James Harden is in the midst of a remarkable few months. He reached his first NBA Finals in June, and won an Olympic gold medal a few weeks ago. Soon he'll have to decide whether to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, but this week he's been in Spain promoting the NBA 3x Tour, a series of streetball and three-on-three events sponsored by Spanish bank and NBA partner BBVA. He spoke with Marca.com earlier about his desire to remain with the Thunder, and he reiterates those comments in a video posted on YouTube by basket4us.com (hat tip to Royce Young of DailyThunder.com). The narration is in Spanish, but all of Harden's comments are in English, and he had plenty to say about the Thunder, his game, and the preeminent stars of the league.
On whether he'll remain with the Thunder after this season:
"It's decisions, but I love the Thunder. I'm excited to be here. I think we've definitely grown a brotherhood, so hopefully I'll definitely want to be in Oklahoma."
On the appeal of the Thunder:
"We're young, and we're exciting. I think that's why everybody likes us a lot, because we're exciting and we get the job done. We've got to just keep doing it and win games."
On his continued development:
"I've got to improve. I improve every single year. That's my mindset. You've got to be better every single year, because there's some very good, talented guys in this league. This summer was a very good summer for me, and I've got to go into training camp improved and ready to go."
"I've been watching (Bryant) since I was young. I'm from L.A., so I've been growing up watching him. Obviously, LeBron is very versatile, basically can do a lot of things, but I've been watching Kobe since I was little. Obviously, Kevin is my favorite player as well. He's on my team."
The Nuggets participated in the biggest trade of the offseason, getting Andre Iguodala in the four-team swap that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, and Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com speculates that GM Masai Ujiri might not be done dealing. Howard-Cooper, replying to a fan question on Twitter, says he thinks the team will look to move a wing player or a power forward to alleviate logjams at those positions, but cautions that Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, each of whom is owed more than $30MM, are not likely trade candidates. Here's the rest of the news from the Association with less than a month to go before the start of training camp:
The impression a player makes in the season before free agency is often of utmost importance, but NBA teams nonetheless handed out a total of $84.5MM this summer to seven NBA veterans who didn't play a single game in the league last year. That's less than the $119.192MM going to Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon, who combined to play in 14 games in 2011/12, but in their limited court time they at least showed glimpses of their star potential. Some players required teams to go back to 2010/11, or even farther, to see what they could do against NBA competition.
Wednesday we heard that eight-year NBA veteran Darius Songaila signed with the Ukrainian team BC Donetsk, but apparently that doesn't mean he won't play in the Association this year. He told Lina Motužytė of the Lithuanian website Irytas.lt (translation via LithuaniaBasketball.com) that his contract includes an out in case an opportunity to play in the NBA arises. It's unclear how much his deal is worth, but Motužytė reports that Songaila passed up more lucrative offers from elsewhere in Europe for the flexbility BC Donetsk offered.
“I don’t want to spend the whole year somewhere in Europe far away from my daughter. It would be much better if I could live in the States, where I could visit her without too much effort,” Songaila said.
The 6'9" forward averaged 7.1 minutes per game over a 10-game stint with the Sixers in 2010/11, his last NBA action. Before that, he averaged double-figure minutes in each of his first seven seasons, and has career numbers of 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game with a 13.3 PER. Songaila split last season between Galatasaray Istanbul in Turkey and the Spanish team Blancos de Rueda Valladolid, averaging a combined 8.8 PPG and 3.1 RPG in 16.6 MPG.
Matt Barnes hasn't exactly had an ideal summer, but the unrestricted free agent swingman indicated to TMZ.com that he and his agent are making progress toward an NBA contract. His minutes with the Lakers dwindled in the playoffs this year, and he was arrested for allegedly threatening a police officer who stopped him with a warrant for driving on a suspended license. Days later, Barnes was sued for allegedly rear-ending a car on an L.A. freeway. Still, a return to the Lakers remains a possibility.
"They are one of the teams we're talking to," Barnes said. "There's a couple other teams, so hopefully we'll get this arrest situation out of the way, so I can go ahead and move forward with my career."
The Lakers hold Barnes' Early Bird rights, so even though they're well over the tax apron, they could give him a deal worth as much as $5.276MM next season. It's unlikely he'd get nearly that much, though, and since an Early Bird contract must be for at least two years, the Lakers might be reluctant to give him any more than the minimum, which would require only a one-year commitment. Writing for CBSSports.com, Ben Golliver says the Lakers wouldn't have much room Barnes since they go two-deep at every position, but I think Barnes could beat out Devin Ebanks as the backup small forward, and Dwight Howard's lingering back injury could force coach Mike Brown to do some lineup shuffling that might open up a few more minutes.
There haven't been any legitimate rumors linking Barnes to any other team this offseason, even though some of his numbers from last season suggest the 32-year-old still has a lot left. He averaged 7.8 points and tied a career high with 5.5 rebounds. His PER of 15.5 and rate of 0.8 blocks per game were the best marks of his nine-year career.
