Eastern Notes: Heat, Spoelstra, Mokoka, Osman

With the NBA declaring it will strongly enforce free agency rules pertaining to tampering going forward, Ira Winderman examines what this message means and how it could affect the Heat’s 2021 summer plans in a story for the Sun Sentinel. Miami is expected to have enough salary-cap space to sign a second max player by then, with several expensive contracts set to expire.

Many league observers believe the Heat had Jimmy Butler locked up ahead of the June 30 free agency start this summer, but as seen with players such as Kemba Walker (Celtics), Kyrie Irving (Nets) and Kevin Durant (Nets), several other teams around the league took a similar approach with free agents.

The rules, as explained by Winderman, are simple: Teams are not allowed to contact players until the official start of free agency.

Tampering has been an increasingly prevalent issue in today’s NBA, with members of the league office actively exploring how to improve the problem. The NBA’s Board of Governors unanimously voted on new rules to reportedly make tampering penalties stricter going forward, as noted in a recent Hoops Rumors story.

Miami was also thought to have LeBron James and Chris Bosh committed to deals before the free agency period opened back in 2010, but as Winderman notes, officials inside the organization denied these claims and investigations outside the team didn’t lead to any evidence of tampering.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference tonight:

  • The Heat could benefit from head coach Erik Spoelstra effectively selling his bench to certain players this season, Winderman notes in a separate story for the Sun Sentinel. Spoelstra will have a number of options to choose from in his rotation, including whether to star Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic at point guard, Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson at power forward and more.
  • Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago previews what Adam Mokoka could bring to the Bulls this season, with the 21-year-old currently on a two-way contract. Mokoka averaged 9.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in summer league with Chicago, playing in a total of five games.
  • Joe Gabriele of NBA.com examines Cedi Osman‘s mindset entering his third season with the Cavaliers. Osman, 24, is looking to build off an international experience with Turkey in the FIBA World Cup this summer. He averaged 13 points, 4.7 rebounds and 32.2 minutes in 76 games with Cleveland last season.

Western Notes: Caruso, Looney, Robinson lll

Lakers guard Alex Caruso drew interest from roughly a dozen teams in restricted free agency this summer, including the Grizzlies and Warriors, according to Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report.

Caruso, 25, signed a two-year contract worth $5.5 million to re-join the Lakers in July. He showed promise in limited time with the club last season, averaging 9.2 points on 45% shooting in 25 games.

“Especially from where I come from, the path to get there,” said Caruso, “it hit me in little waves, little shocks here and there, where I’d be talking to my mom or dad or sisters or my buddies back home, and like, having to type out, Yeah, I signed a two-year, 5.5 with the Lakers. To actually say that out loud is a pretty cool feeling.”

Caruso is expected to provide backcourt depth with the Lakers this season. He could compete in training camp for a starting role or come off the bench for a third straight year, with head coach Frank Vogel having several options to sift through as the regular season nears.

There’s more from the Western Conference tonight:

  • NBA.com examines the story and upcoming season of Kevon Looney, who’s set to enter his fifth campaign with the Warriors this fall. Looney, 23, holds career-averages of 4.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 14 minutes per contest. “As the game goes on and players get tired, Loon gets more and more rebounds,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He just has a knack for the ball. Really long arms. Great feel for the game. And so his rebounding… really a big key for us.”
  • Glenn Robinson lll is set to bring hops and an offensive spark to Golden State in his first year with the team, as detailed in a separate article from NBA.com. Robinson signed a free-agent deal to join the Warriors this summer after concluding his fifth NBA season. “When I was with the Pacers, I guarded the best player on the court whenever they came on, and I look forward to doing that this year with a defender like Klay [Thompson] (recovering from injury),” Robinson said.

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, Korkmaz, Dinwiddie, Sixers

The Knicks’ success could largely hind on whether David Fizdale crafts a rotation that keeps both his veterans and rising stars happy this season, Steve Popper of Newsday writes.

New York shifted to Plan B in free agency this summer after superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant opted to sign with the Nets, inking new players Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock to contracts.

The team also drafted Duke standout RJ Barrett with the No. 3 pick in June, giving Fizdale and his staff plenty of competitive options to sort through as training camp nears.

“That’s going to be great for us,” Knicks forward Kevin Knox said. “To be able to compete, I don’t think anybody’s guaranteed no starting lineup, no minutes, none of that . . . Everyone is gonna have to earn their minutes, earn their position. I think that’s going to be great for us going into training camp and competing. Nobody’s got a starting spot. Everyone’s got to fight to earn their minutes and earn their position.”

