Seven top remaining NBA free agents

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The pace of NBA free agency has slowed to a crawl, with rosters largely set and teams rounding out the end of their bench or offering Exhibit 10 — training camp — contracts. Of course, huge shakeups of Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving/Donovan Mitchell trades loom, but at this point things are slow enough on that front for us to project ahead to the coming season.

And there are still some rotation-level free agents on the market teams still could add to their mix.

Here are the seven top remaining free agents still available. None of them are true changers, but there are players that will help over the course of 82 and make a team better.

[Note: I have not put the Hornets’ Miles Bridges on this list. He has been charged with felony domestic abuse and child abuse. While he is technically a restricted free agent, no team is going near him — including Charlotte — until his criminal case is resolved, and likely for a long while after that.]

1) Collin Sexton

Despite only playing in just 11 games last season due to a torn meniscus that required surgery, Sexton thought he would get starter-level guard money (at least $18 million a season, likely north of $20 million). Sexton believed the 24.3 points per game he scored for the Cavaliers two seasons ago carried more weight than it proved to with teams (reports he frustrated teammates with his ball-dominant play didn’t help).

The Cavaliers reportedly have made an offer in the three-year, $40 million range, and it’s hard to picture a team coming in far enough over the top of that number that the Cavaliers wouldn’t just match (most teams valued him at about that range). Sexton could play for the qualifying offer — $7.2 million — and become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

2) Dennis Schroder

Point guard is a critical position, and a team will snap up the veteran German before the season starts. He averaged 13.5 points a game last season, beginning the campaign in Boston and getting traded to Houston midseason. Boston gave him too big a role and things looked better without him (and with more Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum), but Schroder can help a team in a backup role. He’s an NBA-level rotation point guard who can pass, shoot the three well enough (34.4% last season), and give a team 20 minutes a night.

3) Montrezl Harrell

He has his own legal troubles to deal with — police found three pounds of marijuana in a car he was driving — but a team will likely sign the former Sixth Man of the Year. Harrell went out and made his case this past weekend, showing up to the Drew League in Los Angeles and dropping 31.

Harrell can help a team over the course of 82 games — he plays hard, set good picks, rolls aggressively to the rim, and can give a team 20 solid big man minutes a night. He averaged 13.1 points and 6.8 rebounds a game last season coming off the bench in Washington and Charlotte. Long a fan favorite because of his hustle, he’s a great innings-eater big man — he helps in the regular season but his defensive struggles mean he fades out of the rotation in the playoffs. Still, there is a place for him.

4)DeMarcus Cousins

Last season, Cousins just wanted the chance to prove he still belonged in the NBA, and he did that with his play in Denver. Cousins steadied the Nuggets’ second units when Nikola Jokic was on the bench and was a solid part of the rotation. Cousins brings depth to a front-line rotation for the regular season at the cost of the veteran minimum. The four-time All-Star should get a chance somewhere.

5) LaMarcus Aldridge

While at age 36 he faded from the Nets rotation toward the end of the season, he still averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game for Brooklyn and proved a solid bench player. He can score in the post or the midrange, and can pass out of those areas and keep the ball moving. For a playoff-bound team looking for a guy who can give them 15 minutes a night along the front line, the seven-time All-Star is a fit. Aldridge is still chasing his first ring and would prefer his age 37 season be with a title contender.

6)Carmelo Anthony

He averaged a solid 13.3 points and 4.2 rebounds a game last season for the train wreck that was the Los Angeles Lakers, accepting a bench role and playing solidly for them. He could do that for another team, providing some bench scoring and a popular locker room player for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. There had been some buzz about the Lakers bringing him back (they have one open roster spot), but Los Angeles likely wants the Russell Westbrook situation resolved before making any more roster decisions.

7)Frank Jackson

A team looking for a solid third point guard should give Jackson a call. He averaged 10.6 points in 22 minutes a game last season for the Pistons, and while Detroit likes him, it is a team focusing on its higher-upside young guards. Jackson lost his 3-point shot last season — it was over 40% two seasons ago and dropped to 30.8% last season — but if he can find it again he brings real value as a third guard who can play on or off the ball. He’s a good locker room guy, works hard on defense and belongs in an NBA rotation.

Honorable mention: Jordan Nwora

The Milwaukee Bucks restricted free agent wing is still out there and no team has tried to poach him. That’s mildly surprising because Nwora is athletic, is switchable defensively, and has a career 37% rate from 3. He’s still a bit of a project and other teams likely felt the Bucks were going to match any reasonable offer, and Nwora is a little raw to be giving him unreasonable offers. Still, the potential is there, and it should be tempting to a team with a good development program. The smart money is he will eventually work out a deal with the Bucks. Nwora played in 62 games for Milwaukee last season, averaging 7.9 points a game.

Reports: Kyrie Irving demands trade before Feb. 9 deadline

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
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Kyrie Irving‘s agent tried to spark contract extension talks with the Nets recently, but Brooklyn felt no rush to dive into those talks, and the offer they did make — not for a full four years and filled with guarantees for Irving to meet — increased Irving’s frustration with the organization. The Nets, wisely, wanted to see more out of Irving before talking about the future, while Irving has felt everything with Brooklyn has been conditional.

Irving responded with a bombshell, demanding a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with the news, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have since confirmed it.

 

So much for a quiet trade deadline.

There are so many angles to this bombshell, but the sense of Irving feeling disrespected by Nets management and ownership is not new. Charania added this detail in his story at The Athletic:

The Nets recently offered Irving an extension with guarantee stipulations, according to league sources, an offer which was declined.

Irving wants a four-year, full max extension, no stipulations, Charania reports. That’s also what he wanted when he pushed for a contract extension with the Nets last summer, but after a couple of seasons of disruptions and him missing a lot of games due to his COVID vaccination status, the Nets were not interested in cementing their relationship long-term (Irving did look around for a new home, but that went nowhere).

The disruptions carried over into this season when Irving was suspended for what became eight games due to a Tweet promoting an antisemitic documentary. Through all this, the Nets fired Steve Nash as coach.

Whatever has happened off the court, when Irving has been on the court he has been his elite playmaking self, averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Fans voted him in an All-Star starter, and he has carried the Nets while Kevin Durant has been out.

While the Nets don’t want to give away Irving in a trade, if he’s gone this summer as a free agent they need to find a deal to get something in return (and ideally keep their status as a potential, maybe fringe, contender in the East). The Nets are not wrong that all the places Irving would want to go as a free agent will require a sign-and-trade, which gives Brooklyn some leverage. Irving has some leverage here, too: If Team X comes up with a trade the Nets like but Irving lets it be known he won’t re-sign there as a free agent, it limits what teams will offer.

When checking with league sources,  the first name on everyone’s lips are the Lakers, with a package centered around Russell Westbrook and both of the Lakers’ unprotected future picks (a trade that was discussed last summer). The Lakers likely have to sweeten that pot a little with another young player. Adding Irving to the mix with LeBron James and Anthony Davis does make the Lakers a threat to come out of a West with no dominant team, and Los Angeles might be willing to extend or re-sign Irving to a longer deal, they are all in on winning now.

Other teams that come up in conversations are the Heat (a team looking for point guard help and a spark, but does Irving fit the Miami team culture?), the Mavericks need another star next to Luka Dončić, and the Clippers are always active and aggressive at the trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Suns are interested. Other teams looking to make the leap up to contender status may try to throw their hat in the ring. Considering Irving’s reputation as a challenge for coaches and front office staff, it will be interesting to see how many teams are interested in Irving’s extensions/contract demands.

Whatever direction this goes expect the Irving trade rumors to fly for the next six days.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly to take part in 3-point contest All-Star weekend

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
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The All-Star Saturday night 3-point contest has passed the Dunk Contest in watchability because the stars still do it. Look at this year’s Dunk Contest, there are some interesting athletes involved, and maybe it becomes a memorable event. Still, there will be no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Anthony Edwards (the way that Jordan, Kobe, and other greats took part in the contest back in the day).

