Month: June 2019

Celtics Preparing For An Offseason Of Change

Slightly over a year ago, the overachieving Celtics were competing with LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the conference finals. The landscape in the Eastern Conference has changed dramatically over the ensuing 13 months and Boston has not been left out of the league shake-up.

The franchise is now operating as if Kyrie Irving and Al Horford won’t be back. Irving has been in communication with the Celtics since the season ended and the point guard has been “forthright” about his intentions, sending both public and private signals that he’ll be departing in free agency,  Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. Brooklyn will likely be Irving’s next destination.

Early in the season, Irving declared to a packed crowd at the TD Garden that he would be re-signing the club once his contract expired. That was before a campaign where chemistry became a buzzword akin to the words ‘disrupter’ or ‘synergy’ in corporate speak.

A number of factors contributed to the uneasiness in Boston’s locker room. Jackie MacMullan (via Dane Delgado of NBC Sports) hears that coach Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward causes some issues. Stevens wanted Hayward to re-gain confidence and he gave the wing opportunity after opportunity on the court to show his pre-injury form.

Stevens has a history with Hayward from their Butler University days, though the coach would have taken the same approach with any player coming back from a major injury. Hayward continued to struggle, proving he wasn’t ready for the minutes and with many mouths left unfed, the crabs-in-a-barrel mentality festered.

Next season, different elements will make up the locker room chemistry. Hayward will outlast Irving in Boston, as the wing has two more years left on his deal (final year is a player’s option worth slightly less than $34.2MM). Horford may be elsewhere and new faces will surround the tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the team hopes of remaining competitive in an enhanced Eastern Conference.

Last spring, the narrative out of Boston was how the team is ready to compete in the present but is also built for the future. The Celtics’ story is a lesson in never underestimating how much things can change in just one year.

Five Key Offseason Questions: Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers took two major in-season gambles during the 2018/19 campaign, plucking Jimmy Butler from Minnesota and putting together a package of assets to acquire Tobias Harris from the Clippers.

The team’s five starters played in just 10 regular season games together due to various injuries and rest management. Those five saw their playoff run cut short in the second round after playing only 11 postseason games together as a group. The organization longs for an opportunity to get a larger sample size on its collection of talent.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. How many starters will the Sixers bring back?

Philadelphia will face immense competition for Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick on the free agent market.

Multiple teams are expected to offer Harris a max deal, with the Nets standing out as a noteworthy threat. The interest between Harris and Brooklyn is reportedly mutual. The Grizzlies, Jazz, Mavericks, Kings, and Pacers have all been linked to Harris as well.

Butler is confident he’ll also receive a full max and the Lakers will be among the teams looking to swoop in and steal the four-time All-Star. GM Elton Brand plans on doing everything it can to bring Butler back.

Redick’s underwhelming playoffs aside, his shooting will be coveted by many teams in the league. He made just over $12MM last year, though it’s unclear what the price range for him will be going forward as he prepares to enter his age-35 season.

The Sixers will be among the offseason winners if they can bring back all five starters and supplement them with an additional role player or two. Of the three pending free agents, I’d speculate Butler is the most likely to leave.

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Stein’s Latest: Durant, Irving, Leonard, Conley

Kevin Durant has long been rumored to end up on the Knicks this summer. Even some within the Warriors’ organization believed that KD would head to the Big Apple, though Marc Stein of the New York Times hears that Golden State’s brass is now cautiously optimistic about convincing Durant to stay.

Durant’s rehab with the Warriors would come with more stability from a logistical standpoint. He would venture on his comeback journey with a staff he’s familiar with rather than entering a new environment in New York or Brooklyn.

