Nets Rumors

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.

Pincus Examines D'Angelo Russell's Free Agency

  • 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.

Caris LeVert Starts The Pursuit Of Kevin Durant

The 28-year-old spent the first part of this season in Toronto, but has been out of the NBA since being acquired and then waived by the Nets at the trade deadline. Monroe hopes to help out the Celtics the way he did last year when he averaged 10.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG after joining the team in February.

  • Nets players aren’t waiting for summer to start recruiting Kevin Durant, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Durant’s new video series “Fly By” will include a tour of Brooklyn from D’Angelo Russell. Teammate Caris LeVert, who serves as Durant’s summertime workout partner, isn’t shy about making his pitch. “I don’t think superstars, especially Kevin, want to be the one who has to carry the whole team, the full load on his own,” LeVert said. “He’s in his 30s now, so he definitely wants to go to a team that has a good core, has a good culture, has good guys on the team, and we fit all those categories.”

Atlantic Notes: Russell, Harris, Raptors, Smith

Nets guard D’Angelo Russell has transformed into the kind of leader the Lakers need this season, Michael Scotto of The Athletic writes.

Russell was traded to Brooklyn from Los Angeles in 2017, with president Magic Johnson imploring shortly afterward that the team needs to find a leader for the future. Russell, a first time All-Star this season, led the Nets to a 111-106 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center on Friday, officially eliminating Los Angeles from playoff contention.

“It’s been good,” Russell told YES Network when asked about the season, according to Scotto. “Definitely given me another opportunity to perform at this level. You can’t control your future, but being in Brooklyn so far has given me a great blueprint of what type of player I want to be, and the city is buzzing right now with the success of the sports, so I’ve been enjoying the whole ride.”

Russell is holding per-game averages of 20.7 points, 6.9 assists and 1.2 steals this season, showing the damage he could’ve done in the Lakers’ purple and gold if he wasn’t traded.

“This is where I started,” Russell said. “It’s definitely a place that gave me an opportunity. Not many guys started somewhere and then that was forgotten throughout their career. Chauncey Billups, the Nashes (Steve Nash) of that group. I’m trying to consider myself one of those guys.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division today:

  • Brian Lewis of the New York Post examines why Joe Harris has been the X-factor for the Nets. Harris, the winner of the three-point contest over All-Star Weekend, is shooting a career-high 47% from behind-the-arc this season. “That’s my job. That’s what I’m out here to do,” Harris said. “I’m happy to get a couple [3s] early and allowed the rhythm to be there … a little more confidence and taking a couple more aggressive looks. A lot of it is I’m lucky to play with guys like [Russell] and Spencer, [who] do a great job of facilitating for me.”
  • The Raptors are more focused on the postseason itself than what seed they can grab, Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com writes. “It just doesn’t seem to have much relevance to our team, and the situation that our organization is in,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “Yeah, we want a decent seed, but we can’t get caught up in it.” The Raptors have a history of successful regular seasons that led to failed playoff runs, something they hope can be changed this time around with their current group.
  • Zhaire Smith closed out his 2018/19 season on a positive note with the Sixers’ G League team in Delaware, Brian Seltzer of NBA.com writes. Smith, who spent much of the year rehabbing from Jones Fracture surgery, finished with 19 points and 12 points in his final two games of the NBA G League regular season.

Atlantic Notes: Russell, Raptors, Tatum, Brown, Knicks

Nets guard D’Angelo Russell claims he’s moved on from his exit with the Lakers, now focused on leading his team to the playoffs this spring, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes. The Lakers made a surprising move by trading Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn in 2017, bringing in Brook Lopez and the rights to Kyle Kuzma.

“I don’t think there’s anything else to be said from my part,” Russell said, according to Bondy. “Whatever y’all decide to cook up. Whatever quote y’all take, expand on it, good luck with it. But I don’t have any extra emotion.”

Russell was named to his first ever NBA All-Star team this season, rapidly improving as a point guard with per-game averages of 20.2 points and 6.8 assists. His 43% shooting mark from the floor and 36% mark from 3-point range are also career-highs.

