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League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.

Lakers ace offseason by signing LeBron James

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NBCSports.com’s 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 Lakers signed LeBron James.

Offseason grade: A+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, you want more?

The Lakers followed the summer’s biggest coup – not just signing LeBron, but locking him in for three years – with a dispiriting (or, depending on your perspective, comical) set of transactions.

Los Angeles didn’t lure Paul George or trade for Kawhi Leonard. Instead, the Lakers valued playmakers as if the best course isn’t giving LeBron the ball, talked about defense as if anyone who was once a good defender or has the physical tools will defend well and treated shooting as if floor spacing barely matters.

The good news: The Lakers are penciled into this plan for only one year.

The bad news: It’s a year of 33-year-old LeBron’s eventually ending prime.

The Lakers have essentially assembled three contingents:

They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong, but I have little faith in those veterans complementing LeBron well. And most of them didn’t come cheap – Caldwell-Pope ($12 million), Rondo ($9 million), Stephenson (room exception), Beasley ($3.5 million). If anything, Caldwell-Pope – whose shared agent with LeBron, Rich Paul, might have forced the Lakers’ hand with re-signing him to a generous salary – is probably the best fit.

That puts a lot of pressure on Lakers president Magic Johnson to assess the young players. Which will become capable of contributing to winning at the highest level before LeBron’s prime ends? Which should be traded for veterans? These are not easy questions, but it’s a much more enjoyable challenge than the one Los Angeles would have faced if LeBron didn’t come.

The Lakers went 35-47 last season, their best record in a half decade. LeBron changes everything.

But there might be a ceiling on the Lakers’ progress next season. Don’t ignore the departures of Julius Randle (to Pelicans) and Brook Lopez (to Bucks). Even Larry Nance Jr. helped the Lakers build credibility before getting shipped to the Cavaliers in a midseason trade that helped open cap space for LeBron.

This isn’t the end of the road, though. After convincing Luol Deng to relinquish $7,455,933 in a buyout, the Lakers are in line for about max cap space next summer. They also still have all those valuable young players to develop or trade. The cupboard is full of ingredients around LeBron.

Now, the Lakers must just find a winning recipe.

I don’t think this year’s plan is it, but whatever missteps the Lakers made this summer, landing LeBron overshadows everything else.

Offseason grade: A+

Report: Luol Deng reaches one-year deal with Timberwolves

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We’ve been saying another addition to the “Chicago Wolves” was coming, it just happened a little faster than expected.

Luol Deng and the Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed to a one-year, $2.4 million veteran minimum contract, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Minnesota now has Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Deng plus the coach Tom Thibodeau from Thib’s old Bulls team.

It forms an interesting dynamic in a locker room with a reputation as one of the most contentious in the league. Butler has not hidden his frustrations with Karl-Anthony Towns, Towns is no fan of Thibodeau, Towns is up for a max extension of his rookie contract but that front has been surprisingly quiet so far, and nobody is happy with Andrew Wiggins and his effort last season.

The question is what does Deng bring to the table? He played a total of 13 minutes for the Lakers last season. Two seasons ago in Los Angeles he played in 56 games and was unimpressive, shooting just 30.9 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of just 47, and a PER of 10.1. Part of that was Luke Walton played him at the three, and in today’s NBA Deng is a four.

If given room can he still hit his jumper? He can put the ball on the floor against a closeout, he cuts well off the ball and finds spaces, and he’s a decent team defender — all of that when healthy. Is he healthy and rested and can he pitch in significant minutes, or is Deng another former Thibodeau player who burned out early after heavy minutes for years?

The Timberwolves likely will start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him, leaving Deng a limited role. Thibodeau doesn’t really go deep into his bench.

Report: Luol Deng expected to sign with Minnesota this week

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It started out as a half-joke around the league, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Tom Thibodeau went after Luol Deng?” Chicago Wolves jokes ensued. Then pretty quickly it became clear this was no joke.

For weeks now, every source around the league has expected Luol Deng to sign with the Timberwolves sooner rather than later. Marc Stein of the New York Times confirmed this.

Just to be clear, that gives Minnesota Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Deng from Thibodeau’s old Bulls team.

The question is how much Deng can contribute. He was benched in Los Angeles during season one of the Lakers’ youth movement last season, but still some veterans got run under Luke Walton while Deng sat the final 81 games of the season. Two seasons ago in Los Angeles he played in 56 games and finished with the lowest point total of his career (7.6 per game), shooting just 30.9 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of just 47, a PER of 10.1, and he was below a replacement level player. Was that season’s decline an aberration, or has Deng (like other former Tom Thibodeau players) worn down earlier in their career than expected?

There’s not a ton of minutes for Deng to get. The Timberwolves likely will start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him. Thibodeau doesn’t really go deep into his bench beyond that.

But the deal looks like it will soon be done, and then we’ll see what Deng still has in the tank.

Enes Kanter says Kevin Durant should come to Knicks “to build a brand all over again”

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The smart money is on Kevin Durant re-signing with the Golden State Warriors next summer, keeping together a team for the ages that is racking up rings and having fun doing it.

However, other teams sense that the first of the “big four” in Golden State to bolt will be Durant, that he will want his own team, and so they are prepping for the possibility. Teams are making sure they have the cap space next summer, and they will have their pitches ready if Durant decides to test the waters.

And players are going to recruit him. That includes his former Thunder teammate Enes Kanter, who was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Eddie Johnson and Justin Termine Wednesday and said he would recruit Durant, who should come to the Knicks for the chance “to build a brand all over again.”

“It is New York. If you are with New York, you’re king of America and king of the world,” Kanter said…

“We are New York. He’s a free agent. We need to use that. We are the best city in the world. That could draw a lot of attention for free agents. I would love for him to be my teammate again. When he was my teammate he was an amazing teammate, amazing character, scorer and basketball player on court and off the court, too. I would love to see him be my teammate again.”

Kanter trash talked Durant and his decision to leave OKC from the day it happened — at points from the bench of the opposing team — so maybe he’s not going to be the face of New York’s recruitment.

No doubt the Knicks would love to land Durant and if given the chance to make a pitch it would sound a lot like “you could be king of America and king of the world” if you play here. Paired with a (hopefully healthy by then) Kristaps Porzingis and a young core, there would be real potential there.

However, so many questions have to be answered before then. It starts with will Durant actually leave the Warriors? That’s far from a given. Then there are the Knicks finances, they should have max cap space after they waive and stretch Joakim Noah (like what the Lakers recently did with Luol Deng, although don’t expect a discount from Noah), but they also have to reach terms on a max contract extension for Porzingis. There’s some financial juggling that needs to go on in NYC.

Among those financial questions, what to do with Kanter? He is a free agent next summer, coming off a season where he will make $18.6 million. The Knicks may want to bring him back, but not at near that price and likely not until Durant or another free agent signs with the team because the Knicks will need that cap space.

Kanter told Johnson and Termine he wants to stay a Knick, that he loves the city and the team. He’s told the Knicks’ that too and made no secret of it, but whether that will be enough remains to be seen. However, if he can help recruit Durant it will help his cause.