The Knicks still desire to sign both Durant and Kyrie Irving, and they have the cap space to pursue both. Stein passes along more on the upcoming offseason in his latest piece:

  • The Nets believe that Irving is leaning toward signing with them. Stein hears that Spencer Dinwiddie has been heavily involved in the recruiting of Kyrie.
  • Most within the league believe the Clippers remain the favorites to sign Kawhi Leonard, Stein writes. The Raptors are not out of the running, as the team up north has a chance to convince Leonard to sign a short-term deal, presumably a two-year contract with a player option on the second year.
  • Many rival teams expect the Grizzlies to trade Mike Conley soon, with the Jazz being the frontrunner. One scenario Stein hears is Utah sending a package headlined by the No. 23 overall pick and a future pick to Memphis in exchange for the point guard.

Multiple Teams Interested In Bobby Portis

The man that bet on himself this season is in position to cash in. The Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Bucks, Magic and Knicks are among the teams expected to have interest in Bobby Portis, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports reports.

Portis turned down an extension with the Bulls earlier this season and was rumored to be seeking a deal worth $16MM annually. While it’s not clear what kind of deal Portis receive in restricted free agency, it will certainly be a raise on his 2018/19 salary of approximately $2.5MM.

The Wizards are likely to extend a qualifying offer to Portis, which will be worth about $3.6MM.

The Bulls—the franchise that drafted Portis with the No.22 overall pick in the 2015 draft—traded him to the Wizards along with Jabari Parker for Otto Porter Jr. prior to the trade deadline. Washington is expected to decline Parker’s $20MM team option for next season, though even if both players signed elsewhere, the Wizards will have trouble carving out cap room.

[RELATED: 2019 NBA Offseason Salary Cap Digest: Washington Wizards]

The franchise is looking at approximately $89MM in guaranteed salary on the books for next season. The team will have a version of the mid-level at its disposal (the taxpayer’s MLE if over the projected $132MM) and the bi-annual exception will be available if it can stay below that tax line.

Lakers Looking To Move Additional Players In Anthony Davis Deal

The Lakers are trying to expand the Anthony Davis trade in order to carve out maximum salary room, sources tell ESPN duo Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Los Angeles is offering the contracts of Moritz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga to teams as part of the Davis deal in order to make cap room.

The Lakers would likely still need Davis to waive most or all of his trade bonus, something that he’s not necessarily expected to do. In a scenario where the Lakers get Davis to agree and find a taker for each of the three aforementioned players as part of a larger AD deal, Los Angeles would be looking at roughly $32MM in cap space. The Lakers would use the cap space before officially completing the Davis deal.

Players like Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker are eligible to receive a projected $32.7MM starting annual salary on a max deal. Under the projected $109MM salary cap, the Lakers will likely need a third star to make a slight financial sacrifice regardless of any additional moves, as I previously detailed.

Al Horford Expected To Sign Elsewhere

In a major turn of events, Al Horford is expected to sign a four-year deal with a team outside of Boston, according to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Bulpett reports that Horford’s representation has ceased discussions with the Celtics on a new contract.

The big man decided to turn down his $30.1M player option for next season and was expected to entertain a three-year deal with the Celtics. The franchise was looking to bring Horford back on a lower annual salary in 2019/20 than he was scheduled to make in order to gain more cap flexibility. Boston believed the three-year deal was a fair trade-off.

The organization apparently has concerns about giving the 33-year-old Horford a four-year deal, so he will hit the free agent market looking to find that type of contract. The Celtics had been expected to lose Kyrie Irving in free agency, and are now preparing for both players to leave this summer, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

The Celtics will have roughly $70.2MM in guaranteed salaries on their books for the 2019/20 season with $32.7MM of that figure going to Gordon Hayward.

Wizards Won’t Hire New Team President Before Free Agency

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said the team will not fill its vacant team president opening before free agency, as he detailed in a statement to Candace Buckner of The Washington Post.

“I am very happy with the work and preparation Tommy Sheppard, Coach [Scott] Brooks and our staff have done and I’m confident we’ll execute both the draft and free agency in an expert manner,” Leonsis said in the statement. “Having that confidence has given me the freedom to continue the conversations I’ve been having on how to build a great organization and, as a result, I don’t expect to make any decisions before the start of free agency.”