However, the stars turn out for the 3-point contest. This year, that starts with Damian Lillard, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

The coaches selected Lillard as one of the All-Star Game reserves, he was already headed to Salt Lake City. This is Lillard’s third time in the 3-point Shootout.

Over the coming week, expect a lot more big names to jump into the 3-point contest — the best shooters in the game want to do this event (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have each done it multiple times, although whether they will this year is unknown).

All-Star Saturday night: Come for the 3-point Shootout, hang around for the Dunk Contest.

Lakers reportedly exploring Westbrook trade in talks with Jazz

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This feels like a “let’s leak this so our fan base thinks we’re trying” report rather than something that will come close to happening.

The Lakers have re-engaged the Jazz in Russell Westbrook trade talks, reports Chris Haynes at Bleacher Report.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz have had exploratory conversations centered around star guard Russell Westbrook, league sources tell Bleacher Report. However, the Lakers are said to be in communication with most teams to sift through the most reasonable and logical options available.

If the Lakers couldn’t pull off a trade like this over the summer, what has changed now?

The Lakers would be more than happy to move on from Westbrook and bring in more shooting and depth, but this is Danny Ainge they’re dealing with — the price would be both the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, likely unprotected. The Jazz would send back some combination of Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk — do any three of those players make the Lakers title contenders this season? Are the Lakers willing to give up those two picks to be a team that could make the second round of the playoffs?

Now, if the Raptors get in the trade game, would the combination of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. get the Lakers to surrender Westbrook and both picks? John Hollinger at The Athletic says that scenario is floating around, although everyone continues to wait to see if the Raptors are going to jump into the trade market with both feet.

The smart money is on the Lakers making a smaller move close to the trade deadline, likely involving Patrick Beverley and some second-round picks. Something similar in size to the Rui Hachimura trade, although the Lakers want — or at least are going to project they want — to hunt bigger game.

The Lakers continue surveying the market for premium shooting. Detroit Pistons sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanović remains a principal target, but there is league-wide skepticism on whether the Pistons are really willing to unload the nine-year veteran. It’s been reported that it would take at least an unprotected first-round pick to get the Pistons’ attention.

The belief within the Lakers’ organization is that they need to make at least one more move by the Feb. 9 trade deadline to give themselves a legitimate shot at competing for a championship, sources say.

Road wins over the Knicks and Pacers have the Lakers thinking they are a player away from contending? Los Angeles is unquestionably better with Davis back, and there is reason for some level of optimism in a flat Western Conference. But we’re talking “we can make the playoffs” optimism, there is still a chasm between these Lakers and contending — the gap between their second and third-best players (and the rest of the roster) is just too great.

Still, look for some kind of Lakers trade at the deadline. They are one of the more active teams out there. Just don’t expect it to be Westbrook.

Dončić leaves game with heel contusion, could miss games

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Luka Dončić was in control — he scored 21 points in the first quarter — and the Mavericks were cruising to a win.

Then Dončić went for a dunk, Brandon Ingram slid in for the block from behind, and Dončić hit the ground. Hard.

Dončić tried to stay in, but after one more play went back to the locker room and did not return due to what the team called a heel contusion. He could miss a game or two of the upcoming Mavericks’ five-game road trip — which starts with a nationally televised game Saturday in Golden State — according to Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes.

There likely will be more information from the team over the next 24 hours.

How much the Mavericks need Dončić was on display the rest of this game. The Pelicans stormed back and might have had a chance to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left when a blown call by the referees — Ingram blocked an inbounds pass but was ruled out of bounds in doing so, when he wasn’t — robbed them of that opportunity. Larry Nance Jr. took his shot at the officials for that.

With this win, the Mavericks moved into fourth place in the West (ahead of the Clippers, who fell to the Bucks Thursday).