Gayle Benson Vows To Remain Pelicans’ Owner

Gayle Benson, the widow of long-time Pelicans owner Tom Benson, vowed on Monday that she’ll retain ownership in the franchise, according to a New Orleans Advocate report. Gayle Benson’s commitment to the franchise had been in doubt, particularly after superstar Anthony Davis made his trade demand this winter. She made her intentions clear at an NFL owners meeting. Benson also controls ownership of the Saints. “There is no way I’m going to sell that team (the Pelicans) ever,” Benson said. The Pelicans are valued at $1.2 billion according to Forbes’ most recent rankings, which is second-to-last in the league ahead of only the Grizzlies, the report notes. Their lease at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans runs through 2024.

We have more on Benson’s plans for the franchise:

  • Saints GM Mickey Loomis will focus exclusively on the football team going forward, Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweets.  He previously had oversight duties for both teams. Danny Ferry has been running the front office as the interim GM since Benson fired Dell Demps shortly after the February trade deadline. The new GM will oversee basketball operations and report directly to Benson, Duncan adds.
  • The outside consultant being used to conduct the GM search has recommended five or six candidates for the position, Duncan reports in another tweet. Benson and team president Dennis Lauscha will make the hire with Loomis also providing his input, Duncan adds.
  • Benson said there are no plans to relocate the Pelicans. Their lease at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans runs through 2024. “People are going to talk and there’s really nothing you can do about that,” Benson told Duncan in the report. “Time will take care of it. They’ll see that I’m sincere and I’m not going anywhere.”

Thunder Claim Jawun Evans Off Waivers

The Thunder have claimed point guard Jawun Evans off waivers, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

This comes as a surprising development, as the Rockets were expected to claim Evans after the two-way player was waived by the Suns on Saturday. Oklahoma City, which has tumbled to sixth in the Western Conference standings, made a preemptive strike to prevent Evans from going to Houston. The Rockets are currently third in the West.

It’s a kind of homecoming for the 22-year-old Evans, who starred at Oklahoma State. He made seven brief appearances with Phoenix this season.

Oklahoma City had a two-way opening after converting Deonte Burton‘s two-way deal to a standard contract earlier this month. Two-way players are not eligible for the playoffs.

It’s unlikely Evans will get any significant playing time with Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schroder and Raymond Felton at point guard.

Houston was looking to fill a two-way slot after promoting Danuel House to its 15-man roster.

Evans spent a good portion of this season with Northern Arizona in the G League, posting a 15.1/3.8/5.8 line in 32 games.

The Clippers waived him in October just before the start of the regular season, although he had a guaranteed $1.378MM deal.

Five Eastern FAs Who Have Significantly Boosted Their Value In 2018/19

For a star like Kevin Durant, the results of the 2018/19 season haven’t had much of an impact on his projected earnings in free agency. Heading into the season, the expectation was that Durant would land a maximum-salary contract; that hasn’t changed. In fact, barring a catastrophic injury, it’s hard to imagine what KD could have done this season that would’ve significantly impacted his stock as his free agency nears.

For most other NBA players in contract years though, their performance on the court this season will go a long way toward determining what sort of offers they’ll get this summer. There are several players around the league who have increased their value significantly with their on-court showings in 2018/19 and figure to do better than originally expected in free agency this year as a result.

Today, we’ll shine a spotlight on some of these players from the Eastern Conference, identifying six 2019 free-agents-to-be who have improved their stock with their play this season.

