Harden

While he is technically still available, Harden is going to re-sign with the 76ers on a three-year deal and the sides are meeting this weekend to work out the details. No other teams are targeting him.

2) Deandre Ayton

If Kevin Durant is headed to the Suns, then Ayton is almost certainly headed to Brooklyn on a sign-and-trade that will get the former No. 1 pick the money he wants (and the Nets can build around Ayton and Ben Simmons). However, if Durant ends up anywhere else, the max contract — or even near max — offers from outside Phoenix for Ayton may have dried up. If Durant is not headed to Phoenix, it may be time for the Suns and Ayton to patch up their differences and agree to a short-term deal that keeps Phoenix as contenders.

3) Miles Bridges

He has been arrested for felony domestic abuse in Los Angeles for what, based on comments from his wife, is a very disturbing case. While he is technically a restricted free agent who would normally be in very high demand, no teams are making offers for his services. There are rumblings that the Hornets may pull his qualifying offer and let him walk for nothing as an unrestricted free agent. Until his legal case is settled, no team is going near him.

4) Collin Sexton

Sexton only played in 11 games last season due to a torn meniscus that required surgery, which slowed offers coming in. Sexton can get buckets — two seasons ago he averaged 24.3 points per game for the Cavaliers — but his ball-dominant style frustrated teammates and had some viewing him more as a sixth man. There has been buzz about Dallas having interest, but so far there is nothing official on the table he likes. Most teams picture him in the $10 million a season range.

5) T.J. Warren

If he’s healthy, Warren could be a steal. The last time we saw him play, in the bubble, he averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. Over the course of that entire season he averaged 19.8 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 40.3% from 3. However, he has played just four games the past two seasons because of stress fractures and other foot issues. There’s a risk, but a relatively minor one at below the mid-level exception, and the reward could be very high.

6) Caleb Martin

The Miami Heat wing is a restricted free agent who stepped up in every aspect of his game last season and was a quality part of the Heat rotation, averaging 9.3 points a game in just less than 23 minutes a night. He shot 41.3% from 3 for the Heat and finished well around the rim. There had been buzz about interest from the Timberwolves, but with all their recent moves it’s unclear if that interest is still there. Caleb’s twin brother Corey just got locked up by the Hornets on a four-year, $32 million deal, that much money may not be there for Caleb but he brings value.

7) Dennis Schroder

A team looking for some backup point guard depth will snap up Schroder, he averaged 13.5 points a game last season split between Boston and Houston. Teams noticed that when the Celtics shrunk Schroder’s role and gave Marcus Smart more point guard responsibilities, the team improved, Schroder is not moving the needle for a contender. However, he is an NBA-level rotation point guard who can pass, shoot the three well enough (34.4% last season), and give a team a decent 20 minutes a night. He will play somewhere in the Association next season.

8) Montrezl Harrell

The former Sixth Man of the Year will bring energy, set good picks, roll hard to the rim, and give a team a solid 20 minutes a night off the bench. He averaged 13.1 points and 6.8 rebounds a game last season coming off the bench in Washington and Charlotte. Harrell is an innings-eater, a big man who can help during the regular season and who fans will love for his hustle, but his lack of defense means he fades out of the rotation in the playoffs. There is a team with a role for him.

9)DeMarcus Cousins

He showed in Denver last season that he can be a solid backup center, he steadied the Nuggets’ second units when Nikola Jokic was on the bench. For at or just above the veteran minimum, Cousins can bring that to another team and help with their front-line rotation. The Nuggets may re-sign him, but Cousins should have options as teams look at their font line rotations and figure out they need one more center.

10)Frank Jackson

He gave the Pistons 10.6 points in 22 minutes a game when healthy last season, but with Detroit focusing on its higher-upside young guards Jackson is out with the Pistons. If a team can help him find his 3-point shot again — it was over 40% two seasons ago and dropped to 30.8% last season — there is value in him as a third guard who can play on or off the ball. He’s a good locker room guy, works hard on defense and has an NBA role to play.

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.