Hoops Rumors Weekly Mailbag 3/22/15-3/28/15

March 28 at 10:12am CDT By Eddie Scarito

In addition to our weekly chat, which Chuck Myron facilitates every Wednesday, we have added a second opportunity for you to hit us up with your questions in this, our weekly mailbag feature. Have a question regarding player movement, the salary cap, or the NBA draft? Drop me a line at HoopsRumorsMailbag@Gmail.com or @EddieScarito on Twitter. Now for this week’s inquiries:

“Do you see DeAndre Jordan commanding a max salary in free agency?” — Phil B.

I can certainly see Jordan seeking a max deal, but I’m not sure that he gets one. He’s having a great season, but the league doesn’t revolve around centers the way that it used to. Jordan will certainly be in line for a raise from the $11.4MM he is making this season. I just can’t see him being worth a $17MM+ annual salary. $15MM per feels about the right ballpark for him, though even that is a risk given how poorly big men age in the NBA.

The big unknown involved here is how the 2016 salary cap increase will change teams’ approaches this summer. There may be a few more franchises that will be willing to go into the luxury tax in 2015/16, knowing that the cap will increase significantly the following year. Plus, if upper tier salaries are going to jump as much as some speculate, Jordan inking a max deal this summer could end up looking like a bargain in three years time.

“What are the chances that John Calipari ends up coaching the Knicks next season?” Tim

I’ll go with slim-to-none on this one. I just don’t see Calipari and Phil Jackson working well together. Plus, Calipari would likely ask for some level of control over personnel moves as part of his contract. That’s a likely deal-breaker in New York right now. I also don’t see the team giving up on Derek Fisher after a single season unless there are some serious philosophical differences that pop up between the coach and the front office. Plus, if Calipari actually wants to leave Kentucky, he can do much better than the Knicks for an NBA gig. Flip Saunders may want to get off of the sidelines in Minnesota and Coach Cal has a bit of experience developing young talent…

“Will both Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo be in Dallas’ starting backcourt next season?” Randall J.

It’s not looking good right now for the two to re-team next season in Dallas. The team’s offense has been flowing better with Rondo on the bench — not a great sign when talking about a point guard. I was willing to give the two players the benefit of the doubt, but it’s looking more and more like Ellis and Rondo just aren’t compatible. Rondo’s clashes with coach Rick Carlisle aren’t a great incentive for Rondo to want to return either. So there’s all of that.

But the factor that is usually the true determining one in these situations is money. Rondo is likely to seek a maximum salary deal, which isn’t something he’s likely to be worth at this stage of his career. I don’t see the Mavs offering that level of financial commitment to retain Rondo. With the Knicks and Lakers both set to have cap space and tons of desperation this summer, Rondo could be one of the beneficiaries. I think Rondo leaves Dallas for more zeroes on his paycheck.

As for Ellis, he has a tougher decision to make. The veteran guard has a player option worth $8.72MM for next season. It’s not clear yet whether or not he’ll opt out and try to secure a long-term deal. The cap is set to jump in 2016, so opting in and hitting the market that summer may hold more appeal. Out of the two players, Ellis is the one who is more likely to be back.

“Does J.R. Smith opt out of his deal this summer? Do you see him staying in Cleveland long-term?” Alex V.

A couple of months ago I would have been sure that Smith would opt in on his $6,399,750 player option for 2015/16. I’m not so certain any more. That’s what competing for a contending team will do for a player’s energy level and stat line. Smith has fit in rather well in Cleveland, so there’s that to consider. He could opt in and try to cash in when the cap jumps during the summer of 2016. That would be the safe play. But if Smith has a stellar playoffs and can control his antics, he could be looking at a number of long-term offers. I’d speculate that the Mavs would be interested in signing Smith if Ellis departs as a free agent. My guess is that barring a spectacular individual playoff run, Smith opts in or works out a long-term deal with the Cavs.