Let’s dive in…

  1. D’Angelo Russell, G, Nets (RFA): We’ve written repeatedly about Russell’s ascension this season, but it’s still worth reiterating how impressive it has been. It’s easy to forget now, but before Caris LeVert dislocated his foot in November, it was LeVert that looked like the Nets guard headed for a breakout year. Instead, Russell has emerged as The Man in Brooklyn, averaging 21.8 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 3.7 RPG on .436/.366/.792 shooting in the 60 games since that LeVert injury. Assuming the Nets can hold onto a playoff spot, D-Lo will have the opportunity to turn a few more heads in the postseason, positioning himself for an annual salary between $20MM and the max.
  2. Nikola Vucevic, C, Magic: To thrive in the modern NBA, a center generally needs to be able to shoot from outside or protect the rim — or both. Neither skill had ever been a huge part of Vucevic’s game, but he has proven he’s adaptable in recent years. In 72 games this season, the Magic center is putting up career highs in 3PT% (.366), total 3-pointers (74), and BPG (1.2). His 20.7 PPG and 12.1 RPG are also career bests, buoying him to his first career All-Star Game. At age 28, Vucevic may not be in line for a massive payday, but he appears set to get a nice raise on his current $12.75MM salary, which was hardly a lock heading into the season.
  3. Bojan Bogdanovic, G/F, Pacers: A sharpshooting role player prior to joining the Pacers, Bogdanovic has taken his game to another level this season — especially since Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending quad injury in January. Having never averaged more than 14.3 PPG in a season, the 29-year-old has posted a blistering .509/.403/.794 shooting line in the 27 games since Oladipo went down, averaging a team-high 21.3 PPG in that stretch. Bogdanovic isn’t an elite defender, but any wing who can knock down threes at the rate he can will do well for himself in free agency.
  4. Danny Green, G, Raptors: While All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and Most Improved Player candidate Pascal Siakam have – deservedly – received much of the credit for the Raptors‘ success this year, Green shouldn’t be overlooked. Viewed as almost a throw-in in the deal that sent Kawhi to Toronto, Green has had a terrific bounce-back season, knocking down a scorching 44.3% of his 3-point attempts. His on/off-court numbers exhibit his importance — the Raptors have a +12.2 net rating when he plays, compared to a -5.0 mark when he sits. An ideal three-and-D wing, Green should be in line for another lucrative multiyear deal this summer.
  5. Brook Lopez, C, Bucks: Like Vucevic, Lopez has avoided becoming an NBA relic by modernizing his game. Once a fixture in the low post, the 30-year-old can now frequently be found a few steps behind the arc, having earned the nickname Splash Mountain by knocking down threes and helping to space the Bucks‘ offense. Lopez is more of a role player than the core piece he was in Brooklyn, but his shooting (2.4 3PG, .371 3PT%) and rim protection (2.2 BPG) make him a valuable contributor. Milwaukee almost certainly won’t be able to bring him back at the same bargain-basement rate he agreed to in 2018 ($3.4MM).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raptors To Re-Sign Jodie Meeks

After letting Eric Moreland‘s 10-day contract expire over the weekend, the Raptors plan on filling one of their open roster spots by bringing back Jodie Meeks, per Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that Toronto will sign Meeks to a rest-of-season contract.

Meeks, 31, appeared in 77 games in 2017/18 for the Wizards but saw his season come to an early end when he was suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. Meeks was traded to Milwaukee in the offseason, where he served the rest of his suspension at the start of 2018/19 before being waived.

Since then, Meeks has signed just one NBA contract, inking a 10-day deal with Toronto after the All-Star break. Although he only got into a couple games with the Raptors, the veteran sharpshooter provided a spark off the bench, scoring 15 points and knocking down three 3-pointers in just 24 total minutes. The former Kentucky standout is a career 37.2% shooter from beyond the arc.

While Meeks is unlikely to play much of a role for Toronto in the postseason, he figures to see some action in the club’s final regular season games. Still, it’s not clear when the Raptors will officially sign Meeks, since they’re over the tax line and aren’t under pressure to add a 14th man right away.

When he does sign, Meeks will earn $12,295 per day for the rest of the regular season, with the contract counting against the Raps’ cap at a rate of $8,546 per day. The team will still have one more open roster spot once Meeks is back on board.

And-Ones: Nogueira, Draft, Reese, Bosh

Lucas Nogueira, who appeared in 141 games for the Raptors over the course of four NBA seasons from 2014-18, recently spoke to Gustavo Faldon of ESPN Brazil about his battles with depression and alcohol. Nogueira, who returned to Spain – where he began his professional career – last year when his contract with Toronto expired, said he has been sober for three months, but admitted that his drinking habits were a problem earlier in his career.

“I went out a lot,” Nogueira said. “In Spain, we had one game per week. You’re young, you have some money and no limits. You would eventually find the party. It’s Europe. I had no work ethic whatsoever. When I went to the U.S. I saw that a 15-year-old kid had more discipline than I did. It is a cultural thing.”

Having returned to his home country of Brazil, Nogueira is currently training in Sao Paulo in the hopes of staying in shape and eventually earning tryouts with NBA teams.

