Bojan Bogdanovic

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Pacers deconstruct playoff team to build similar-level playoff team

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The 2018-19 Pacers built a strong identity.

They were balanced and persistent despite relying on numerous players with expiring contracts. Indiana won 48 games, showing no signs of internal strife while deal with Victor Oladipo‘s injury. In a situation where many players would’ve turned toward individual goals, the Pacers stuck together.

But Indiana came undone this summer.

The Pacers lost four playoff starters: Thaddeus Young (signed with Bulls), Bojan Bogdanovic (signed with Jazz), Wesley Matthews (signed with Bucks) and Darren Collison (retired). Cory Joseph (signed with Kings) and Tyreke Evans (banned) also departed.

This is only the second time in since 1985 (as far back as Basketball-Reference tracks postseason starts) a team lost four players who started every playoff game the prior season.

In 1999, the Magic signed-and-traded Penny Hardaway to the Suns, traded Nick Anderson to the Kings, traded Horace Grant to the SuperSonics and traded Isaac Austin to the Wizards. Orlando was clearing salary for 2000 free agency and eventually landed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. Between, the Magic even went a surprisingly strong 41-41 in 1999-00 behind scrappy additions John Amaechi, Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins and rookie coach Doc Rivers.

Indiana is making no such willing step back.

The Pacers added several helpful players this summer: Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday and T.J. McConnell. The goal is clearly to build on consecutive 48-win seasons.

Indiana got much younger in all the roster turnover.

The big prize was Brogdon, but he came at a substantial cost. The Pacers guaranteed the 26-year-old with a history foot trouble $85 million over four years. They also sent the Bucks a first-rounder and two second-rounders in the sign-and-trade for the restricted free agent. Brogdon is a good player, but that’s a lot.

Warren arrived via trade from the Suns in a much easier call. Phoenix sent Indiana the No. 32 pick just to take the 25-year-old forward. With $35.25 million and three years left on his contract, Warren is probably slightly overpaid. But he might not be. The high second-rounder (which the Pacers flipped to the Heat for three future second-rounders) more than covers the difference.

Signing Lamb to a three-year, $31.5 million contract looks like good value. A 27-year-old wing with his offensive talent is usually much more expensive.

Another helpful wing, Holiday came even cheaper. He settled for the room exception after the market dried up.

McConnell ($3.5 million guaranteed next season, $1 million of $3.5 million guaranteed the following season) will fill a role in the backcourt. The size will depend on second-year Aaron Holiday‘s readiness for the rotation and Oladipo’s return from injury.

A healthier Oladipo was always bound to make the Pacers better. The new younger talent – including No. 18 pick Goga Bitadze – gives Indiana a chance to create something for the long haul.

Still, the Pacers had a winning formula the last couple years. They’ve disrupted it. That’s uneasy, even as there’s no guarantee the departed veterans would’ve maintained their production as they aged.

I’m also not convinced the new lineup has staying power. Indiana plans to start Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, both players who should primarily play center. Those two work together fine for now, but they’re better off apart.

That said, the big-man pairing can also help the Pacers maintain their culture of toughness and defense. Coach Nate McMillan and work with this group.

Only Indiana’s roster has changed. The reasonable expectation for this team hasn’t.

Offseason grade: C+

Report: Pacers signing Justin Holiday to one year, $4.8 million contract

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It’s Christmas in July for the Pacers.

Well, it’s at least some Holiday.

Indiana is signing Justin Holiday, brother of Pacers point guard Aaron Holiday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Beyond the sibling connection, Justin Holiday should help the Pacers.

Bojan Bogdanovic left for the Jazz. Victor Oladipo is injured.

But Indiana found depth on the wing with Jeremy Lamb (three years, $31.5 million) and now Justin Holiday both incoming on team-friendly contracts. Likely starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon can also play on the wing when T.J. McConnell or Aaron Holiday runs the point.

The 30-year-old Justin Holiday is a solid defender and 3-point shooter. He’s not the most dynamic player, but he’ll fit in well.

The Pacers have resiliently earned a middling playoff seed the last two years. Expect the same next season.

Ten 2019 free agency moves/trades that changed face of NBA

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It seems like we say this every off-season, but this time we really, REALLY mean it:

That was the wildest NBA off-season ever.

Superstars shifted teams — and teamed up — and with that contenders for the crown rose and fell (including the team with the crown). It was a summer where elite players, the ones who have true power, flexed that muscle and forced their way to where they wanted to go — in the middle of a contract or not, to a team that had cap space or not. It was an offseason of drama that has the NBA reconsidering its free agent negotiation rules. It was everything fans have wanted.

