The majority of Hoops Rumors readers who voted today think at least one New York team will make the playoffs this season, in spite of a combined 7-24 record for the Knicks and Nets. That might not be the case if those clubs were in the much tougher Western Conference. The Hawks are in third place in the East with a 9-8 record, while the Lakers have the same mark and sit in 10th place in the West. The imbalance figures to soften to some degree as the season wears on, but it’s still troubling for Western teams competing for a postseason berth. Here’s more from the West:
Wesley Johnson could have signed for more money and years to play with that Atlanta team and its much easier road to the playoffs, and the Bucks also offered a better deal than the Lakers, tweets Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Coach Mike D’Antoni‘s system prompted Johnson to instead choose the L.A. and a one-year contract for the minimum salary.
César Nanclares of TuBasket.com hears that Victor Claver is strongly considering a return to Europe amid disappointment over a reduced role this season with the Blazers (translation via HoopsHype). Nanclares points out the Spanish native’s contract runs through this season and next and that Portland isn’t likely to let him engineer a buyout this season, though the scribe wonders if the Blazers might be willing to cut ties this summer.
Former second-round draft pick Chukwudiebere Maduabum has signed with Tin Kalev Tallin of Estonia, Sportando’s Enea Trapani reports. The Nuggets hold the rights to Maduabum, the 56th overall pick in 2011.
The Spurs have named Ken McDonald the head coach of the team's D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros, the team announced today in a press release. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports first had the story (Twitter link).
Pierre Jackson, whose NBA rights are held by New Orleans, has left his team in France to return to America, according to a report from Le Progres (translation via Sportando). It's not clear whether the Pelicans could fit Jackson into their plans immediately, so he may end up playing elsewhere this season.
The Lakers didn't land their top free agent target this July, but the team made a handful of smaller, under-the-radar signings to bring in talent and bolster a bench that was thin in 2012/13. Among those incoming free agents is Wesley Johnson, and the new Laker spoke extensively to Laker Nation about the upcoming season, playing with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, and how excited he is to play in L.A.
"It's really a dream come true for me," Johnson said, according to Alex Lambeth and Jory Dreher. "I've wanted to play here since I was younger. My family really respects the Lakers for all they stand for…. My mom loved Magic [Johnson]. Being able to play for the Lakers and with my mom being able to see me play for them, it's going to be fun."
Here's more from around the Pacific Division:
Goran Dragic spoke to Mark Woods of ESPN.com about the Suns' offseason and the direction of the team, praising the trade for Eric Bledsoe and the drafting of Alex Len. "Of course, we still have a lot of salary cap," Dragic said. "Probably next year, we'll go for big names, one of the superstars."
The spotlight in the Pacific Division will surely be on former Clipper reserve Eric Bledsoe, who will now headline Phoenix's backcourt next to another young talent in Goran Dragic. Bledsoe's numbers last season (8.5 PPG/3.1 APG/20.4 MPG) wouldn't seem very comparable to what will be expected of him in 2013/14, especially considering some of his standout performances when given more than 30 minutes of playing time: 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in 38 minutes against the Celtics, 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 37 minutes against the Rockets, 10 points, 10 assists, and six steals in 39 minutes against the Timberwolves, and a 27-point, 6 rebound, 6 steal, and 3-block performance in 41 minutes against the Magic to name a few. Now equipped with starter's minutes, it will be fascinating to see how the 6'1 guard will utilize his significantly increased role and responsibilities as a leader of a young team.
Keeping all this in mind, Bledsoe should undoubtedly be among the favorites within the whole league to have a breakout season. With that aside, it was unquestionably a summer of shakeups for the rest of the Pacific Division, as each of the other four teams will feature new key rotation players in 2013/14. Let's take a look at some of the other new faces looking to make a lasting impact on their respective clubs:
Marreese Speights, Warriors – The 6'10 power forward is entering his sixth year in the league and will be playing for his fourth NBA team after signing with Golden State this past July. Following a trade from Memphis to Cleveland halfway through last season, Speights averaged 10.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 18.5 MPG in 39 games and one start for the Cavaliers. Although Sean Deveney of the Sporting News and NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper have reported that the team is currently expecting Andrew Bogut and David Lee to be healthyenough to play without limitation, head coach Mark Jackson could possibly rely on Speights for extended minutes on some nights in order to preserve some of his older frontcourt veterans.