New York has missed the playoffs in each of their past six seasons. The team finished at 17-65 last season, good for the worst record in the league.

  • Lauren Rosen of NBA.com crafts a preseason profile on Sixers guard Furkan Korkmaz, who spent most of last season sidelined due to injury. “I think next year is going to be the most important year of my career,” Korkmaz said of the upcoming season. Korkmaz holds per-game averages of 4.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 12.2 minutes in 62 contests with Philadelphia through two seasons.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie is confident that the Nets could win a championship this season, led by who he believes is the top player in the league today: Durant, as relayed by Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “He asked if I think the Brooklyn Nets will win a championship,” Dinwiddie said, explaining what question he was asked by one of the kids at a recent team-related event. “Now, listen here: I don’t make guarantees. But of course I do. … KD is the best player in the league, right?” Once Durant returns from injury, the Nets are set to sport one of the league’s most formidable cores: Durant, Irving, Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Jordan, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Dinwiddie and more.
  • Former Sixers star Charles Barkley praised the team’s top-two young stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, in a recent interview with Michael Lee of The Athletic. “I’m a big Ben Simmons fan,” Barkley said. “And I want him to do like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Keep working on his game, become a very good shooter, because if he keeps working on his jump shot, he’s going to be one of the best to ever do it. Joel, I expect him to be in the MVP conversation. I think he got mad at me because I suggested his conditioning wasn’t up to par, which it wasn’t. I know they try to be careful with him, because he is injury-prone, and that is why I think swimming would be great for him.”

Poll: 2019/20 NBA Rookie Of The Year

Promising young rookies enter the NBA every season, but few come with the sort of fanfare that Zion Williamson has. The Duke forward is the kind of prospect who comes along once every few years, following in the footsteps of former No. 1 overall picks like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Given the hype surrounding him – and the expectations facing him – it’s no surprise that Williamson will enter the 2019/20 season as the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s Rookie of the Year award. The 19-year-old is in position to put up numbers immediately on a Pelicans team that has playoff aspirations, with no veterans ahead of him on the depth chart at the power forward spot.

Williamson’s Rookie of the Year chances are buoyed by the fact that 2019’s draft class wasn’t considered particularly strong. While plenty of this year’s draftees should turn into successful pros, the ’19 class lacks the star power that other recent rookie classes have had. It would be a surprise if three NBA newcomers have the type of seasons that last year’s Rookie of the Year finalists – Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Deandre Ayton – did.

Still, there are players who will push Williamson for Rookie of the Year honors. Sports betting site Bovada.lv lists the Pelicans’ forward as a -130 favorite (you’d have to risk $130 to win $100), with fellow top-three picks Ja Morant (+350; risk $100 to win $350) and RJ Barrett (+550) viewed as the primary challengers. Darius Garland (+1800) and Coby White (+1800) are among the players in the next tier of Rookie of the Year contenders, along with 2018 draftee Michael Porter Jr. (+1600).

With Mike Conley no longer a member of the Grizzlies, Morant should get a chance to take the reins and assume control of the rebuilding franchise right away, and while he may experience some growing pains, he’ll have the opportunity to have some big games. Developing Barrett will be a priority for the rebuilding Knicks too, despite the fact that the team invested heavily in veteran forwards in free agency.

Porter is an intriguing dark horse candidate — like past ROY winners Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin, he’ll have the advantage of having spent a year with an NBA team already, perhaps giving him a leg up on a competition. But it will be difficult for him to carve out a significant role on a deep, talented Nuggets roster. That shouldn’t be a problem for Garland, as the Cavaliers seem likely to jettison some of their veteran talent during the season to clear even more minutes for their youngsters.

Williamson may be the frontrunner, but he’ll have to produce and – perhaps more importantly – stay healthy in order to take home the hardware next spring. Davis, arguably the last No. 1 pick to enter the NBA with this sort of hype, took a year to develop into the impact player many were expecting out of Kentucky. Though he has a streak of six consecutive 20/10 seasons now, AD averaged a modest 13.5 PPG and 8.2 RPG in his rookie year in 2012/13, losing out to Damian Lillard in the Rookie of the Year vote.

What do you think? If you were placing a bet on the 2019/20 Rookie of the Year winner, would you pick Williamson or the field? Which player do you think will be the biggest threat to Zion in this year’s ROY race?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

And-Ones: All-2020s Team, Tampering, Ball, Fertitta

With a new decade just a few months away, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated identifies the players most likely to dominate the 2020s, with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo at the top of the list. Only 24 and coming off his first MVP award, Antetokounmpo is an obvious choice. Woo expects him to contend for the award for the rest of his prime years, and notes that he could upend the league when he hits free agency in 2021.