It was a lot to digest, but here are our 10 biggest moments of the NBA offseason.

1) Kawhi Leonard chooses to join Clippers, gets Paul George to join him

That Kawhi Leonard ultimately chose the Clippers was not a total shock (at least not to anyone paying attention). The Clippers had all but stalked Leonard during last season, to the frustration of the Toronto Raptors, and sources had told me (and other reporters) all season long this was a two-team race between the Clippers and Raptors. In the days leading up to Leonard’s decision, there was tremendous confidence coming out of the Lakers’ camp —they thought LeBron James and Magic Johnson making separate pitches that they thought went incredibly well, and besides who had ever chosen the Clippers? — and they felt a little blindsided by the move. But in the end, Leonard wanted to come home to Southern California, something the Raptors simply could not compete against even though they did everything right, and Leonard did not prefer to play with LeBron on the Lakers.

The shocker was Paul George being recruited by Leonard then forcing a trade play for the Clippers. That came together fast. Leonard wielded his superstar power and tried to recruit several stars to join him — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving got calls — but George listened, liked what he heard, and demanded a trade. Nothing leaked because critical parts of the Clipper front office, starting with GM Michael Winger, came out of Oklahoma City and knew their GM Sam Presti.

Then suddenly the bombshell landed: The Clippers got Leonard as a free agent and George in a sign-and-trade (which sent a massive package of players and picks back to Oklahoma City).

No other move this summer changed the NBA landscape like this one. The Clippers are now legit title contenders, and maybe the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Lakers were left scrambling to fill out their roster. Oklahoma City got a massive haul of picks and players and is now embarking on a rebuild that likely will include the trade of Russell Westbrook at some point (they hope before the season, but it’s a complicated deal to pull off). And Toronto, when it sobers up from its title celebrations, has some tough decisions to make about what’s next, but they fall out of title contention in the East.

2) Anthony Davis traded to Los Angeles Lakers

At the trade deadline in February, this is what Davis and his agent Rich Paul had pushed for, and what the highest levels of Pelicans ownership had pushed back against — Davis being traded to the Lakers to team up with LeBron. When David Griffin came in as the new VP of basketball operations with the Pelicans he brought in a new mindset: If the Lakers put the best offer on the table, we have to take it. It’s about what’s best for New Orleans, not spite. Kyrie Irving leaving Boston meant the Celtics would not put out the offer the Pelicans most wanted, so the Lakers became the best deal available. The Pelicans got a great haul of players and picks to jump-start the rebuild — around Zion Williamson, winning the Draft Lottery cushioned the Davis blow in the Big Easy — and the Lakers got their star.

The Lakers have two of the top seven players in the NBA, pus Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and an interesting assortment of veteran role players. The Lakers may not be a great regular season team in the deep West (four seed?), but if LeBron and Davis are healthy this team is incredibly dangerous in a playoff series.

3) Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving team up in Brooklyn. Or, will, eventually.

Four years ago, Sean Marks took over as the GM of the Brooklyn Nets and the toughest rebuild job in the NBA. The previous regime had traded away draft picks and left the cupboard bare. Marks made smart decision after smart decision — finding Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, trading for D’Angelo Russell and giving him the room to become an All-Star — and built a strong cultural organization with coach Kenny Atkinson. They got to the playoffs in the East last season without a true No. 1 option on the roster.

All that impressed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant enough to come be the elite stars Brooklyn craved. The pair had decided to team up as free agents even before the NBA season started — certainly long before Durant tore his Achilles in the NBA Finals — and while the Knicks had been the rumored destination all season, when the pair surveyed the landscape they realized the Nets were the better choice right now. They took it. Brooklyn is now a contender… or should be in a year when Durant returns from his injury. This season it’s Irving leading a young team again, which could get interesting.

4) Jimmy Butler chooses Miami, forces sign-and-trade there

Philadelphia wanted to keep Jimmy Butler for obvious reasons — at the end of playoff games last season it was Butler with the ball in his hands as the playmaker for the team, while Ben Simmons was floating around in the dunker’s spot. Butler, a wandering soul trying to find the right home for himself the past couple of years (we can safely say it was not Minnesota), decided he wanted to be in Miami. And the Heat wanted him — Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra are grinders of the top order, and there was a great cultural fit.

The problem: Miami was capped out. This had to be a sign and trade and it became a complex four-team one that at its core sent Hassan Whiteside to the Trail Blazers, Josh Richardson to the Sixers, Maurice Harkless and a future first-round pick to the Clippers, and Meyers Leonard to the Heat with Butler. Butler signed a max contract in Miami, and the Heat are a dangerous team again (and one on the hunt for another star to join Butler).