Considering his production in a limited amount of minutes last season, the former Florida standout could prove to be one of the most important reserves on a playoff contender this year and may open some more eyes in the process.
Byron Mullens, Clippers – Fresh off of career highs in points, rebounds, and minutes last season with the Bobcats (10.8/6.4/26.9), it remains to be seen just how Mullens' minutes and role will be handled in Los Angeles. The 7'0 big man put together a flurry of attention-grabbing performances last season, averaging 12.9 PPG/8.2 RPG/33.0 MPG in November and 10.0/7.3/28.6 in December before being sidelined with an ankle injury. Following a 19-game absence, Mullens picked up where he left off, posting 14.6/7.9/32.1 in February.
Although his overall shooting percentages were less than desirable last season (.385/.317/.636), one thing to consider is the possible improvement in the quality of shot attempts as a by-product of playing with a superstar playmaker in Chris Pauland his solid distributing backup, Darren Collison. Byron's confidence in attempting perimeter shots is far from lacking, as nearly four of his 10.6 shot attempts per game last year were taken from beyond the arc. With that being said, Mullens may very well be a viable threat who can stretch the floor provided he can improve his shooting efficiency and have better opportunities created for him. If given the minutes, he's shown that he can definitely put up some numbers.
Wesley Johnson, Lakers – Despite his lack of floor time for the first four months of 2012/13, the 6'7 swingman made the most of his situation after being given consistent starter's minutes in the final two months of the season, averaging 13.2 PPG/1.2 SPG/30.3 MPG in March along with 12.9 PPG and 27.3 MPG in April respectively. He did well enough that despite the Suns opting not to exercise his fourth year option, there was still mutual interest in a return to Phoenix this summer. Ultimately, the former lottery pick out of Syracuse wound up with the Lakers, where he should have his fair share of opportunities as an athletic player in Mike D'Antoni's system. With Johnson playing on a one-year contract, it'd certainly be in his best interest to continue his momentum from last season and perform well enough to earn a lucrative contract next summer, whether it'd be in L.A. or somewhere else.
Greivis Vasquez, Kings – It's more than reasonable to deem 2012/13 as a breakout year for Vasquez. The 6'6 point guard rose to the occasion in New Orleans, producing an impressive 13.9 PPG and 9.0 APG stat line in 34.4 MPG and 78 games played/started. It's important to note that he'll be entering a contract year, and one significant question is how Vasquez's numbers will fare with an entirely different cast of teammates, especially with the surplus of guards on the roster – namely Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Marcus Thornton, and Jimmer Fredette. Although the former Maryland star displayed his capabilities as a distributor and a tertiary scoring option last season, it appears that another major improvement within reach would be to raise his shooting percentages (.433/.342) as well as the amount of times he gets to the line (2.0). Following his career-best season to date, Vasquez will surely have to deliver in his most important one yet.
After Bledsoe, who would you expect to be the most improved player in the Pacific Division?
The top two free agents this summer came from Western Conference teams, and Dwight Howard and Chris Paul remain in the West, though Howard left the Lakers for the Rockets. That helps maintain the perception of the Western Conference as the stronger side of the league, even as the Heat have won the last two championships. Here's more on a few of the West's teams:
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News is high on the resourcefulness of the Lakers this summer in the wake of Howard's decision to bolt. Within the piece, Chris Kaman says he didn't have a lot of other options when he signed with the Lakers, though several other teams reportedly showed interest. Wesley Johnson acknowledged offers from "a lot of different teams," but he called his choice of the Lakers "a no-brainer."
The Hawks and Trail Blazers talked about deals for Tiago Splitter with agent Arn Tellem, and while Splitter gave thought to leaving the Spurs this month, he jumped on San Antonio's four-year, $36MM offer, and he says the Spurs were always his first option. The center goes in-depth on his choice with Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.
MONDAY, 3:30pm: The Lakers have officially signed Johnson, the team announced today in a press release.