“If you asked me the same question four months ago, I’d say I didn’t know,” Nogueira said when asked about a potential NBA comeback. “Now I say I will be back. What makes me so confident is my training and my attitude. I’m ready for the challenge like I’ve never been.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • With all but 16 teams eliminated from 2019’s NCAA tournament, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz (Insider link) took a look at which players’ stocks increased or decreased over the last week. Besides obvious standouts like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, the ESPN duo highlights impressive performances from Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga), Nassir Little (UNC), and Mfiondu Kabengele (FSU).
  • Former Canisius guard Isaiah Reese, who was suspended by the program in February for conduct detrimental to the team, informed the school that he’ll withdraw to seek representation and go pro (Twitter link). Reese tested the waters a year ago, but appears set to keep his name in the 2019 NBA draft class.
  • Chris Bosh will have his jersey retired this week with the Heat and is giving up on the idea of returning to the NBA as a player. He also has no plans to transition to a front office role in Miami – or for any other NBA team – anytime soon, as Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel details.
  • USA Basketball issued a press release today announcing the 12-man World Team roster for next month’s Nike Hoop Summit, which pits top high school prospects against one another. Josh Green and Nico Mannion, two of the top eight players on the ESPN100, headline the roster.

Wade Says He’d Be Able To Play 2-3 More Years

Despite ongoing efforts from friends, opponents, and fans to change his mind, Dwyane Wade is sticking to his plan to retire from the NBA at the end of the 2018/19 season. However, that’s not to say he doesn’t believe he could keep playing if he wanted to. Speaking to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Wade said the thinks he could play “a solid two more years,” at least.

“Especially in this role that I’m in now, I can play another two, three years, definitely,” Wade said. “People around me want me to keep playing. But I made the decision to say this was my last season and I wanted to walk away the way I’m walking away now and have no regrets about it.”

Wade, who turned 37 in January, set new career lows in minutes and points per game last season, but has reversed that trend this year, averaging 14.3 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 3.8 RPG in 63 games (25.6 MPG) for the Heat. The 13-time All-Star has played particularly well lately as Miami pushes to secure a playoff spot, scoring 15.5 PPG with a .462 FG% and a .340 3PT% over his last 18 games.

Still, Wade acknowledges that it has been difficult at times to figure out how much he can – and should – do on the court, as he looks to pass the baton to some of his younger teammates.

“It’s a tough balance, man. I know I can’t do what I used to do. I know I can keep playing,” Wade told Charania. “… There are moments where I want to get involved, but my number may not be called so I stay out of the way. The competitor in you wants to go, but you also understand where you’re at. There are other guys that they have to get their game going, and coach has to make sure their number is called. I’m trying to enjoy this process. We’re fighting for the playoffs here late in my career, so it’s been amazing.”

As for his retirement decision, Wade appreciates that many people around him would like to see him keep playing, but is confident that he’s making the right call.

“A decision like that has to be on you. It has to be a you thing,” Wade said. “People want you to keep going for selfish reasons. No one knows what you’re dealing with. I’ve always had support from people around me. Even now, you hear from people. Everyone wanting you to keep playing. But you have to understand yourself, understand your body.”

Hoops Rumors Glossary: Mid-Level Exception

The mid-level exception is the most common way for over-the-cap NBA teams to sign free agents from other clubs for more than the minimum salary. It ensures that each club heads into the offseason with a little spending flexibility, even if that team is deep into luxury tax territory.

Each team is eligible to use a specific type of mid-level exception depending on its proximity to the salary cap. The most lucrative kind of mid-level is available to teams that are over the cap but below the tax apron. Still, clubs deep into the tax, and even those under the cap, have access to lesser versions of the MLE. Here’s a glance at how all three forms of the exception are structured:

For over-the-cap teams:

  • Commonly called either the full mid-level exception, the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception or simply the mid-level exception.
  • Contract can cover up to four seasons.
  • First-year salary is worth $8,641,000 in 2018/19.
    • Note: Projected first-year salary for 2019/20 is $9,246,000.
  • Once used, the team cannot surpass the “tax apron” (approximately $6MM+ above tax line) for the remainder of the season.

For teams above the cap and the tax apron:

  • Commonly called the taxpayer’s mid-level exception.
  • Contract can cover up to three seasons.
  • First-year salary is worth $5,337,000 in 2018/19.
    • Note: Projected first-year salary for 2019/20 is $5,711,000.