“Give me your mock draft for the top five picks (using the current standings as the draft order)” Aaron

It’s still a bit early to make an accurate mock draft. Quite a few things can change during the pre-draft process. But now that I’ve blanketed myself in the warmth of a disclaimer I’ll answer the question. Using Hoops Rumors’ Reverse Standings to determine the draft order, here’s how I see the first five picks shaking out…

  1. Knicks — C Jahlil Okafor (Duke)
  2. Timberwolves — F Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky)
  3. Sixers — G Emmanuel Mudiay (China)
  4. Lakers — G D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State)
  5. Magic — F Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia)

That’s all the space I have for this week’s inquiries. Please keep all the submissions coming and I’ll be back next Saturday with more thoughts and opinions.

Atlantic Notes: D-League, Lopez, Noel

March 28 at 8:48am CDT By Eddie Scarito

Despite the Nets’ reported attempts to trade Brook Lopez prior to the February deadline, the big man is keeping the team in the playoff hunt, Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com writes. Over his past four games, Lopez is averaging 30.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in 36.8 minutes while shooting 65.8% from the field. Lopez has a player option worth $16,744,218 for 2015/16, and while he may want to opt out and try to secure a long-term deal given his injury history, the center might be wise to wait until the salary cap increases in 2016 to test the free agent market, Mazzeo opines.

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The switch to the triangle offense has also been a difficult one for the Knicks‘ D-League affiliate, Marc Berman of The New York Post writes. Westchester owns the second-worst record of the 18 teams D-League teams with a mark of 10-35. There are also rumblings that coach Kevin Whitted hasn’t been on the same page as assistant Craig Hodges all season, a league source tells Berman. There’s speculation Hodges could be Westchester’s head coach next season, according to Berman’s source.
  • Westchester has also failed to develop its younger players, Berman’s source relayed. That opinion also included that the team has filled out its roster with too many veterans. Knicks second-rounder Thanasis Antetokounmpo was not considered not ready to play for a woeful New York squad after a season in Westchester, Berman notes. In addition, prospect Orlando Sanchez left the squad recently because of financial reasons when told he wasn’t going to be signed to an NBA deal, according to Berman.
  • Nerlens Noel has begun to prove that he can remain healthy and become a force for the Sixers, Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com writes. Coach Brett Brown has been particularly impressed with how well the 216 pound rookie has held up this season, Howard-Cooper adds. “He’s 216 pounds and an NBA center right now,” Brown said of Noel. “We’re trying to play him as a four or a five. The fact that he’s got through it with no knee problem and only missed four games, one because of another injury and a few because of sickness, to only miss four games as a rookie, that is a hell of an effort. To take it further and zoom in on the knee, I just feel like he is heading in the right direction on all levels.”

And-Ones: Pistons, World Peace, Calderon

March 27 at 10:30pm CDT By Eddie Scarito

There’s a chance that soon-to-be free agents Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko return to Detroit this summer, but it’s unlikely either winds up back with the Pistons, who traded them both away at the deadline, MLive’s David Mayo argues in his weekly mailbag. Mayo also figures Tayshaun Prince will leave in free agency while the team retains Anthony Tolliver on his partially guaranteed contract next season.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Metta World Peace, 35, says that he won’t quit playing professionally until he’s 40 years old, Daniella Matar of NBA.com writes. The veteran recently inked a deal with Italy’s Pallacanestro Cantù for the remainder of the season. ”I always wanted to play in Europe for a long time,” World Peace said. ”They move the ball and they move bodies, and that’s what I like doing. I’m looking forward to playing team basketball and being smart as well as scoring. I can score but I’m excited about team basketball.”
  • With the season winding down a number of coaches could soon find themselves out of work. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com runs down six top prospects who could be hired as replacements. Arnovitz’s list includes Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, Arizona coach Sean Miller, and Spurs assistant Ime Udoka.
  • Knicks guard Jose Calderon is expected to be in a walking boot for another 10 days, Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com tweets. Calderon still hopes to return to action this season, but he admitted that scenario was unlikely, Begley adds. The 33-year-old averaged 9.1 points and 4.7 assists while shooting a career-low 41.5% from the field for New York this season.
  • The Rockets announced that Donatas Motiejunas will be restricted from basketball activities for one to two weeks, and he’ll be reevaluated at that time. The forward is suffering from lower back issues. In 71 games this season, including 62 starts, the seven-footer is averaging 12.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 1.8 APG in 28.7 minutes per contest.

Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

2015/16 Salary Commitments: Heat

March 27 at 9:15pm CDT By Eddie Scarito

With the NBA trade deadline passed, teams are focusing on locking down playoff spots or vying for a better chance in the draft lottery. Outside of the players who are added on 10-day deals, or those lucky enough to turn those auditions into long-term contracts, teams’ rosters are relatively set for the remainder of the season.

We at Hoops Rumors are in the process of taking a look ahead at each franchise’s salary cap situation heading into the summer, and the free agent frenzy that occurs every offseason. While the exact amount of the 2015/16 salary cap won’t be announced until July, the cap is projected to come in somewhere around $67.4MM, with the luxury tax threshold projected at approximately $81MM. This year’s $63.065MM cap represented  an increase of 7.7% over 2013/14, which was well above the league’s projected annual increase of 4.5%.

We’ll continue onward by taking a look at the Heat’s cap outlook for 2015/16…

Here are the players with guaranteed contracts:

Here are the players with non-guaranteed contracts:

Players with options:

The Heat’s Cap Summary for 2015/16:

  • Guaranteed Salary: $42,892,085
  • Options/Non-Guaranteed Salary: $38,819,644
  • Total: $81,711,729

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Western Notes: Mullin, Capela, Nelson

March 27 at 8:00pm CDT By Eddie Scarito

Steve Lavin was fired as coach of St. John’s University today after five seasons on the job, Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv reports. “A national search is underway for a candidate who possesses the characteristics to give our program an opportunity to successfully compete at the national level,” St. John’s AD Chris Monasch said. “We will be aggressive in our search for a coach who has a track record of success, understands all the requirements of running a high major basketball program in New York City, including the media demands within this market. We are seeking someone who embraces the St. John’s mission and tradition, including the ability to attract the top talent both nationally and internationally.”

One candidate already being mentioned as a possibility to replace Lavin is Kings adviser Chris Mullin, Zagoria notes. St. John’s has already expressed interest in the former player, Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). “He’s the most famous person in the school history, he’s going to have a decided edge on whatever name comes up,” a source told Zagoria. “Whether he takes it or not, I don’t know. At one point there was mutual interest but that guy’s got a pretty good [expletive] life.

Here’s more out of the Western Conference:

  • The Rockets have recalled rookie Clint Capela from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, their D-League affiliate, the team announced. Capela has averaged 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in 37 D-League contests this season.
  • Point guard Petteri Koponen‘s contract with the Russian team Khimki contains NBA out provisions, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets. David Pick of Eurobasket.com (Twitter link) confirms that Koponen’s pact includes an NBA out clause that can be exercised as early as this summer. The 26-year old was originally selected with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Sixers and his rights are now held by the Mavericks.
  • Jameer Nelson likes the situation that he has with the Nuggets, but the veteran isn’t sure if he will exercise his $2,854,940 player option this summer and remain in Denver, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders writes. “I wouldn’t mind staying here,” Nelson said. “I’m not ready to make that decision just yet. I’ll make that decision with my agency and my family first and foremost when the time comes.”

2015/16 Salary Commitments: Grizzlies

March 27 at 6:45pm CDT By Eddie Scarito

With the NBA trade deadline passed, teams are focusing on locking down playoff spots or vying for a better chance in the draft lottery. Outside of the players who are added on 10-day deals, or those lucky enough to turn those auditions into long-term contracts, teams’ rosters are relatively set for the remainder of the season.

We at Hoops Rumors are in the process of taking a look ahead at each franchise’s salary cap situation heading into the summer, and the free agent frenzy that occurs every offseason. While the exact amount of the 2015/16 salary cap won’t be announced until July, the cap is projected to come in somewhere around $67.4MM, with the luxury tax threshold projected at approximately $81MM. This year’s $63.065MM cap represented an increase of 7.7% over 2013/14, which was well above the league’s projected annual increase of 4.5%.