SUNDAY, 12:09am: The Lakers agreed to a one-year deal with shooting guard Wesley Johnson, tweets Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. The fourth pick in the 2010 draft signed for the veteran's minimum, which is about $916K for a player with Johnson's experience.
The 6'7" Johnson played for the Suns last season and averaged 8.0 PPG in 19.1 MPG. Johnson was drafted by the Timberwolves and played limited minutes with the Wolves through his first two seasons.
As teams clear cap space to finalize signings and trades, it may mean renouncing Early Bird or Bird rights to their own free agents, in order to remove cap holds from the books. Once a player is renounced, his previous team has no more claim to him that any other team — he could still be re-signed, but it would have to be done using cap space or an exception. Some of those decisions are more notable than others, but for completion's sake, we'll track the latest of these cap-clearing moves right here:
Most interestingly, according to RealGM.com, the Bucks have renounced their rights to Monta Ellis. That doesn't necessarily preclude a sign-and-trade, but it would mean the team would have to use cap space rather than Ellis' Bird rights to accommodate a deal.
The Rockets have been expected to waiveCarlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks before their salaries become fully guaranteed at the end of today, but Marc Stein of ESPN.com hears the team is still pursuing 11th-hour trade possibilities for the two, despite the slim chance they'll find a deal (Twitterlinks). That's just one of many news items out of the West with free agency less than 12 hours away:
O.J. Mayo is expected to turn down his $4.2MM player option for next season, and while his preference is to return to Dallas, the Mavs won't receive a discount, tweets Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com.
Carl Landry's first priority will be to re-sign with the Warriors, but he believes there will be about half a dozen teams pursuing him, and he expects the Blazers to be one of them, the power forward tells Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com. Landry reciprocates Portland's interest.
The Suns won't be in the market for big-ticket free agents, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. The team prefers to keep its cap flexibility to accomodate an enticing trade possibility or next year's crop of free agents. The Suns will be in contact with Wesley Johnson, one of their own free agents, Coro says.
New Kings GM Pete D'Alessandro is promising an "aggressive" approach to the offseason, as Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee observes. The Kings won't simply let restricted free agent Tyreke Evans go without matching his offer or working out a sign-and-trade, writes Voisin, who pegs his market value at between $8MM and $10MM per year.
Yesterday was the deadline for the Spurs to waive Matt Bonner before his $3.945MM salary for next season, which had been partially guaranteed for $1MM, became fully guaranteed. So, Bonner will be back, unless the team waives him via amnesty, as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out as he examines the Spurs' offseason.
Without Bird or even Early Bird rights, The Nets could be in a tricky situation if they want to re-sign Andray Blatche, whom Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors ranked among the best one-year contract signings this season. Blatche indicated to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News that he might make it easy on Brooklyn, since he'll still be drawing paychecks from his amnestied contract with the Wizards. "I’m very aware (of my unique situation)," Blatche said. "That’s what I’m saying. Everybody is probably thinking I’m looking to get that big check. I’m not. Not at all. I’m looking at what’s best for me."
FRIDAY, 7:49am: According to John Gambadoro of 620 KTAR in Phoenix (Twitter link), the Suns have "zero" interest in trading for Smith. Gambadoro adds in a second tweet that the Suns have not even had a conversation with the Hawks about Smith.
THURSDAY, 5:02pm: Having missed out on Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon, the Phoenix Suns are making an effort to trade for Josh Smith, Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld reports. Kennedy writes that the Suns are intent on acquiring a max-level star to make into a cornerstone of their franchise, and have had preliminary discussions with the Hawks regarding possible trade packages.
Kennedy reports that a Suns package would likely be based around center Marcin Gortat, as well some combination of the expiring contracts of Jermaine O'Neal, Wesley Johnson, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair. Luis Scola could be involved as well, although since he was claimed off amnesty waivers, any deal including him would have to be a sign-and-trade made after July 1. The Suns also own multiple first-round picks, including their own, one from Minnesota, and two they received from the Lakers in last summer's Steve Nash trade.
In the past week, speculation is growing around the league that Smith's tenure with the Hawks may be coming to a close. Executives believe that he does not intend to re-sign with Atlanta this summer, when he will be an unrestricted free agent.