ESPN.com's Marc Stein passes along a few notable tidbits in his latest piece for TrueHoop, including word of a potential Clippers target, a Phil Jackson update, and some items on the coaching front. Let's dive in and check out the highlights....
Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times begins his look around the NBA with a profile on first-round prospect Glen Rice Jr., who could become the most highly drafted player to come out of the D-League. The Journal Times scribe also touches on offseason rumblings from around the league, and we'll round up the highlights here:
As deadline day for Bryan Colangelo's 2013/14 option approaches, the Raptors are pursuing current Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri to take over their basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The head-hunting firm hired by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to whittle down the list of potential replacements for Colangelo identified Ujiri as the top choice, sources told Wojnarowski.
Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reported yesterday that the Raptors had until Monday to make a decision one way or the other on Colangelo, and that MLSE had hired a search firm to look into potential candidates -- Wojnarowski identifies the firm as Korn/Ferry International.
Perhaps it's no surprise that the man who was named 2013's NBA Executive of the Year earlier this month would emerge as the top candidate for MLSE. But in addition to being more than qualified for the job, Ujiri is on an expiring deal. Although he has a strong relationship with Nuggets CEO Josh Kroenke, Ujiri is only under contract until June 30th. It had been assumed that he and the Nuggets would work out a new agreement, but perhaps MLSE president/CEO Tim Leiweke could make a pitch and offer that would be enough to present Ujiri with a difficult decision.
Prior to becoming the Nuggets' GM in 2010, Ujiri worked under Colangelo in Toronto for three years, including two as assistant GM, so he does have a history with the Raptors, which could work in Toronto's favor. The 76ers made a run at Ujiri a year ago in hopes of hiring him as their GM, but he turned down the team's interest.
With just one Conference Semifinal still ongoing, we won't see any NBA action tonight, as the Knicks and Pacers prepare for tomorrow's Game Six. Even if the Eastern Semifinal extends to a seventh game though, we can look forward to the Western Finals getting underway on Sunday, featuring a Spurs/Grizzlies matchup that few would have predicted last fall. As we get ready for those games, let's check in on a few odds and ends from around the Association:
2:47pm: More afternoon combine updates from Chicago:
1:35pm: We covered the Thursday morning updates from Chicago's predraft camp earlier today, but with so many tidbits surfacing throughout the day, we're starting an afternoon post to round up the latest notes:
A year ago, Omer Asik was coming off two seasons in Chicago in which he averaged 2.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, a .529 FG%, and a 12.6 PER in 13.2 minutes per game. Despite the pedesterian numbers, Asik was considered a big man with upside, and earned a three-year, $25MM contract from the Rockets. He lived up to that $8.3MM annual salary in his first season in Houston, starting all 82 games and averaging a double-double.
Timofey Mozgov isn't exactly the same type of player as Asik, but there are certainly plenty of similarities between the two bigs. Mozgov was considered a crucial piece in the blockbuster trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York two seasons ago, but with JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos ahead of him in the Nuggets' rotation, Mozgov hasn't seen a whole lot of playing time over the last two years. Since the start of the 2011/12 season, Mozgov's averages look similar to Asik's in Chicago: 4.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, a .520 FG%, and a 12.9 PER in 12.3 MPG.
Like Asik a year ago, Mozgov will be eligible for restricted free agency this summer. While it was a no-brainer for the Bulls to extend a qualifying offer to Asik to ensure they could match rival offers (even though the team ultimately decided not to match Houston's offer), that's not necessarily the case for the Nuggets and Mozgov. At least one report has suggested Mozgov will receive a qualifying offer from Denver, but that was met with some skepticism from at least one reporter, and it's not hard to see why.
Assuming Andre Iguodala opts out of his 2013/14 contract in search of a long-term deal, the Nuggets will still have approximately $52MM in guaranteed money on their books before attempting to negotiate new contracts for Iguodala and Corey Brewer. If the team hopes to bring back both players, or even just Iguodala, it's unclear if Mozgov's $3.93MM qualifying offer will be an affordable expense for a team that figures to steer clear of the luxury tax.
Still, the Nuggets have shown they're willing to pay big bucks to a player who essentially amounts to a backup center (McGee). Perhaps the risk of Mogov accepting that $3.93MM qualifying offer will be outweighed by the desire to keep a valuable asset under team control. After all, based on the amount of interest reported in Mozgov at the trade deadline, it seems there will be plenty of suitors for the big man, both this summer and perhaps in a trade at next year's deadline.
The list of potential suitors for Mozgov figures to include his old team, as the Knicks' interest was reported both before and after the trade deadline. The Timberwolves also reportedly made a play for Mozgov, with the Bobcats and Heat making inquiries as well. Not all of those clubs will be able to make big offers for the Russian this summer -- New York and Miami, for instance, will both be taxpayers, meaning the mini mid-level exception (up to three years and $9.98MM) will be the most they can offer, and that's assuming they make Mozgov their top free agent priority, which may be unlikely.
For a team like the Bobcats though, pursuing a player such as Mozgov would make a lot of sense. Charlotte has plenty of cap space at its disposal, but is unlikely to be in the mix for any premier free agents, based on the team's record and history. So why not make a play for a young big man with upside like Mozgov? The bidding for the Nuggets center probably won't reach Asik territory, meaning an offer like the one the Hornets gave Robin Lopez last season (three years, $15.36MM) might be enough to get something done, and avoid the Nuggets matching. In that scenario, Mozgov would get some long-term security and a nice payday, while the Bobcats (or a similar lottery-bound team with cap room) would get the chance to roll the dice on a player who could thrive with more playing time. And at that price, the contract wouldn't become too toxic an asset even if Mozgov struggled.
