Thabo Sefolosha

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Seven best free agents still available, players who could help a team

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The dust has settled. What was the wildest free agency summer in NBA history is winding down, and while there are a few questions still out there — what uniform will Chris Paul be in at the end of next season? — for the most part teams are picking up the 14th and 15th guys on the bench, plus handing out two-way contracts. The rosters are basically set.

Yet there are still some veteran free agents of note available out there. Guys who could help teams. These players may have to wait into training camp or even the start of the season to find a spot, once roster holes become glaring or injuries send a team scrambling. Others may choose to play overseas. But here are seven veterans still on the market who could help a team.

1) Jeremy Lin

It’s been an emotional offseason for Lin, one where he has gone from the high of being on a championship team to not finding a home for next season. While he fell out of Toronto’s playoff rotation last May and June — and that seems to be what front offices remember — he played solidly as a backup point guard for the Raptors and Hawks and averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 assists per game overall last season. Lin knows how to run a team, can get to the rim, can hit the three enough you have to respect it, and is a better defender now than his reputation. Lin has interest from CSKA Moscow but it’s unclear what direction he will go.

2) Iman Shumpert

Wing defense is in demand around the NBA, and while Shumpert is not near the defender he once was he can still provide some solid defense at a position of need. Shumpert also shot 34.8 percent last season overall from three (that time was split between Sacramento and Houston). He played in eight of the Rockets’ playoff games last season and was respectable in those. If a team is looking for a respectable role player on the wing, Shumpert can be that guy.

3) Jamal Crawford

Need buckets off the bench? Crawford, at age 39, can still get them. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, but he still averaged 7.9 points per game off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the very tail end of last season. He’s also improved the playmaking aspect of his game. For a team that needs bench scoring, look no further.

4) Vince Carter

Vince Carter’s role has evolved from high-flying wing to stretch four — he played 56 percent of his minutes as a power forward last season, shooting 38.9 percent from three. He’s also a respected leader in the locker room. Fans and fellow players love him, and a few times a season he can jump in the hot tub time machine and remind everybody why he is one of the all-time great dunkers the league has seen. Carter could help several teams off the bench.

5) J.R. Smith

Cleveland waived Smith not because they couldn’t use his basketball skills, but to save a lot of money. Smith will turn 34 before next season starts and his skills are in decline, he shot just 30.8 percent from three last season. In the right situation (on a likely contender) Smith could play a role off the bench. Teams will have to live with the occasional mental vacation during games (and teams may not want to play him clutch minutes in a Finals game).

6) Jonas Jerebko

Jerebko struggled for the Warriors in the playoffs, when injuries forced him into an outsized role, but during the regular season he was a solid reserve for Golden State. Jerebko averaged more than 16 minutes a game for the Warriors last season (73 games), shot 36.7 percent from three, and averaged 6.3 points per game. Jerebko could help a team looking for a stretch four off the bench.

7) Thabo Sefolosha

He has evolved into more of a switchable, defensive-minded forward who can play the three or the four off the bench for teams and give them solid minutes. He shot 46.3 percent from three last season in Utah, and while that is probably not sustainable he is a good floor spacer on offense (who does not do much else). There are certainly teams Sofolosha could help off the bench.

Kyle Korver discusses, comes to grips with white privilege in very personal story

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The kind of privilege that can be hardest to notice is the inherent kind, that always surrounds you. For example, if you grow up wealthy, you could grow up and live a life that rarely truly glimpses — let alone experiences — what it is like to live a life barely getting by (if that). You never really understand the advantages it brings because the circles you run in have those same advantages.

That’s how Kyle Korver felt about white privilege.

That despite playing in an NBA that is majority black. That despite being a friend and teammate of Thabo Sefolosha, a player who had his leg broken during an arrest by the NYPD (Sefolosha won a $4 million settlement from the New York police, a large part of which he donated to a program that helps train public defenders).

Korver said the recent issues with Russell Westbrook in Utah opened his eyes. Korver wrote about it in a very personal way for the Players’ Tribune in a must-read story.

There’s an elephant in the room that I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks. It’s the fact that, demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court.

And after the events in Salt Lake City last month, and as we’ve been discussing them since, I’ve really started to recognize the role those demographics play in my privilege. It’s like — I may be Thabo’s friend, or Ekpe’s teammate, or Russ’s colleague; I may work with those guys. And I absolutely 100% stand with them.

But I look like the other guy.

And whether I like it or not? I’m beginning to understand how that means something…

“How can I — as a white man, part of this systemic problem — become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”

My summary of what Korver said cannot do it justice, not to the depth or the nuance. Just go read it.

Sometimes people can be slow to recognize the advantages they inherently have. I am certainly in that group.

The only way we as a nation can move past some of these issues starts with a frank and honest discussion. One that is not easy to have and will lead to a backlash from some quarters. Progress is never painless (and never linear). Korver’s piece is the kind of honesty, thoughtfulness, and self-reflection we need more of as a nation.

 

 

Three Things to Know: C.J. McCollum singlehandedly outscores Clippers in fourth

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LOS ANGELES — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight we come from Staples Center.

1) C.J. McCollum singlehandedly outscores Clippers in fourth, Portland picks up a key road win. C.J. McCollum was all smiles Tuesday night.

For one thing, the Canton, Ohio, native was pumped his Cleveland Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” McCollum said.

Then there was his 35-point night against the Clippers. That started off slow — he missed his first seven shots and didn’t get his first bucket until there was 2.7 seconds left in the first half — but when it mattered McCollum was the difference. In the fourth quarter he scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting to take over the game, singlehandedly outscoring a Clippers team that had 20 points on 8-of-24 shooting.

“What was it like to watch?” the Clippers’ Lou Williams said of McCollum’s fourth. “It’s not a good time.”

“I don’t ever get gun shy,” McCollum said. “I’ve missed a lot of shots in my career, and percentage wise you’re going to miss more than you make, especially from three. You just have to stay confident, stay aggressive, and know who you are.”

Portland turned a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter into a 125-104 victory, outscoring the Clippers 40-20 in the final frame. In a tight West, games like this against other playoff teams matter. Portland is currently tied for the 4/5 seed with Oklahoma City, and 1.5 behind three-seed Houston. Those teams could land in any order by the time the playoffs start.

The same is true of the 6-7-8 seeds in the West — which includes the Clippers. Los Angeles sits as the six seed right now, but just one game separates them, San Antonio, and Utah for those final three spots. (Sacramento is four games out of the playoffs, they are not making up that ground late in the season.)

Despite the loss, there’s an energy and confidence in the Clippers locker room. They had three games in four nights against strong NBA teams — Boston, Oklahoma City, and now Portland — and they won two of them. But on the second night of a back-to-back, the Clippers’ legs started to get tired and that’s all the space McCollum needed

“You could tell, [Lou] Williams didn’t have the same energy tonight,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “Overall, none of us did. I thought it was a very winnable game until that stretch [in the fourth quarter].”

Both of these teams are going to be tough outs come the West playoffs. Portland has one of the league’s best backcourts with Damian Lillard and McCollum, they have size up front, they can defend, they have a good bench (most nights), and they have experience.

The Clippers have a real energy and physicality. Montrezl Harrell is a beast off the bench, Lou Williams is a scoring machine who attacks and draws fouls, Danilo Gallinari (who was rested Tuesday night) gets them buckets, and those three are surrounded by versatile role players. The Clippers may not win their first-round series, but whoever they face is going to come out beat up on the other side.

2) LeBron put on his own personal dunk contest in Chicago. The Lakers have not been entertaining to watch of late, but LeBron James decided to change that in Chicago Tuesday night. He had 36 points in his limited minutes, and he was putting on a dunking exhibition inside the United Center.

Earlier there was this.

Those two were just part of the highlights. This was the bounciest LeBron has looked since his injury.

3) NBA players, community applaud Jazz banning fan who crossed he line with Russell Westbrook. The NBA was buzzing Tuesday about what had happened Monday night, when Russell Westbrook had gotten into it with a Utah Jazz fan who had crossed the line with his comments.

Tuesday, after an investigation (where witnesses were interviewed and video watched), the Jazz banned the fan from the arena for life. Players around the league applauded the move, saying too often people who cross the clear-line boundary from heckling about the game to off-the-table personal matters don’t face punishment. Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha backed Westbrook, for one.

Donovan Mitchell backed his team and implored the fans to do better.

LeBron James applauded the Jazz.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers summed it up well.

“We forget that this is a human game sometimes, the players have to be human, and the fans have to be human,” Rivers said. “What I always tell our players is that human decency comes into play — be decent to the fans, in a human way, and they need to be that to you. And if they’re not, if [the player] can not react, that’d be great. But sometimes as a human it’s very difficult not to react. But either way you alert people. And I thought that’s what happened. They handled it well.”

Donovan Mitchell adjusting to elevated expectations

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Donovan Mitchell quickly won over fans in and outside Utah with his electrifying play. Despite not being an All-Star, he stole the show at All-Star Weekend, charismatically building his platform and winning the dunk contest. He unleashed an insurgent Rookie of the Year campaign. He led the Jazz to playoff-series victory. He signed a lucrative endorsement deal and got a signature shoe.

Donovan Mitchell has made it.

And that makes him uncomfortable.

“I’ve never really come from a position where I’m not the underdog, if that makes sense,” said Mitchell, whose stature rose quickly for a player who initially intended to return to Louisville for his junior season and was still just a mid-first-round pick in 2017. “I haven’t really had that in my life.”