Philly comes out of this well because…

5) Al Horford chooses to join Philadelphia

The Sixers lost Butler, but they may just have gotten better this summer. In part because Josh Richardson is a very good player — he was asked to be a No. 1 in Miami last season and he’s not that, but ask him to play a role and he will do it at a very high level, plus he’s a good wing defender — and in part because that freed up the cap space to get Al Horford.

Horford is the ultimate glue guy who can do everything well — shoots threes (36 percent last season), can score in the post, protect the rim, play a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, play the five when Embiid is resting, and be a bit of a playmaker from the elbow. He gives them versatility, as does the re-signing of Tobias Harris. This is going to be a contending team in Philly, one with a great defense, but one that has to answer a few questions over the course of the season. The big one: One minute left in a close game, who has the ball in their hands has a shot creator?

6) Kemba Walker signs in Boston

Charlotte confused the NBA. Again. They let Kemba Walker walk for nothing. If they were not going to re-sign him at or near the max, then they needed to trade him last summer or at the trade deadline (despite the All-Star Game coming to Charlotte). Or, pull a Clippers/Blake Griffin and re-sign him to the max then trade him in six months. But to get nothing for him? Confusing.

It is Boston’s gain. Walker was a Third Team All-NBA guard last season who carried the Hornets averaging 25.6 points and 5.9 assists per game, he can take over, but he’s also a smart facilitator with the right players around him — and he has that now with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. He’s a better fit culturally for Boston than Irving because Kemba is the “come on guys, you’re with me, let’s do this together” kind of leader they need. Walker is going to have a strong year in Boston and some fans are going to realize just how good he is. (The Celtics are going to miss Horford more than Irving.)

7) Warriors get D’Angelo Russell back from Brooklyn in sign-and-trade

Golden State didn’t want Durant to leave and get nothing back, and they worked out a sign-and-trade that worked for both sides. The Warriors get an All-Star point guard in Russell who can soak up a lot of minutes this season while Klay Thompson is rehabbing his ACL. While a lot of observers are not sure about the Russell/Stephen Curry fit (*raises hand*) the Warriors are committed to try to make this thing work, and they dream of a three-guard lineup where Thompson can slide down the three (he can guard that spot). If it doesn’t work, they trade Russell at the deadline or next season, but for now he keeps them competitive in the deep West.

8) Utah trades for Mike Conley, lands Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency

Utah is perpetually overlooked, and this may be too low on these rankings for the summer they had. The Jazz front office had coveted Conley for a while and now they were able to trade for him, providing a massive upgrade over Ricky Rubio and giving the Jazz a much-needed second shot creator next to Donovan Mitchell. Then, Utah went out and got Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency to play the four — he can defend, shoots threes, is 6’8″ and is one of those guys fans don’t know but front offices love. Bogdanovic averaged more than 20 points per game in Indiana last season after Victor Oladipo went down.

Utah may be the second-best team in the West going into next season, they have an elite defense and now have added offense. They are unquestionably contenders, whether fans realize they are or not.

9) Malcolm Brogdon leaves Bucks for Pacers

Indiana wanted an upgrade at point guard and another shot creator next to Victor Oladipo (when he returns, which looks to be around Christmas or after). They got it in Brogdon, who averaged 15.6 points per game and shot 42.5 percent from three for the Bucks last season. Brogdon can play on or off the ball and has the versatility that will fit well with the Pacers, making them better. The Pacers had to pay big to get the restricted free agent, but it was a smart move (especially considering the slim free agent class next year).

Just as importantly, losing Brogdon is a blow to the contending Bucks. They leaned on Brogdon for secondary shot creation in key moments. Milwaukee kept Khris Middleton as a free agent, have Eric Bledsoe (who needs to have a good playoffs now), and of course there is the MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But losing Brogdon will hurt a little.

10) Knicks strike out with big free agents… then don’t do so bad

Expectations were high among Knicks fans (fueled in part by radio comments from owner James Dolan), and when Durant and Irving chose Brooklyn, and New York couldn’t get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, Knicks fans did not take it well. At all. To the point team president Steve Mills had to put out a “relax, we’re still working on building this thing up” message to fans.

Thing is, he’s right. The Knicks were not getting the top free agents because the Nets and Clippers had built better cores, better stockpiles of young players that made up playoff teams even without a true alpha dog. Free agents liked those teams’ cultures, they liked they could step in and win now. The Knicks are not there. But the Knicks also didn’t do what the Knicks of a decade ago would have done and thrown good money after bad to sign any star free agent to save face. They kept their powder dry. They made a nice signing with Julius Randle and from there did a bunch of short deals that keep them flexible to chase the next star that comes available (they are not in the Westbrook hunt, nor should they be). That’s how to build a team the right way. The Knicks may finally be getting there, but more patience is required (not usually a strong suit of New Yorkers).