It's hard to get a strong read on Mozgov's free agent value, given how little we've seen of him on the court in the NBA. I don't expect him to be quite the prize that Asik was last year, but if Mozgov receives an offer that seems disproportionate to his career production, we shouldn't be surprised. The 26-year-old didn't get a real chance to shine in Denver, but a player with his combination of size and promise won't go unnoticed on the open market.
All eyes will be on Clippers guard Chris Paul this summer and while the All-Star has been treated like royalty in L.A. and arguably has been given more pull than any other player in the league when it comes to personnel decisions, it's possible that CP3 will head elsewhere as he looks to win his first NBA title. Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld ran down the Clippers' biggest competition and identified the Mavericks, Hawks, Rockets, and Nuggets as the top threats to pull him away from La La Land. Here's tonight's look around the Association as the Clippers gear up for a very interesting summer..
Free Agents/Cap Holds
Most teams with 57 regular season wins, the Coach of the Year and the Executive of the Year would still find themselves alive in the postseason this time of year, but that's not the case for these Nuggets. Denver finds itself out of the first round for the ninth time in 10 years, with critics once more heralding the ineffectiveness of the team's egalitarian approach. There is no superstar on this roster, and Andre Iguodala, the team's closest facsimile, is likely to opt out of his contract and hit free agency this summer.
Team president Josh Kroenke and GM Masai Ujiri have both expressed a desire for Iguodala to return, and re-signing him would appear to be the team's top priority if the Olympic gold medalist opts out. A new contract for Iggy would likely hamstring the team's financial flexibility from a cap standpoint, though the primary option for upgrading this roster would likely be a trade. The Carmelo Anthony deal, the Nene/JaVale McGee swap and the Nuggets' participation in the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum blockbuster that netted them Iguodala last summer represent three major trades in an 18-month span. Restraint isn't what put the Executive of the Year trophy in Ujiri's hands, and I wouldn't expect him to stand pat for long.
Danilo Gallinari's torn ACL could complicate matters. Gallinari is just 24 years old and on an affordable contract that will pay him $32.561MM over the next three seasons. He represents one of the team's best assets if Ujiri wants to make a deal. The same could be said for 25-year-old Ty Lawson, though the Nuggets just signed him to a four-year, $48MM extension that kicks in next season, and they seem to view him as a long-term building block.
A better option might be Wilson Chandler, who is due $20,273,739 through 2016, not too dire a price for someone who can play both forward positions and shot 41.3% from three-point range this season. Kosta Koufos has severely limited shooting range, but he makes just $3MM next season and next, with only $500K guaranteed in the final season of his contract. That, along with his size, rebounding and efficiency, could intrigue other teams. The Nuggets also have Kenneth Faried with two years left on his rookie deal, and while they'd be loath to part with a bargain like him, they might be willing to do so if they could make him part of a package for a superstar.
Chandler, Koufos and Faried might allow for decent return in a trade, but Denver probably isn't getting a marquee player unless they're willing to include Lawson or another team is willing to take on Gallinari as damaged goods. Ujiri could get creative and structure a sign-and-trade with Iguodala or Timofey Mozgov, but doing so would require the players' consent, which makes it tricky.
The Nuggets reportedly plan on extending a qualifying offer to Mozgov, though there's some doubt that they'd do so, since he could just accept it and make nearly $4MM next season as overpriced end-of-the-bench filler. The 7'1" center was a hot trade candidate at the deadline this season, so if the Nuggets float the offer and Mozgov doesn't bite, rival teams in need of size could be goaded into overpaying for Mozgov to scare the Nuggets off from matching. If Ujiri can negotiate a fairly priced multiyear deal for the Russian, he could be thrown into trade discussions again at next year's deadline.
The other notable free agent on the roster is Corey Brewer, who enjoyed a renaissance this season and drew high praise from George Karl. His poor outside shooting was exposed in the playoffs, however, and his 5-for-28 shooting in the final three games of the Warriors series may have cost him plenty of money. That could allow the Nuggets to pick him back up at a cheap price, although the team's subpar performance from behind the three-point line this season suggests they should go after someone with better touch. Denver was 20th in made three-pointers this season, and it's been known since March that the team will target sharpshooter Kyle Korver in free agency, likely with its mid-level exception. Korver will likely have plenty of suitors, but the Nuggets could look to other three-point gunners if they miss out on him.
Denver's 57 regular season wins were a franchise best, but NBA teams are measured on their success in the postseason. Anthony was around for many of the team's playoff failures, but he was also the centerpiece of the Nuggets' lone escape from the first round in recent memory, in 2009 when they went to the Western Conference Finals. That, coupled with this year's shortcomings, should be enough to persuade Ujiri to step up his pursuit of superstar talent, no matter how risky (Bynum) or unproven (DeMarcus Cousins) it may be.
According to Grantland's Bill Simmons, who finishes off his three-part trade value column, there's "increasing buzz" that the Lakers would amnesty Kobe Bryant if they were guaranteed to sign both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. That appears a longshot on multiple counts, since the Clippers seem all but assured of re-signing Paul, while the Lakers have insisted they're not considering the amnesty move on Kobe. Even if the Lakers take Kobe's $30MM+ salary for next season off their books, it would still be difficult for the team to fit a max contract for Paul under the cap. Regardless, the offseason figures to be full of intrigue in L.A., as always. Here's the latest from the City of Angels and other Western Conference locales:
Not long after being officially introduced as the Suns' new general manager, Ryan McDonough addressed the topic of his head coaching search, saying that several people on his list of ideal candidates for the job have matched up with the list that had been in place before he was hired, adding that Lindsey Hunter still remains as "one of the top guys" (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic via USA Today). McDonough also underscored the draft as a franchise's "lifeblood" for "sustainable success" and was complimentary of some of the current players on the roster. Here's more out of the Western Conference tonight: