Ben McLemore

Free Agent Stock Watch: Playoff Edition

Throughout the season, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents this off-season. With the playoffs ongoing at the Orlando campus, it’s time to examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors.

Enes Kanter, Celtics, 28, C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $9.77MM deal in 2019

It’s difficult to pump up your value when you’re glued to the bench. That’s the dilemma for Kanter, who has dropped out of the Celtics’ big man rotation. Kanter averaged 15 MPG in the opening round against Philadelphia but coach Brad Stevens has gone with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III during the second-round series against Toronto. Save for a four-minute cameo on Thursday, Kanter has been a spectator. He has a $5MM player option for next season and the benching might compel him to take the guaranteed money and force the front office’s hands.

Goran Dragic, Heat, 34, PG (Up) – Signed to a five-year, $85MM deal in 2015

Perhaps we all forgot how good this guy can be. Dragic is getting a little long in the tooth and has battled injury issues, but he’s been fantastic on the Orlando campus. He’s been the most consistent offensive force for the surprising Heat, averaging 22.8 PPG and 5.0 APG against Indiana in the first-round sweep and 25.0 PPG and 4.5 APG in Games 1 and 2 against Milwaukee. Dragic could provide a major jolt for any playoff-caliber club and his price tag keeps rising.

Ben McLemore, Rockets, 27, SG (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2019

McLemore got off to a strong start in Orlando, including back-to-back 20-point games during the seeding round. As the playoffs have moved along, McLemore has seen his playing time diminish. He received 10 or fewer minutes in the last three games against Oklahoma City, as Russell Westbrook’s return affected his role. McLemore’s $2.3MM for next season isn’t guaranteed. The contract is cheap enough for the Rockets to retain him, but if that happens, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a rotation player.

Evan Fournier, Magic, 27, SG (Down) – Signed to a five-year, $85MM deal in 2016

Fournier has a $17.15MM option on his contract for next season. It seemed likely prior to the stoppage of play in March that he’d opt out and test a weak free agent market. His career year hit a snag during the restart, as he battled a non-COVID related illness and then was generally a non-factor in the first-round series against Milwaukee. He shot 35.7% from the field, compared to 44.9% shooting during the regular season. With all the uncertainty surrounding next season, Fournier has more incentive to take the guaranteed money.

Noah Vonleh, Nuggets, 25, PF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2019

A lottery pick in 2014, Vonleh has already played for six organizations. It looks like he’ll be adding a seventh to his resume next season, provided he can find another NBA home. Vonleh made three brief appearances in the seeding round but his only action during the playoffs was a three-minute stint during a 37-point loss to Utah. It’s easy to forget that Vonleh started 57 games for the Knicks last season. There won’t be any teams valuing him as a starter this offseason; he’ll be fortunate to get another veteran’s minimum deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Green, D’Antoni, Paul

Nearly everything went right for the Rockets on Tuesday as they dominated their playoff opener without Russell Westbrook, who is sidelined with a strained right quadriceps. Before the game, coach Mike D’Antoni offered a medical update on the star guard, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN, saying the injury is healing, but there’s no set date for his return.

“Can’t rule anything out, but don’t rule anything in,” D’Antoni told reporters.

Westbrook was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Tuesday to check on his progress, but the results haven’t been made public. A late arrival to the Disney World campus after contracting the coronavirus, Westbrook began feeling soreness in his right quadriceps after an August 4 game. He rested the next two games before playing 28 minutes last Tuesday. An MRI later that day revealed the strained muscle.

There’s more Rockets news to pass along:

  • Ben McLemore and Jeff Green both made huge contributions off the bench in the playoff opener, notes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. McLemore hit four 3-pointers in his first career playoff game, while Green, who was signed in late February, contributed 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. “We’re just trying to put the defense on their heels, giving them a different look,” Green said. “We know that all the focus is going to be on James (Harden), so it’s just another opportunity for us to take the pressure off him with Russell out … for everybody to get involved.”
  • In a separate story, MacMahon examines D’Antoni’s belief in small-ball, which dates back to when he was in Phoenix more than 15 years ago. The Rockets fully committed to the concept when they shipped out starting center Clint Capela at February’s trade deadline. “If you think something’s right and the numbers prove it’s right, then go all-in,” D’Antoni said. “You can’t muddy the waters. You can’t just go halfway.”
  • Chris Paul, who is facing his former team in his first playoff series since being traded last summer, addressed his relationship with Harden, his ex-backcourt partner (video link from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports). “We don’t talk or communicate or nothing like that, but that’s all good and well,” Paul said. “I wish him the best in anything and everything he does. That’s one thing I think people fail to realize, sometimes, in these situations. Sometimes you have teammates, and it is for that period of time. But that’s okay. You can wish each other well going forward. It doesn’t mean you have to be kumbaya, and it doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. At the end of the day, everybody’s got a life to live.”

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Mills, McLemore, Johnson

Pelicans All-Star forward Brandon Ingram said on Monday that New Orleans will number among his “top choices” in free agency during the 2020 offseason, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Ingram, 22, will be a restricted free agent this summer. Considering his growth with the team, whatever offer is tendered to Ingram by another club would almost certainly be matched by the Pelicans. Ingram hailed his current NBA home as a “special place with a lot of really, really good people.”

A 2-4 showing thus far in the NBA’s Orlando campus has doomed the 30-40 Pelicans to miss the playoffs this season, but with Ingram and promising rookie Zion Williamson established as the team’s two cornerstones, they look to be an attractive destination for free agent players.

Here’s more out of the NBA’s Southwest Division:

  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has addressed the fact that point guard Patty Mills has not played much during the NBA’s season restart in Orlando, according to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link).  “Might as well stay whole and take a rest,” Popovich said of Mills. “(He’s) kind of like a humming bird. He plays at such a high level of competitiveness, I’d rather have him whole for next season.”
  • Rockets guard Ben McLemore, who has had a stellar showing for Houston during the team’s Orlando tenure, has just rejoined Klutch Sports for representation, per Ben DuBose of USA Today. McLemore’s previous agent was Jarinn Akana of Dynasty Sports Management. McLemore is currently signed to a two-year veteran’s minimum contract with a team option for the 2020/21 season. Given his recent play, it seems probable that Houston will retain him.
  • Spurs rookie forward Keldon Johnson has started to come into his own during the NBA’s Orlando seeding games, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. Johnson, drafted with the No. 29 pick in 2019 out of Kentucky, has emerged as a rotation player for San Antonio during the season restart. He notched career highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds in a crucial victory over the Rockets today. “He’s a high energy guy,” Popovich said of the rookie. “Very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable.”

Eric Gordon To Miss Time With Ankle Injury

Rockets guard Eric Gordon may be sidelined for up to two weeks after turning his left ankle in the team’s final scrimmage Tuesday night, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. X-rays were negative, and Gordon will be re-evaluated today.

The injury occurred late in the second quarter when Gordon landed awkwardly after jumping to make a pass. He was helped to the sidelines by teammates and wasn’t able to place much weight on the ankle.

“Hurts a little bit. He doesn’t really swell, so we won’t know until tomorrow the extent of it,” coach Mike D’Antoni told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle after the game. “He’s going to be out a few days.”

D’Antoni moved Gordon into the starting lineup when the team reconvened in Orlando. The versatile guard has been through a difficult season since signing a four-year, $76MM extension in September. He missed six weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in mid-November and struggled with his shot after returning. Gordon is averaging 14.5 PPG, the lowest in his four years in Houston, and is shooting a career-worst 37% from the field.

There was optimism that Gordon turned a corner during the hiatus, as he reported to Orlando 12 pounds lighter, which he credited to diet changes and alterations to his workouts. He is considered a vital cog for the Rockets to succeed with their extreme small-ball lineup.

“To me it just makes sense that you do it, because one, Eric is probably our best perimeter defender,” D’Antoni said in explaining the decision to start Gordon. “So when another team has a superstar in there, he has to guard that. Two, if you don’t start him, then he’s resting for 12 minutes when he is not tired to start the game or in the second half.”

D’Antoni hasn’t decided who will take Gordon’s place as a starter while he is out of action. Bontemps notes that Ben McLemore started the second half last night, but Danuel House, who started 47 games this season, is also an option.

“We’ll see,” D’Antoni said. “It’s an easier rotation because Danuel has to back up (Robert) Covington at the 4, but Danuel could probably start. We’ll see what happens.”

Free Agent Stock Watch 2020: Southwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we take a look at players from the Southwest Division:

Ben McLemore, Rockets, 27, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2019
If you’re in the same backcourt as James Harden and Russell Westbrook, you’re not going to have many opportunities to shoot. And when you do, you’d better make them. McLemore is making them. In his last three games, McLemore has averaged 13.3 PPG and knocked down 11 of 18 3-point attempts. Houston has shuffled its roster over the past month but as long as McLemore remains a perimeter threat, he’ll remain in the rotation. Houston needs to guarantee his modest $2.28MM salary for next season prior to free agency. It will be a surprise if the Rockets turn down that bargain.

Jordan Bell, Grizzlies, 25, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $1.62MM deal in 2019
Bell wasn’t much of a factor with Minnesota this season, even when Karl-Anthony Towns missed some games due to injury or suspension. He got traded to Houston, which quickly flipped him to Memphis for Bruno Caboclo. Bell has only appeared in two games with the Grizzlies but there is a glimmer of hope. With injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke depleting the frontcourt, Bell could get an extended look in the next couple of weeks. He’ll have to show a lot more than he did in Minnesota in order for Memphis to extend a qualifying offer, which would make him a restricted free agent.

Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans, 24, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.27MM deal in 2018
When the Pelicans were shorthanded last month in Detroit, Okafor erupted for 25 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He never left the bench the next four games, which shows how little he figures in the organization’s plans. Okafor has played a total of 25 minutes since that game against the Pistons. Once Zion Williamson got healthy, Okafor’s already spotty playing time virtually evaporated. His ability to score in the low post has lost much of its value since he was taken with the third pick in the 2015 draft. He’ll be seeking another second-unit opportunity this summer.

Bryn Forbes, Spurs, 26, PG (Up) – Signed to two-year, $6MM deal in 2018
Undrafted despite playing for a major college (Michigan State), Forbes has fit well with the blue-collar Spurs. After Danny Green was traded during the 2018 offseason, Forbes became a starter in his third year in the league. He’s held onto that role this season and continues to provide a perimeter option on a team lacking in that area. Forbes has been on fire this month, draining 47.4% of his 3-point attempts. Forbes will enter unrestricted free agency this summer and should get a nice raise and a multiyear deal, perhaps without changing uniforms.

Willie Cauley-Stein, 27, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.46MM deal in 2019
When Dwight Powell suffered a season-ending Achilles tear late last month, the Mavericks opted to trade with Golden State for Cauley-Stein. It seemed like a great opportunity for Cauley-Stein to pump up his value on a playoff contender. It hasn’t worked out that way. Cauley-Stein’s role has been limited since joining the Mavericks and he hasn’t played since the All-Star break due to undisclosed personal reasons. It’s a good thing for WCS that he has a $2.29MM option on his contract for next season. It should come in handy the way things are trending.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Southwest Notes: McLemore, Aldridge, Porzingis, DeRozan

Former lottery pick Ben McLemore has revitalized his career with the RocketsESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote an excellent profile piece examining the reemergence of McLemore in Houston.

On his third team in three years, McLemore seized his opportunity with the Rockets when injuries befell Eric Gordon and Gerald Green. McLemore has transformed himself into an effective catch-and-shoot option in Houston. For nine games starting on November 30th, McLemore averaged 14 PPG while shooting 39-of-85 from long range.