Utah reportedly agrees to deal with Jeff Green, adding wing depth

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Utah’s very good, very smart offseason continues.

The Jazz needed one more athletic player who could give them solid minutes at the four on both ends of the court, and ideally one with some playoff experience. Enter Jeff Green, who is joining the team on a one-year contract, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Green played for the Wizards last season, averaging 12.3 points per game, shooting 34.7 percent from three, and being a respectable rotation player.

Green is known for his inconsistent play, but that is something Utah can live with, getting a rotation talent at a fair price. He will come off the bench behind Bojan Bogdanovic, play at the three as needed, and give the Jazz a solid 20-25 minutes a night, with the occasional scoring outburst. Plus he can match up and defend other athletic threes and fours, something needed to survive in the Western Conference.

This is an excellent fit signing by Utah.

Ten things learned on wildest day in NBA history

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Insane.

Sunday ended up being the wildest, most frenzied day in NBA history — 48 contracts and $3.1 billion worth of frenzied. Seriously, that is how much money was agreed to in one eight-hour window on Sunday. And that is with a big contract or two left hanging out there.

It was too much to absorb, but after taking a deep breath, here are the 10 things we learned on the first day of NBA Free Agency

1) Kevin Durant wanted to play with his friends more than anything and with that Brooklyn thought it won the day…

Who is the King of New York now?

All season long Durant was linked to the Knicks — some around the league thought it was a done deal — and midway through the year suddenly Kyrie Irving was in the same rumors and joining the same party.

Then Brooklyn swooped in and got them both. The Brooklyn Nets — the team that had the worst record in the league two years ago — landed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Let that sink in. It wasn’t about chasing more rings with the Warriors or moving to the biggest brand in the biggest market, it was Durant and Irving going where they wanted so they could play together as friends.

Speaking of friends, Durant and Irving both took slightly less than the max so the Nets could drastically overpay Durant’s good friend DeAndre Jordan (four years, $40 million).

Durant likely doesn’t play next year coming off a torn Achilles, but the Nets will still have a playoff team. We’ll see if Jordan ends up taking minutes away from up-and-coming Jarrett Allen. He shouldn’t, but politics sometimes win out in these things.

In a couple of years, the Nets could be a contender out of the East.

2) …But then Jimmy Butler was signed-and-traded to Miami, and Philadelphia’s day of moves made it the East favorite.

When the first reports of Jimmy Butler wanting to go to Miami came up, it was greeted with a lot of “how are they going to make that work?” Giving up the talented Josh Richardson is how. Miami and Philadelphia worked out a sign-and-trade that shook the league (but they need a third team, ideally to take on Goran Dragic, to make it all work out. They are expected to be able to iron that out).

Miami gets a star they have coveted and who is a great cultural fit in Butler. There is still a lot of roster building to do in South Beach but Butler, Justise Winslow, and Bam Adebayo is an excellent place to start.

Philadelphia replaces Butler with Josh Richardson — not as good, but not dramatically worse, younger, and cheaper — and that was just one of the smart moves they made on Sunday. They retained Tobias Harris on a max $141 million contract. Then they signed Al Horford as a free agent to a four-year, $109 million contract.

The Sixers’ starting five is now Ben Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford, and Joel Embiid. That is the best starting five in the East and keeps them in the mix as serious title contenders. Add a little depth — they also retained Mike Scott — and the Sixers will be tough to beat.

3) Golden State kept Klay Thompson and added D’Angelo Russell, but had to let Andre Iguodala go. That team is interesting.

The award for “least surprising thing to happen when free agency opened” goes to Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors, who reached the expected five-year, $190 million max contract extension. Without any drama.

The Warriors were saving the drama for a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets that brings D’Angelo Russell to Golden State on a max four-year, $117 million contract. Russell, a pick-and-roll, ball dominant point guard is an interesting fit next to Stephen Curry, but it gives the Warriors another talented player as they try to adapt to Kevin Durant’s departure and Thompson missing most of the season due to his ACL injury. Curry, Russell, and Draymond Green should be able to get the Warriors to the playoffs (and Russell is a good trade asset if the Warriors decide to go that route).

That sign-and-trade for Russell will ultimately send Iguodala to Memphis to make room under the cap. That move is a punch to the gut for the players on that team. Iguodala is an admired leader.

(By the way, now the real drama is Green’s contract next summer. Will the Warriors give him the full max of five-years, $204? Will Green take the four-years, $157 another team can offer? He doesn’t fit everywhere, he fits the Warriors, but do they want to pay him that kind of money.)

4) Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard is taking his time, leaving Lakers/Raptors/Clippers dangling on the hook.

While everyone else was moving at light speed on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard was laying low. He met with no teams. He will get to that over the coming days and then make his decision. Good for him, don’t rush the big decisions.

But it’s bad news for the Lakers and Clippers (and Raptors, to a lesser degree). The Lakers and Clippers both have bet big on landing Leonard at this point, and both have had to sit on their hands and keep a max cap slot open as free agents are being snapped up around them. For the Lakers in particular, if they don’t get Leonard, other max players like Jimmy Butler are gone, and some of the role players they would have wanted (J.J. Redick, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, for example) are off the board, making it harder to fill out the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

5) Major League Baseball is stupid.

Did you know the MLB All-Star Game players were announced today — at 6 p.m. Eastern. The exact time that the frenzy of NBA free agency started and dominated the sports media.

The MLB runs its entire league like it’s the Knicks.

6) Utah has had a really impressive offseason.

Utah is a legitimate threat to come out of the West next season. The Jazz won 50 games last season and addressed the offensive weaknesses that have hurt them in the playoffs this summer. Utah made a massive upgrade from Ricky Rubio (now in Phoenix) to Mike Conley at the point guard spot. Then on Sunday, they added a lot more shooting to the mix in the 6’8” form of Bojan Bogdanovic — the kind of player a lot of casual fans don’t know but who has his own fans in front offices around the NBA for a reason. He averaged 18 points a game last season for the Pacers and is a great floor spacer to open up room on Donovan Mitchell (and Conley) drives.

To get Bogdanovic, the Jazz had to give up fan favorite Derrick Favors (and his $16.9 million contract), but then they did a nice job replacing a big chunk of his grit and production with veteran, solid big man Ed Daivs (and for two-years, $5 million). Favors is off to New Orleans.

Utah’s starting five next season is probably Conley, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert. With a solid bench behind them. That team is going to win a lot of games and be a postseason problem.

7) Dallas just paid Kristaps Prozingis a lot of money coming off a torn ACL.

The Mavericks really made this bet back at the trade deadline, but on Sunday they made it official by agreeing to a five-year, $158 million extension with Porzingis.

The bet is Porzingis can bounce back from his torn ACL to be an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. Porzingis has the tools, he is a 7’3″ unicorn who can defend inside, knock down threes, and has averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game while shooting 36.1 percent from three. Mark Cuban dreams that Porzingis and Luka Doncic become Dallas’ new Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Dallas also locked up Dwight Powell with a new deal, as they should have.

8) James Dolan and the Knicks continue to find ways to embarrass themselves.

All season long, around the league the Knicks were seen as the frontrunner to land Kevin Durant, and he was going to bring another star player with him. Some league sources had it in an “as long as they don’t blow it” kind of place. Dolan went on the radio in New York and said, “New York is the mecca of basketball… From what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agency.”

Well, Dolan blew it.

And the cross-town Brooklyn Nets swooped in and got both Durant and Irving — and Brooklyn looks like it will be the better team for a while.

Knicks gonna Knicks.

But they did land Julius Randle, which is a quality pickup fans will love. Not like Durant love, but Randle plays hard and is fun to watch.

9) Portland pays Damian Lillard like they should, hang on to Rodney Hood, also.

If Klay Thompson re-signing was the most obvious thing ever, the Trail Blazers giving Lillard a full max — five years, $195 million — was next on the list.

Lillard is an All-Star, an All-NBA player, a clutch player and one of the best guards in the NBA. More than that, Lillard is flat out one of the best guys in the league, great in the community, and loved by Portland. This was a no-brainer.

The Blazers also retained Rodney Hood, and combine that with the addition of Kent Bazemore and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic at some point next season, and this team is going to be better than this year’s squad.

10) Both Lopez brothers in Milwaukee? Robin Lopez signs with Bucks (and they re-signed Khris Middleton).

Let’s not bury the lead here — the Milwaukee Bucks maxed out and retained All-Star Khris Middleton at the wing, on a five-year, $178 million max offer sheet. Is that overpaying a little for Middleton? Yes. But they had to. He’s an All-Star who averaged 18.3 points per game last season, and he fits well with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Who they have to keep happy. So the deal gets done.

In another must-make move, the Bucks re-signed Brook Lopez at four-years, $52 million. They needed his shooting. Brook’s backup is now his brother Robin Lopez, who signed on in Milwaukee. That’s good news for everyone… who is not a mascot.