Leonsis also addressed the reports that the Wizards would try to pry Masai Ujiri from the Raptors, denying that the organization has spoken to – or plans to speak with – Toronto’s president of basketball operations.

“We have not commented on the many rumors surrounding potential candidates during this process, but I wanted to make an exception in this case out of respect to the Raptors organization as they celebrate their well-deserved championship,” Leonsis’s statement said. “Any reports that we have interest in Masai Ujiri as a candidate are simply not true, and we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process.”

The franchise has been without a team president since April 2. Since then, the team has interviewed a handful of executives, including Sheppard and Gersson Rosas, who took the gig with the Wolves. Washington made an offer to Tim Connelly, but the executive chose to remain with the Nuggets as their team president. Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver have also interviewed with the Wizards.

The draft and free agency are the most critical events in an NBA offseason. Leonsis, whose Capitals are a year removed from winning an NHL championship, is comfortable going through them with the infrastructure in place.

I intend to create a leadership team when it feels exactly right and is in alignment with our findings and our final developed specifications,” Leonsis said.

“As I have said, we will likely use ‘many hands make light work’ as a mantra as we seek to establish a new organizational construct that is in line with what future of the NBA will look like: creating a shared platform on health sciences, data analytics, venue management, skills training, etc., for all of our basketball franchises.”

Draft Notes: Blazers, Hawks, Hunter, Samanic, Kings, Warriors

The Trail Blazers, who hold just one pick – No. 25 overall – in this year’s draft, brought in a total of 24 prospects for workouts, according to Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com.

In addition to the 12 prospects whose names we previously relayed, the Trail Blazers also brought in David Crisp (Washington), Matur Maker (Slovenia), KZ Okpala (Stanford), Samir Sehic (Tulane), Jaylin Walker (Kent State), Cameron Young (Quinnipiac), Vic Law (Northwestern), Ignas Brazdeikis (Michigan), Talen Horton-Tucker (Iowa State), Louis King (Oregon), Admiral Schofield (Tennessee), Rayjon Tucker (Little Rock) over the last week.

Not all of those players are candidates to be selected 25th overall, so the Trail Blazers were also doing their homework on potential undrafted free agent signings — or possibly even second-round picks, if Portland opts to trade back into the draft.

Here are a few more draft-related notes and rumors worth rounding up:

  • The Hawks are “very high” on Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (Insider link). Sources tell Givony that Atlanta is the only team Hunter has worked out for, though if the Hawks want to secure him, they may have to trade up from No. 8. The Hawks are also said to like Jarrett Culver.
  • Croatian forward Luka Samanic isn’t interested in becoming a draft-and-stash player, sources tell Givony. That might cause his stock to fall a little, since he’s still “raw and inexperienced,” Givony writes. Some teams may be reluctant to guarantee him a roster spot until he’s a little more NBA-ready.
  • The Kings worked out Kyle Guy (Virginia), Jaylen Hands (UCLA), Rayjon Tucker (Little Rock), Miye Oni (Yale), Daulton Hommes (Point Loma), and Kenny Wooten (Oregon) on Monday, per James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link).
  • The Rockets are among the teams that brought in Purdue Fort Wayne’s John Konchar for a pre-draft workout, tweets ESPN’s Jordan Schultz.
  • Jordan Poole (Michigan) and Jarrell Brantley (Charleston) auditioned for the Warriors today, per Gery Woelfel and Adam Zagoria, respectively (Twitter links).

Harden, Paul Relationship Described As “Unsalvageable”

4:54pm: Responding to today’s report, Morey said Paul and his reps haven’t asked for a trade, adding that the point guard will be on the Rockets next season, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). According to Morey, Paul and Harden don’t have issues with one another —  Morey says he has spoken to both players often this offseason about free agency plans, Feigen adds.

While Morey’s dismissal was expected, reports of a rift between the Rockets’ two stars are becoming increasingly frequent. We’ll have to wait and see if the team is actually willing to bring both players back in the fall.