We’ll continue onward by taking a look at the Grizzlies’ cap outlook for 2015/16…

Here are the players with guaranteed contracts:

Here are the players with non-guaranteed contracts:

Players with options:

The Grizzlies’ Cap Summary for 2015/16:

  • Guaranteed Salary: $32,713,036
  • Options/Non-Guaranteed Salary: $13,022,583
  • Total: $45,735,619

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Michael Frazier To Enter Draft

March 27 at 5:55pm CDT By Chuck Myron

FRIDAY, 5:55pm: Frazier confirmed via his Twitter account that he will indeed enter the NBA draft this year.

THURSDAY, 11:11am: University of Florida junior shooting guard Michael Frazier will enter this year’s NBA draft, reports Forbes contributor and Sports Agent Blog editor Darren Heitner (Twitter link). Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress also hears from a source who confirmed the news (Twitter link). Frazier will sign with agents Andy Miller and Matt Ramker of ASM Sports, a source tells Heitner.

It’s somewhat of a surprise to see the 21-year-old set to turn pro so soon, as Givony listed him on his mock draft for 2016 rather than this year. He’s Givony’s 79th-ranked prospect overall and checks in at No. 84 with Chad Ford of ESPN.com. Frazier’s not unaware of such projections but is ready to work to improve his standing, a source tells Givony, who believes he’ll generate plenty of interest in spite of a down year this season (Twitter links). The 6’4″ Frazier shot 43% from three-point territory for his college career, as Givony notes, and 38% this season. He averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game for the 2014/15 Gators, who saw their season end with an SEC Tournament loss to Kentucky.

Florida, normally a national power, finished only 16-17 despite the presence of Frazier and fellow pro prospect Chris Walker, whose stock has slipped quite a bit. Frazier’s reputation has remained more or less steady, as he came in at No. 86 on the Recruiting Services Consensus Index coming out of high school in 2012.

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Celtics, Clark

March 27 at 5:30pm CDT By Eddie Scarito

Sixers draftee Joel Embiid‘s weight is finally getting down into the range that the team is comfortable with, which pleases coach Brett Brown, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes. “He’s ticking boxes in regards to increased time on the court and reduced weight,” Brown said of the rookie center. “His weight is going down. His needle is clearly pointing in the right direction. And you heard me say this a lot lately, he’s setting the stage for a great summer. He sees his reward will be summer league, trying to get ready to actually play again.”

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how Kentucky junior Willie Cauley-Stein would fit with the Knicks. Herring posits that New York could look to select the big man if they fall out of the top three picks in the draft lottery.
  • Celtics team president Danny Ainge believes that he’ll learn a lot about the makeup of his players whether or not Boston secures a playoff spot this season, Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com writes. “I’m not really hanging on [making the playoffs]. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to evaluate and Brad [Stevens] to evaluate what we’re made of, who can step it up, players that can play meaningful minutes,” Ainge said. “And our young guys can learn through this, you don’t judge them from one game to the next, but see how our guys react and bounce back from difficult losses and bad performances. So far our guys have passed the test. So I’m excited about the next ten games, like you said. We do control our own destiny. We have a tough schedule ahead of us still and I’m excited about that.
  • Earl Clark, who inked a 10-day deal with the Nets today, says that he’s surprised to be with the team, Rod Boone of Newsday tweets. Clark says that he was at home working out when his agent called and told him to pack for Brooklyn, Boone adds.

Poll: Do Thunder Need Upgrades To Win In 2016?

March 27 at 4:20pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Kevin Durant is done for this season thanks to the broken foot that had already limited him to just 27 games, leaving just one season for Durant to help the Thunder to a title before his contract expires. There’s little clarity on whether he’s leaning toward re-signing with the team or not, so uncertainty clouds the summer of 2016, when the salary cap is projected to jump to near $90MM, with most teams possessing enough cap flexibility to lure Durant with a max offer.

What is clear is that the Thunder aren’t trading Durant out of fear that he’ll leave them, with GM Sam Presti having recently referred to the idea as “ludicrous.” That signals that the Thunder will keep trying to build around him, as they’ve done for the past several years to mixed results. The Thunder made it to the Finals in 2012 with a core of Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, but the decision to trade Harden before the next season began has turned out poorly, and Oklahoma City hasn’t been back to the Finals since.