The first season of McLemore’s two-year, $4.4MM contract with the Rockets became fully guaranteed on January 10th. “I love Ben,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told Lowe. “All he was lacking was confidence and an opportunity.” The rangy, athletic McLemore is averaging 10.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.0 APG for the 26-12 Rockets. He is shooting 36.5% from long range on 6.7 attempts and 80% from the free-throw line.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • The trade market stock of 34-year-old Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge is rising, writes San Antonio Express-News reporter Mike Finger. Finger postulates that Aldridge would have net more interest as a trade piece than fellow 30+ former All-Star big man, Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, who has been very, very vocal about being unhappy in Cleveland. Aldridge has emerged as a moderate three-point shooting threat for the first time in his career, knocking down 45.5% of his 2.5 attempts per game, both career highs.
  • Mavericks big man Kristaps Porzingis was given a platelet-rich-plasma injection to treat the soreness in his right knee that has kept him in street clothes for two weeks, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon. Porzingis is also grappling with an illness that has slowed his recovery process.
  • Polarizing, old-fashioned Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan returns to the team for whom he made four All-Star appearances today, the Raptors, as Josh Lewenberg of TSN reports. His former teammate, current Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry, reflected on his contributions to Toronto basketball. “I think he poured his heart into the city,” Lowry said. “He gave the city and lot and the city [saw] him grow from a boy to being a man.”

Southwest Notes: Spurs, DeRozan, McLemore, Pelicans

The Spurs have historically been averse to mid-season trades, having not completed a deal outside of the offseason since February 2014, when they sent Nando De Colo to Toronto in exchange for Austin Daye. However, as Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News writes, after a 9-15 start to the season, the organization will have to consider both the upside and potential downside of simply standing pat again.

Four-time All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan will have the ability to opt out of his contract during the summer of 2020, and while the Spurs seem unlikely to make a blockbuster deal by February 6, it might represent their last real opportunity to acquire something of value in exchange for DeRozan — if he opts for free agency and signs elsewhere, the club likely won’t have the cap flexibility to adequately replace him, Finger observes.

As San Antonio considers its options, let’s round up a few more notes from around the Southwest…

  • When the Spurs weigh what to do with DeRozan, they’ll attempt to determine what type of contract he might be able to command on the open market. Only rebuilding teams are projected to have cap room this summer, creating uncertainty about where a big payday for the veteran might come from, if not San Antonio. “I like DeRozan as my third option, and those type of players are not earning near max-type money,” one league executive tells ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link).
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes an in-depth look at the renaissance of Ben McLemore, a former No. 7 overall pick whose days as an NBA rotation player appeared numbered before he bounced back with Houston this season. According to Iko, McLemore received a pair of guaranteed contract offers in the offseason, but chose the Rockets‘ partially guaranteed offer because they offered the best combination of playing for a contender and potentially earning a regular role.
  • Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said this week that this year’s team is one of the quietest he has been around during his time in the NBA, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. As Guillory notes, that’s one reason why New Orleans’ defensive communication has been an issue all season long.

Rockets Notes: Protest, McLemore, Westbrook, Clark

The Rockets have a challenging case to prove now that their protest of Tuesday’s game is official, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. Houston must provide “clear evidence” that the outcome in San Antonio was affected by a James Harden dunk that was disallowed. Stein calls it a “high bar” to convince the league that a single basket with 7:50 left to play would have made the difference between winning and losing (Twitter link).

Harden scored on a breakaway that would have given Houston a 104-89 lead, but he dunked the ball so hard that it popped in front of the rim after going through the hoop, leading to confusion over whether it was a made shot. Officials disallowed the basket and refused to let Mike D’Antoni use a coach’s challenge because a 30-second time limit had expired. The Rockets lost in double overtime.

The team has five days to submit evidence after filing the protest, then commissioner Adam Silver has five days to issue a ruling, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link). The Rockets also had to pay a $10K protest fee that will be refunded if they are successful, notes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

There’s more from Houston:

  • Ben McLemore has been effective as a starter, but he appears headed back to the bench now that Danuel House is healthier, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. McLemore has performed far better in the starting lineup, including a season-high 28 points Thursday night in Toronto, but D’Antoni prefers the defense and versatility that House brings. “He plays hard and he’s coachable,” D’Antoni said of McLemore, who is in his first season with the team. “He does have a nice shot. He needs confidence. He needs to play. He needs to feel wanted. Hopefully, he will continue to get better.”
  • Management isn’t concerned over Russell Westbrook‘s inconsistent play so far, states Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Westbrook’s shot has been misfiring and his win shares are at a career-low 0.7, but he has multiple dislocated fingers and is still being managed for knee pain. The team isn’t expecting Westbrook to fully be himself until after the All-Star break.
  • Gary Clark‘s surprising contributions at the start of last season were part of the reason the club moved on from Carmelo Anthony, but the second-year forward hasn’t been able to carve out a regular role, Iko adds in the same piece. Between Clark’s poor shooting and the Rockets’ deep rotation, it appears he’ll have to wait his turn for regular minutes, even though D’Antoni likes what he brings to the team.