Woo’s other selections are Kawhi Leonard (age 28), Anthony Davis (26), Joel Embiid (25) and Luka Doncic (20). Doncic’s accomplishments at such a young age and his role as the cornerstone of the Mavericks‘ franchise place him ahead of more established stars, Woo adds.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA’s latest attempt to stop tampering will only be effective if the league follows through on enforcement, states Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. Teams are likely to keep testing the limits of the new regulations to see what they can get away with. “Let’s see if they catch someone,” an unidentified league executive said. “Until then, teams will keep pushing the envelope. They didn’t enforce the old rules—why would anyone think they will do more with new ones?”
  • LaMelo Ball is exceeding expectations in the Australian NBL, according to Tommy Beer of Forbes. The youngest brother of Lonzo Ball has a chance to be a top-five pick in the 2020 draft, Beer adds. He is averaging 16.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game and impressing scouts with his passing as well as scoring.
  • Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tells Ian Begley of SNY.tv that owners have an underrated role in the success of NBA teams. ” I think the owner has as much influence as any star player because it’s still the culture that you set,” Fertitta said. “And the culture that I’ve set with my team, the Houston Rockets, and to my management team is that we are going to do whatever it takes to put as good a team out there as you can. And we’re gonna try to set ourselves up every year to be one of the top five or six teams in the NBA.”

Nets Notes: Ellenson, G League, Plumlee, Dinwiddie

Developing Henry Ellenson, who signed a two-way contract with the Nets in July, will be among the top priorities for the organization’s G League affiliate this season, writes Chris Milholen of NetsDaily. Selected by the Pistons with the 18th pick in 2016, Ellenson wasn’t able to earn consistent minutes in Detroit before being waived in February. Brooklyn was interested in signing him then, but he finished out the season with the Knicks.

“I think there is definitely value,” Long Island GM Matt Riccardi said of Ellenson. “He has NBA experience. Now, Henry is a little bit younger (at 22), which is good, and he has a ton of developmental potential which we are excited about and I think it is good for everyone to see this is where we want to go and this is how we get there.”

Riccardi and head coach Sean Fein discuss several other prospects in the article, including Deng Adel, who holds an Exhibit 10 contract with the Nets, and Anthony Brown, whose rights were acquired in a trade this week.

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • The Nets are waiting to see what happens with Marshall Plumlee, who may have left basketball behind for a career in the military, Milholen adds in a separate story. Long Island still holds his G League rights, and Riccardi said the team would be receptive to Plumlee, who earned his Army Ranger pin last month, if he decides to return.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie tells Brian Lewis of The New York Post that he’s not concerned about predictions of regression after last season’s sixth-place finish. Dinwiddie is confident that the Nets‘ offseason moves will make the team a title contender, whether Kevin Durant can return or not. “We’re definitely going to improve. We added talent across the board. But it all depends on chemistry and cohesiveness. That’s always the trouble, that’s always the elephant in the room, right?” Dinwiddie said. “Last year we were able to come together, even with injuries and in some cases kind of galvanizing the group in a sense. We’ve obviously added a ton more talent across the board. We’re a more talented team. But if we don’t come together then it doesn’t matter.”
  • TNT analyst Kenny Smith is also a believer in Brooklyn, according to another story from NetsDaily. He expects the team to contend for the East title if Kyrie Irving can remain healthy.

Thunder Notes: Roster, Paul, Diallo, Abrines

A challenging early-season schedule may determine whether the Thunder decide to push for the playoffs or sell off their assets and start rebuilding, observes Brett Dawson of The Athletic. Oklahoma City will begin the season with 10 of its first 16 games against teams ranked in the top 10 by FiveThirtyEight.com. That will take the team into late November, close to the unofficial start of trade season when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be dealt on December 15.

OKC’s obvious trade candidates are Danilo Gallinari, who has an expiring deal worth $22.6MM, and Chris Paul, whom the organization tried to move shortly after acquiring him from the Rockets. Dawson also points toward Dennis Schroder, who has two seasons left at $15.5MM each, along with Nerlens Noel and Mike Muscala as other rotation players who could be on the move.

“Obviously the most important season is (this) season, and we want to maximize that season the best that we can,” GM Sam Presti said. “But not at the expense of continually and aggressively making sure that we’re repositioning and replenishing the team so that we have a platform and a runway for the next great Thunder team to take shape. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.”