For teams with cap room:

  • Commonly called the room exception.
  • Contract can cover no more than two seasons.
  • First-year salary is worth $4,449,000 in 2018/19.
    • Note: Projected first-year salary for 2019/20 is $4,760,000.

Each form of the mid-level allows for annual raises of up to 5% of the value of the first season’s salary. Last offseason, we broke down the maximum total salaries that players signed using the mid-level exception could earn. Those numbers can be found right here.

While teams can use their entire mid-level exception to sign one player, as the Grizzlies did this year with Kyle Anderson, clubs are also allowed to split the mid-level among multiple players, and that’s a common course of action. For instance, the Pistons have used their MLE to complete four separate signings, devoting parts of it to Glenn Robinson, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, and Wayne Ellington.

Players drafted near the top of the second round often sign contracts for part of the mid-level because it allows teams to give them contracts for more years and more money than the minimum salary exception provides. For example, the Knicks used their mid-level to sign Mitchell Robinson to a four-year contract that starts at $1,485,440. Without the MLE, the Knicks would have been limited to a two-year deal for Robinson, and would have only had his Early Bird rights when his contract expires, rather than his full Bird rights.

Some front offices prefer to leave all or part of their mid-level exception unused in the offseason so it’s still available near the end of the regular season. At that point, a contender could use its MLE to try to sign an impact veteran on the buyout market, as the Pistons did with Ellington. A rebuilding club, on the other hand, could use its MLE to lock up an intriguing developmental player to a long-term contract, like the Timberwolves recently did with Cameron Reynolds.

Unlike the bi-annual exception, the mid-level exception can be used every season. So whether or not a team has used its mid-level in 2018/19, each club will have the opportunity to use some form of the MLE when the new league year begins on July 1, 2019.

Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, the mid-level exception increased annually at a modest, fixed rate, which limited its value as the salary cap spiked. However, under the new CBA, the mid-level will increase at the same rate as the salary cap, ensuring that its value relative to cap room remains about the same from year to year. Our estimates for 2019/20’s figures, based on the NBA’s current $109MM salary cap projection, can be found here.

Note: This is a Hoops Rumors Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to trades, free agency, or other aspects of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ and the Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Earlier versions of this post were published in previous years by Luke Adams and Chuck Myron.

Atlantic Notes: Kawhi, Sixers, Russell

Like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard was traded to an unexpected suitor with one year left in his free agency, despite rumors that he wanted to end up in Los Angeles. George, who was sent from Indiana to Oklahoma City, was considered a lock to end up with the Lakers, but shocked NBA fans and experts alike by choosing to sign long-term with the Thunder.

A year after George opted not to go to Los Angeles, the Clippers are widely considered to be the favorite for Leonard, who was traded from the Spurs to the Raptors in 2018. Given their similar career paths, George has spoken to Leonard about his own experiences, he confirmed last week (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). However, PG13 declined to reveal what sort of advice he offered to Kawhi.

“That’s between us,” George said.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • While it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to lock him up long-term, the Raptors have to be pleased with how things have gone with Kawhi Leonard so far, says Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. As Wolstat details, Leonard has seemed happy with how the team has handled his health concerns so far. “It’s big,” Kawhi said, when asked about working in tandem with the Raptors and their medical staff. “You have to be able to play for people that you trust and them being able to see what you feel and you just move from there and try to get better together.”
  • Will the Sixers re-sign both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris this summer? Or will they bring back one or the other? Or neither? Sean Deveney of Sporting News examines the four possible outcomes, citing one source who says there’s “almost no chance” that Butler returns and Harris doesn’t. Harris staying and Butler leaving is considered the most likely scenario, according to Deveney.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report takes a deep dive into D’Angelo Russell‘s upcoming free agency, exploring whether the RFA-to-be point guard is worth the max to the Nets — or another team. Pincus expects Russell’s next deal to ultimately fall between Zach LaVine‘s (four years, $78.8MM) and Devin Booker‘s (five years, maximum salary) in terms of value. That’s a pretty big window, so it’ll be interesting to see how D-Lo’s free agency plays out.

Magic Sign Michael Carter-Williams To Second 10-Day Deal

Michael Carter-Williams‘ 10-day contract with the Magic expired overnight on Sunday, but the veteran point guard isn’t going anywhere. According to a press release from the team, Carter-Williams has officially signed a second 10-day deal with Orlando.