Western Notes: O’Neale, Dirk, McLemore, Baynes

Royce O’Neale, who is the Jazz‘s most trusted perimeter defender, is aiming this season to improve the accuracy and volume of his three-point shot on the other end of the court.

As Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.com details, O’Neale three-point percentage is up to a career-best 47.9% this season, but he’s attempting just 3.1 per 36 minutes, the lowest rate of his career. That’s prompting his teammates and Jazz coaches to encourage him to look more for his shot.

“You have to shoot it,” Jazz point guard Mike Conley said. “I’m trying my best to tell him to shoot it every time. I get mad [when he doesn’t].”

It’s a big year for O’Neale, who will be eligible for restricted free agency during the summer of 2020. If he can continue to prove that he’s a reliable, consistent three-and-D option, the 26-year-old should be in line for a nice payday when his minimum-salary deal expires, whether or not he remains with the Jazz.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Just in case there was any doubt, longtime Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki confirmed that he won’t be following in the footsteps of fellow Dallas athlete Jason Witten by coming out of retirement after a year (Twitter link via Mark Medina of USA Today). Oh man. I wish,” said Nowitzki, who attended the Mavs’ Sunday win over the Lakers. “But my foot is not great. My health is not there anymore where it needs to be to compete and go up and down every day.
  • Ben McLemore, one of three Rockets players without a fully guaranteed 2019/20 salary, has taken on a crucial rotation role as of late, starting five of the club’s last nine games. While McLemore has been significantly better as a starter, he’s confident that his numbers as a reserve will come around if he returns to a full-time bench role. “It’s about keeping my game simple, especially with this team,” McLemore said, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “I’m trying to do the best I can each and every night and be consistent. Things will shake out for me soon.”
  • Offseason acquisition Aron Baynes, who returned to the Suns‘ lineup on Friday after missing five games due to a hip injury, has quickly become a veteran leader and a major on-court contributor for his new team, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

Rockets Notes: Capela, Conditioning, Harden, Gordon, McLemore

Rockets center Clint Capela is off to a slow start compared to last season and a sore right shoulder is partially to blame, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon tweets. Capela injured the shoulder playing for the Swiss national team this summer and has been working to strengthen it. It has especially affected him when trying to dunk with one hand and reaching for rebounds, MacMahon adds. Capela is averaging 13.5 PPG and 7.1 RPG through the first eight games after averaging 16.6 PPG and 12.7 RPG last season.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Coach Mike D’Antoni is second-guessing himself for taking it too easy on his players during camp, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Houston split its first six games before winning its last two outings. “I’m also kind of responsible. I was saving their legs in the preseason so that near the end of the year we’ll be fresher,” D’Antoni said. “I can’t also be crazy because they’re not quite in shape. We’re working on it.”
  • TV analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy believes James Harden should get more credit for resisting the load management strategy that many other teams are using for their stars, Feigen writes. “Everybody is so hypercritical of everything Harden does. He should be absolutely lauded [for wanting to play 82 games],” Van Gundy said. ” It’s like the Rolling Stones came through here and don’t bring Mick (Jagger.) It would be the same thing if Harden doesn’t show up.”
  • The team should be much more worried about Eric Gordon’s shooting woes rather than Harden’s early slump, John Hollinger of The Athletic opines. Gordon is having a harder time getting to and finishing at the rim and that raises concerns, However, the team’s biggest long-term issues are their lack of overall interior size on defense and the fact that Russell Westbrook is a downgrade from Chris Paul at that end, Hollinger adds.
  • Ben McLemore, who has taken all but three of his 38 shots this season from beyond the arc, has solidified his rotation spot, Feigen writes a separate story.