As August comes to a close, let's round up a few Friday afternoon odds and ends from around the NBA:
While the NBA's salary cap is set at $58.044MM for the 2012/13 season, there are enough ways around the cap that the Lakers are currently flirting with a nine-digit payroll. Still, not every NBA team goes over the cap, or even uses all its available cap space.
As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are eventually required to spend at least 90% of the salary cap on player salaries, a rule that's set to go into effect for the 2013/14 season. During the transition period, teams were required to spend at least 80% of the cap last season, and will have to spend 85% in 2012/13. 85% of the $58.044MM cap amounts to $49,337,400.
No team besides the Lakers has doubled that amount, but most franchises are at least comfortably above that threshold. Which clubs may still have to spend some money to avoid being penalized for being below the minimum payroll? At the moment, it appears there are just two borderline teams....
Taking into account the reported $848K buyout for Brad Miller, the Suns' current commitments total $49,795,445, barely above the required 85%. However, Sebastian Telfair's $1.57MM salary is only partially guaranteed, as is P.J. Tucker's minimum-salary deal, worth about $762K. If the Suns decide to part ways with either player, their payroll figures to slip slightly below the floor. Still, it shouldn't become a major issue unless the team trades away more significant salary.
The Cavaliers currently have a payroll of $44,290,184 for 16 players. That number figures to get a bit of a bump if and when the team eventually agrees to terms with Alonzo Gee. Let's assume Gee gets a slight raise on his $2.7MM qualifying offer, to $3MM. That would mean $47.29MM for 17 players, meaning at least two of the team's non-guaranteed contracts would have to be cut or moved. When the dust settles, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Cavs hovering around $46MM, more than $3MM below the 85% floor.
Now, for the Suns, the Cavs, and a team that may cut salary later in the season and approach the minimum payroll, none of this is a real concern yet. Teams have until next June 30th to add payroll in order to reach the 85% minimum. Cleveland could, for instance, take on a big salary at the trade deadline in order to receive assets of value, and finish the season well over the minimum.
Additionally, even if the Suns or Cavs finish the NBA year below the floor, the penalty isn't overly harsh, as Larry Coon explains in his CBA FAQ: "If a team doesn't meet its minimum payroll it is surcharged at the end of the season for the shortfall. That money is distributed among the players on that team." Still, it's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Update: As reader Aaron McGraw rightly notes in the comments section, amnestied salary may not count against a team's books for cap and tax purposes, but it is taken into account when considering the minimum payroll threshold. Because the Suns and Cavs are still paying Josh Childress and Baron Davis, respectively, neither team is in danger of being below the threshold at this point, though that could change later in the year if they shed additional salary.
The Timberwolves are still scouring the free agent market for potential additions, and the latest name to be linked to David Kahn and the T-Wolves is Sean Williams, tweets Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500. According to Wolfson, Williams is a potential target for the Wolves, though he cautions that Kahn is talking to a lot of agents. Given Kahn's activity, Wolfson expects the team to sign another big man at some point before the season, he says in a second tweet.
Williams, 25, was waived by the Rockets earlier this week, but appears to have gone unclaimed, making him an unrestricted free agent. Because the big man was part of the trade that sent Courtney Lee to the Celtics, he's ineligible to re-sign with the Celtics until next July, but he's free to sign with any other NBA team, including Minnesota.
The T-Wolves are also said to be eyeing Anthony Tolliver, Mehmet Okur, and Hassan Whiteside as potential frontcourt targets. If the Wolves hope to sign any player for more than the minimum salary, they'll likely have to move salary in a separate deal to clear cap room.
If you haven't done so yet, be sure to check out Hoops Rumors' 2012 Free Agent Tracker. Using our tracker, you can quickly browse the offseason's contract agreements, sorting by team, position, contract length, total salary, and a handful of other variables.
For instance, if you want to see all the Celtics' summer signings, you can sort by team and find all of Boston's free agent additions listed here. If you're curious to see how many players signed five-year contracts, you can sort by contract length and bring up that list right here.
A few additional notes on the tracker:
Our Free Agent Tracker can be found anytime on the right sidebar under "Hoops Rumors Features" and will be updated throughout the offseason, so be sure to check back for the latest info. If you have any corrections, please let us know right here.
After spending the week looking at the top rebounders, three-point shooters, and distributors still available in free agency, we wrap up today with a simple focus: Examining which unsigned players are the best at putting the ball in the net.
Teams still in need of a scorer aren't going to find the next Kevin Durant on the free agent market at this point, but there are still a handful of players that are capable of coming off the bench and scoring baskets in bunches.
Listed below are the top 10 remaining free agents by points per 36 minutes. Their PP36 rate for 2011/12 is listed in parentheses. To qualify, they must have averaged at least 10 minutes per game and appeared in at least 20 contests in 2011/12.