A former Rookie of the Year, Carter-Williams began the 2018/19 season with the Rockets, but failed to lock down a rotation role in Houston. He was traded to the Bulls in January and was released before his salary became fully guaranteed.

Since catching on with the Magic earlier this month, the 27-year-old has served as D.J. Augustin‘s backup, displacing Jerian Grant in the rotation and filling in for injured rookie Isaiah Briscoe. MCW’s numbers on his first 10-day deal were modest (3.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, and a .222 FG% in 16.3 MPG), but he has played well on the defensive end and the Magic won all three games he played, keeping their postseason hopes alive.

The Magic’s press release announcing Carter-Williams’ new 10-day deal doesn’t indicate that anyone has been released, so it appears the team’s hardship exception has been extended. That exception – which can be granted to teams with at least four injured players – allows Orlando to temporarily carry a 16th man. However, if the Magic do make the playoffs and want MCW available, they’ll have to waive another player to make room for him, since the hardship exception wouldn’t extend to the postseason.

Carter-Williams’ new 10-day contract, like his previous deal, will count against the cap for $85,458, though he’ll earn a slightly higher salary ($99,290).

Checking In On Protected 2019 First Round Picks

With just over two weeks left in the 2018/19 regular season, we’re getting a clearer picture of what this year’s draft order might look like. We’re also getting a pretty clear sense of which of the traded 2019 picks with protections will or won’t change hands this spring.

Using our 2018/19 Reverse Standings as a reference point, here’s our latest check-in on where things stand for those traded 2019 first-rounders, based on their protections.

Locks to change hands:

  • Kings‘ pick to Celtics (unprotected)
    • Current projection: No. 14
    • Note: Pick will instead be sent to Sixers if it jumps to No. 1 (current odds: 0.5%)
  • Clippers‘ pick to Celtics (top-14 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 22
  • Rockets‘ pick to Cavaliers (top-14 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 25
  • Nuggets‘ pick to Nets (top-12 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 27
  • Raptors‘ pick to Spurs (top-20 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 29

The Raptors‘ and Nuggets‘ have been sure bets to change hands all season long. The Rockets‘ and Clippers‘ picks have now joined them in that group due to impressive surges by both teams — Houston has won 14 of its last 16 games and clinched a playoff spot last night, while the Clippers have lost just one of their last 11 contests. Both of those picks appear likely to end up in the 20s.

The Kings, meanwhile, will definitely lose their first-round selection, but its eventual destination is the only unresolved question for this group of picks. The Sixers will receive it if it’s No. 1 overall; otherwise it will head to the Celtics. As long as Sacramento remains at No. 14 in the lottery order, the odds of the pick jumping all the way up to No. 1 would be just 0.5%, so it’s probably safe to assume it’ll end up in Boston.

Locks to be protected:

  • Cavaliers‘ pick to Hawks (top-10 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 3
  • Bucks‘ pick to Suns (top-3 and 17-30 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 30

The Cavaliers are unlikely to fall further than No. 4 in the lottery order, which means the furthest that their pick could slip would be to No. 8. They’ll keep their pick, and will owe the Hawks a top-10 protected pick in 2020.

As for the Bucks, they’ll almost certainly convey the first-rounder they owe to the Suns next season, when it’s just top-7 protected.

Still up in the air:

  • Grizzlies‘ pick to Celtics (top-8 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 6/7 (tie)
  • Mavericks‘ pick to Hawks (top-5 protected)
    • Current projection: No. 6/7 (tie)

Currently, the Grizzlies and Mavericks are deadlocked at 29-44, so the final nine games for the two teams could go a long way toward determining whether or not they’ll keep their first-rounders. The Celtics and Hawks could each end up receiving top-10 picks, depending on how things play out.

The Grizzlies would actually prefer to convey that pick this year so that they can move forward with their rebuild without worrying about a future commitment. If they can win some games down the stretch, their odds of giving up that first-rounder should increase drastically — Washington (30-44) and New Orleans (31-44) are both bunched up with Memphis and Dallas in the 6-9 range of the lottery standings.

The difference between finishing sixth and ninth in the lottery order is significant. The No. 6 team will have a 37.2% chance at a top-five pick and a 96.2% chance of remaining in the top eight. The No. 9 team will have just a 20.2% chance of moving up.

This race is one worth keeping a close eye during the final two weeks of the season, though each pick’s owner won’t be officially finalized until lottery night.

Information from RealGM was used in the creation of this post.