Harden has developed into an MVP candidate, but so has Westbrook, and Durant won the MVP last season. The Thunder went over the tax threshold to acquire Dion Waiters in January, and while that move hasn’t exactly been a revolutionary upgrade, Presti kept tinkering, sending out Reggie Jackson for fellow soon-to-be restricted free agent Enes Kanter and bench help at the deadline. Kanter’s performed well offensively and on the boards, having put up 17.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in 16 games as a member of the Thunder. Oklahoma City will have to pay to keep the young big man, who turns 23 in May, and with more than $78MM in guaranteed salary already committed for next season, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders shows, the cost of keeping the Thunder together is high.

So, too, would be the psychological and historical cost to the franchise if Durant leaves without having delivered a Larry O’Brien trophy. The Thunder have 13 players on guaranteed contracts for next season, an unusually large number. It would be easy to re-sign Kanter or match another team’s offer sheet for him, bring back everyone else and make a run at the 2016 title with a healthy Durant. But the Thunder probably wouldn’t be the favorites to win it all if they did that, not with LeBron James leading another supercharged Cavs team and the Warriors well-positioned to keep on winning.

So, perhaps Presti should get aggressive this summer. There are trade rumors surrounding DeMarcus Cousins, so maybe the Thunder should see what it would take to shake him loose from Sacramento. The past two No. 1 overall picks and the reigning Rookie of the Year have all been traded with the past seven months, so elite young talent could be available. The Warriors were similarly capped out in 2013 when they worked a sign-and-trade that netted Andre Iguodala, who’s one of the keys to a roster that’s the best in the Western Conference this season. So, the Thunder aren’t necessarily out of the mix for this summer’s top free agents.

Tell us what you think. Should Presti bring back Kanter, keep the rest of the team intact and prepare for one more run with a largely unchanged cast? Or should he be bold and make a play for a better complement to Durant before the star forward’s contract runs out? Let us know, and elaborate on your choice in the comments.

Draft Notes: Mudiay, Maker, Russell, Looney

March 27 at 3:09pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Emmanuel Mudiay isn’t sure he’d recommend playing overseas to other top draft prospects, particularly those who wouldn’t merit the kind of high-dollar deal he received, but he has no regrets about his decision to play in China instead of at SMU, as he tells Evan Daniels of Scout.com.

“I was playing against 30-year old men that are trying to feed their family,” he said, answering affirmatively when Daniels asked if he feels he has an edge on prospects from the NCAA. “In college, they are trying to get an education and try to get a job after that. I was put in a job position.

Mudiay told Daniels that he’s heard that elite 2016 draft prospect Thon Maker is thinking about playing overseas, though Mudiay’s not sure if that’s the case. Either way, here’s more on the draft, with just 12 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament:

  • Chris Mannix of SI.com looks at Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell, Mudiay’s primary challenger to become the first point guard drafted in June and a prospect who’s impressed at least one NBA GM with a level of court awareness beyond his years.
  • There’s a wide range of opinion on the draft stock of UCLA power forward Kevon Looney, whom Chad Ford of ESPN.com ranks as the seventh most well-regarded prospect while Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has him 19th. Ford and ESPN.com colleague Kevin Pelton debate the merits of the 19-year-old who’ll probably take a while to develop regardless of his potential, as they write in an Insider-only piece.
  • Stanley Johnson doesn’t have flashy numbers, but he and his game have matured in his freshman season at Arizona, as Zach Hefland of the Los Angeles Times examines. The small forward is the No. 6 prospect in Givony’s rankings and No. 12 with Ford. Eddie Scarito of Hoops Rumors has him sixth in our Draft Prospect Power Rankings.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss makes a habit of outperforming expectations, and while he isn’t a highly regarded NBA prospect, there are at least a few people around the game who are confident he can make it in the pros, as Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group details. The University of Washington sophomore told Haynes that he isn’t sure whether he’ll stay in college another year or declare for the draft.