Mitchell is having another fine year, averaging 20.4 points per game. But he doesn’t look quite as sharp as last season, when he established himself as a co-franchise player with Rudy Gobert for the Jazz.

The future in Utah with those two can still be extremely bright. The ascent will be just be bumpier than hoped.

Some of Mitchell’s difficulties are unavoidable. He’s the go-to scorer on a defensive-first team – a tremendous burden.

Of the nine regularly playing guards with usage percentages above 30, only two have their team allow fewer than 105 points per 100 possessions with them on the floor – Mitchell and Russell Westbrook. Relatedly, Mitchell and Westbrook have the lowest true shooting percentages among those nine:

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(That’s Zach LaVine barely poking out behind Kemba Walker.)

The Jazz and Thunder have built systems around putting defensive-minded personnel on the floor, positioning players to get back on defense, gumming up spacing and expecting their top guards to produce anyway. It’s a big ask, one that depresses Mitchell’s and Westbrook’s individual efficiencies but works to the betterment of the team.

Westbrook was a seasoned star in his ninth season when Oklahoma City gave him that role following Kevin Durant‘s departure. Mitchell got it as a rookie and is continuing with it in his second season.

At times, Mitchell has tried to defer. His teammates urged him to keep shooting. This team was built to feature him, and a couple months of relative struggles don’t change the bigger picture.

Mitchell is the only Jazz starter who can reliably create for himself. Mitchell and Ricky Rubio are the only starters who can reliably create for others. Mitchell and Joe Ingles are the only starters who can reliably space the floor from distance. Utah starts a pair of traditional bigs in Gobert and Derrick Favors. So much falls to Mitchell offensively.

Opponents have adjusted to Mitchell more quickly than he has developed his game. They blitz him more often on pick-and-rolls. They shade toward him more quickly as he drives. They stunt off him more often rather than completely leave him to help.

Ever since Mitchell torched Dwane Casey’s Raptors for 25 points early last season, the coach – now with the Pistons – has emphasized Mitchell in scouting reports.

“There’s certain things we want to live with and certain things we don’t want to give up,” Casey said. “And him sashaying from end of the court to the other, one slot drive, one dribble to the rim – those are the things we’ve got to take away.”

Mitchell isn’t getting to the rim as often as last season, settling for more floaters. His catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage has also fallen from 41% to 30% – concerning because that should be more defense-agnostic.

“The season might not go the way I want it to this year, for me personally,” Mitchell said.

He’s figuring it out as he goes, but not quickly enough to maintain the sky-high expectations set for him entering the year. At least the Jazz (20-21) are winning a reasonable amount amid a tough early schedule that will soften. Team success, Mitchell says, is his priority.

This is a learning season for both Mitchell and Utah about how to best deploy him.

The Jazz will have an opportunity to reconfigure this summer. They could waive Derrick Favors ($16.9 million unguaranteed salary), renounce free agents Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh and open a projected $31 million in cap space.

Maybe Mitchell just needs more complementary offensive pieces, and that’d be the cash to get them. Or maybe continuing to emphasize defense while riding Mitchell offensively is the right formula.

This season has provided plenty of reason to reel in the Mitchell hype. It has not produced many doubters in him.

“He may have some growing pains,” Casey said. “But it’s there, and you never forget how to swim. He’s going to be a great player in our league for a long time.”

Nets once thought they were trading for No. 2 overall pick, would have gotten Bulls’ second first-rounder

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A Wizards-Suns-Grizzlies trade just fell apart because the teams confused which Brooks was involved. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

But this isn’t the first time wires got crossed in trade discussions.

Former Nets executive Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The closest it’s ever happened – and this is a funny story – is that in 2006, we thought we getting the second overall pick in the draft from Chicago. And we were going to pick LaMarcus Aldridge. And it wound up being that Chicago was offering us their second first-round pick in the draft, which was pick 16. It turned into Rodney Carney. So, that’s the closest that we’ve ever come to backing out or a deal was agreed upon and going from there.

The Bulls might as well have sent the No. 2 to pick to the Nets. On draft night, Chicago dealt No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge to the Trail Blazers for No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. The Bulls got more value from No. 16 pick Rodney Carney, trading up with the 76ers for No. 13 pick Thabo Sefolosha, who was a helpful role player in Chicago then flipped for a pick that became Taj Gibson. In that 2006 draft, the Nets picked Marcus Williams No. 22 and Josh Boone No. 23.

The big difference between this non-deal and the Brooks mishap: It didn’t reach the point active players were informed and details were leaked to the media. That’s harder to walk back and maybe part of the reason the Suns and Wizards still swapped Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers after the Grizzlies pulled out.