There’s more from Oklahoma City:

  • Regardless of how long Paul stays, the Thunder can count on his competitive nature to drive the team, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Not only does Paul want to extend his streak of 50-win seasons, but the better he plays, the more he will drive up his trade value. “Obviously Russell (Westbrook) was an unbelievable competitor — I think Chris is an incredible competitor, too,” coach Billy Donovan said. “The biggest thing I’ve always tried to do with all these guys is to try to always be open and be honest and try to communicate. And I think that’s the way Chris is.”
  • Hamidou Diallo showed in Summer League that he is fully recovered after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in mid-April, notes Nick Gallo of NBA.com. Diallo was an important part of the rotation early in the season, but got into just six games after the All-Star break. He looked good in July, averaging 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in four Summer League games. “In this league you’ve got to be ready for anything at any given time, and sometimes you face adversity, but you still have to learn how to fight through and learn how to push through,” Diallo said.
  • In an interview with Basket en Movistar+ (Twitter link), Alex Abrines speaks out about the mental health issues that drove him out of the NBA and credits Westbrook for trying to be a calming influence.

Chinese Team May Release Jerian Grant

Jerian Grant, who reached an agreement last month to play in China after four years in the NBA, may no longer be wanted by his new team, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The Qingdao Doubloe Star Eagles are considering releasing Grant before he ever takes the court for them.

Grant began last season as the backup point guard for the Magic, but slid down the rotation as the year progressed. Shooting woes were among the reasons for his demotion, as he hit just just .418 from the field and is a career .412 shooter. He averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 assists in 60 games.

Grant was taken by the Wizards with the 19th pick in 2015 and shipped to the Knicks in a three-team trade on draft night. He lasted just one season in New York before being dealt to the Bulls, who sent him to Orlando in 2018. The Magic decided in June not to extend a qualifying offer to Grant, making him an unrestricted free agent.

With training camps set to open in a few days, there may not be any immediate opportunities available for Grant in the NBA. If the Chinese deal falls through, he will likely try to find another opening overseas.

Kevin Durant To Play This Season?

“The feeling within the league” is that Kevin Durant‘s ruptured Achilles tendon may not keep him out for the entire season, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post.

The Nets are still being cautious about the injury to their newly signed star, but optimism is growing that he won’t need all of 2019/20 to recover. Durant got hurt on June 10 during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Lewis notes that Kobe Bryant and NFL wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders were able to return from similar injuries in eight months — a time frame that could put Durant back on the court by February.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious,” teammate Spencer Dinwiddie said. “He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him …

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk (Nowitzki), and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Even with the injury, Durant was one of the top prizes on the free agent market. He shifted the balance of power in the league when he agreed to a four-year max deal with Brooklyn worth more than $164MM. Durant had no injury concerns before the playoffs, appearing in 78 games and posting a 26.0/6.4/5.9 line.

David Levy, the Nets’ new CEO, told Lewis that the organization may decide to chronicle Durant’s progress toward a return.

“When you start thinking about the Kevin Durant comeback story and filming that, just opportunities,” he said.

Community Shootaround: New Anti-Tampering Rules

Tampering has quietly existed in the NBA for decades, but teams, players and agents barely tried to hide it this summer. Several big-money contracts were announced shortly after the official start of free agency on June 30 that were obviously too complex to have been formed during the few minutes in which negotiations were legal.

Teams that lost stars complained loudly about the process, and the league decided action had to be taken. The NBA’s Board of Governors voted yesterday to adopt tough new rules, which include a fine of up to $10MM if it’s determined that “egregious” tampering has taken place.

Commissioner Adam Silver stressed that the penalties may not stop with fines. Suspensions of team executives, forfeiting draft picks and voiding contracts are all now on the table.

“We need to ensure that we’re creating a culture of compliance in this league,” Silver said. “Our teams want to know that they’re competing on a level playing field and frankly don’t want to feel disadvantaged if they are adhering to our existing rules.”

The league also has the authority to review cell phones and other electronic communication devices to look for evidence of tampering. That provision has raised the most concern among team officials, who fear that their privacy may be violated and sensitive information could be leaked.

This is hardly the first time the league has promised to crack down on tampering, but the tough talk has never made a difference in the past. Part of the problem is that many of the sales pitches made to players who are under contract come from other players, which the league acknowledges it can’t prevent. There’s no way to stop players at an All-Star Game or an international competition from talking about becoming NBA teammates some day. And the league can’t do anything if friends like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving make plans to join forces when they hit free agency at the same time.

Previous penalties for tampering have never been strong enough to scare teams. The Clippers and Nets, for instance, wouldn’t care how much they were fined or how many draft picks they had to surrender as long as they get to keep the new stars they added.
We want to get your input. Will these latest rules on tampering make a difference, or will business as usual continue behind the scenes? 

Head to our comment section below to share your feedback.