3:46pm: The relationship between Rockets guards James Harden and Chris Paul has been described by sources as “unsalvageable,” according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, who reports that the two stars no longer want to play alongside one another.

Sources tell Goodwill that Paul asked Rockets management for a trade, while Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the team was eliminated from the playoffs this spring by Golden State.

The two players didn’t speak to one another for nearly two months during the season, according to Goodwill, who adds that Harden has rebuffed CP3’s repeated attempts to communicate so far this offseason.

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source tells Goodwill. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Goodwill’s story comes on the heels of a similar report from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, who suggested that the disconnect between Harden and Paul stemmed from their different preferred playing styles and personalities. Harden thrives in an isolation-heavy attack, while Paul prefers a style predicated on more ball movement.

Sources tell Goodwill that Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni, complaining about the offense bogging down when Harden replaced Paul in the second unit. MacMahon passed along similar anecdotes in his story, reporting that Paul would cherish the opportunity to play in that second unit without Harden and “barked” at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench as the NBA’s leading scorer lobbied to check back in.

MacMahon and Goodwill each provided details on the personality clash between the two All-Stars as well, with Goodwill indicating that Paul’s “grating personality” has irritated Harden. The former MVP snapped back at CP3 after the Rockets’ elimination last month, telling Paul that he didn’t always know best and talked too much, according to MacMahon.

“Chris has a personality where he just doesn’t let anything go,” a team source told MacMahon. “He just keeps pestering and pestering and pestering and pestering. Sometimes James has had enough — and not just him. That’s what makes [Paul] a winner and also what keeps him from being a big-time winner. He’s got to temper that.”

MacMahon’s and Goodwill’s reports add more context to why the Rockets have apparently been exploring the trade market for Paul and other key players this spring. However, Paul has one of the league’s least team-friendly contracts, which will make him difficult to trade — that deal will pay the veteran point guard $38.5MM in 2019/20, and $124MM in total over the next three years.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has “grumbled” about the team’s investment in Paul and expressed regret to staffers about that signing, according to MacMahon, who adds that Fertitta has even griped about the deal in front of rival executives. Goodwill’s report lines up with MacMahon’s — sources tell Yahoo that Fertitta has complained about CP3’s contract since it was signed.

For what it’s worth, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has downplayed the tension within the organization and recently denied that Paul had asked to be traded. However, the situation in Houston looks increasingly untenable. We’ll see how the Rockets’ front office and players respond to the latest reports, but at this point it looks like a roster shake-up may be on the horizon.

Dwight Powell Exercises 2019/20 Player Option

Mavericks big man Dwight Powell has officially exercised his player option for the 2019/20 season, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times (via Twitter). As a result of the move, Powell will earn a $10,259,375 salary next season, per Basketball Insiders.

There were conflicting reports earlier this spring on whether Powell would opt in or out. After a May report suggested that he was expected to hit the open market, a June update confirmed that an opt-in was anticipated instead.

The Mavericks have long indicated that they plan to lock up Powell to a longer-term deal, which could’ve been done whether or not he exercised his player option. The conflicting reports on his option decision may have stemmed from confusion over whether he’d sign a brand-new deal with Dallas after opting out or sign an extension after opting in.

Powell, who will turn 28 next month, averaged a career-high 10.6 PPG to go along with 5.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, and a .597 FG% in 77 games (21.6 MPG) last season for the Mavs. The former second-round pick has spent the last four seasons in Dallas, and team management wants to ensure he sticks around a little longer.

Team owner Mark Cuban spoke at season’s end about a three-year extension for Powell, though it’s not clear if he meant three new years or three years in total. Either way, I’d expect Dallas to work on completing that deal in the coming weeks.

Even with Powell’s salary on their books, the Mavs should enter the free agent period with at least $29MM in cap room available, as we detailed in April. Meanwhile, Powell would be eligible to sign an extension that takes effect in 2020/21 with a starting salary worth up to 120% of his previous salary.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.