Russell has guided the Nets to a 36-34 record through 70 games, good for the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers, of course, wound up drafting Lonzo Ball to fill in for Russell as starting point guard. Los Angeles will host Brooklyn next Friday at Staples Center.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • The Raptors‘ success this year largely depends on what the bench can accomplish, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes. Jeremy [Lin], Norm [Powell], OG [Anunoby], Patrick McCaw. What can they give us defensively, first and foremost, and then what can they limit mistake-wise offensively?” coach Nick Nurse said. “That’s what OG has done. He’s been pretty out of the way, mistake-free, made a few shots, made a few cuts gotten on the glass. Patrick McCaw, the same. I kind of like the decisions that Jeremy has made. He just hasn’t made enough of his shots. And Norman, we’ve got to limit the turnovers with that unit.”
  • The Celtics‘ young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are settling into their respective roles just in time, Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com writes. “We know what we’re capable of, and we were close to getting to the championship [last year],” Tatum said. “Now we’re trying to get over that hump and get there.” Boston badly needs the production from Tatum and Brown if they want to compete for a championship, with the team currently holding the fifth seed in the East one month before the playoffs.
  • Sam Vecenie of The Athletic examines where the Knicks stand entering the offseason, which includes June’s NBA Draft and the start of free agency in July. In addition to having a solid young core, the team will own a high-level draft pick and significant cap space to pursue star free agents on the open market.

Knicks Notes: Hezonja, Dolan, Scouting

Knicks head coach David Fizdale recently spoke about the challenges presented by having a roster packed with free-agents-to-be who might be tempted to focus on improving their stock for the summer rather than playing team-first ball. However, Mario Hezonja believes he’s been able to stick to Fizdale’s desired style of play despite his upcoming unrestricted free agency, as he tells Marc Berman of The New York Post.

“I don’t give a s–t that I’m a free agent,” Hezonja said. “I’m trying to help these guys as well. I don’t give a s–t about myself. I’ll be fine. Trust me. I’ll be fine. With my basketball skill, talent and abilities, I’ll always be fine. I just want to help these guys with stuff I’ve been through in my career in both Europe and here.

“I know it’s a very sensitive situation here with a lot of free agents and a lot of young guys I’m trying to help. If I see something in practice, I try to correct them. We have to continue to show togetherness and finish on a good note. A lot of teams don’t achieve playoffs they just give up.”

After playing well to finish the 2017/18 season, Hezonja turned down multiple two-year contract offers to join the Knicks on a one-year deal, but it has been a tough year for him in New York. He’s averaging 7.6 PPG with a career-low .277 3PT%, and the club has the worst record in the NBA. Nonetheless, the former fifth overall pick says he doesn’t regret his free agent decision, adding that he loves New York and hopes to extend his stay with the Knicks beyond this season.

“Even though it’s a bad, rough season individually and as a team, I feel I have [the] support of the city,” Hezonja said.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • James Dolan‘s latest public run-in with a fan – which saw the Knicks’ owner instruct MSG security to detain a customer who yelled at him to “sell the team” – is a reminder that Dolan is “thin-skinned and utterly clueless about the franchise he has run into the ground,” according to Frank Isola of The Athletic, who wonders whether Dolan’s baggage will have an impact on the team’s ability to attract star free agents.
  • Former Knick Charles Oakley is among those who would advise stars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to avoid the club in free agency, as he tells Dolan. “If you want to be in New York, look at the Nets. [GM] Sean Marks has done a great job. The Nets have better pieces,” Oakley said. “You come to the Knicks … it won’t be easy.”
  • After attending the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to watch Murray State point guard Ja Morant, Knicks GM Scott Perry will be at this week’s ACC Tournament to get a look at Zion Williamson and other top prospects, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post. President of basketball operations Steve Mills will also likely be on hand at the tournament, which will feature players like R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Nassir Little as well.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Atlantic 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 turn our attention to the Atlantic Division:

Terry Rozier, Celtics, 24, PG (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $8.8MM deal in 2015
Rozier has struggled most of the season after his breakout performances in last season’s playoffs, when he averaged 16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.7 APG while subbing for an injured Kyrie Irving. So why is his stock up? Irving’s commitment to the organization is shaky at best, which makes restricted free agent Rozier a major insurance policy. Rozier would clearly benefit from becoming a starter in Boston or elsewhere. He has averaged 14.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 5.7 APG the last six games in which Irving missed and he played. He rarely turns the ball over, which makes any coach happy.

Ed Davis, Nets, 29, PF (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $4.45MM deal in 2018
Davis consistently stays in a team’s rotation by knowing his role and his limitations. He’s told to rebound and play defense and he does those well. Davis is averaging a career-high 8.5 RPG while playing pretty much the same minutes he logged for Portland the previous three seasons. He sports a strong 1.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating, according to Basketball-Reference. He’ll continue to find work as a second-unit fixture who doesn’t mind letting his teammates do all the scoring.

Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 24, SF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $6.5MM deal in 2018
Hezonja had a second chance to shed the label of ‘bust’ by signing with the rebuilding Knicks after three forgettable seasons with Orlando. Perhaps his label should now read ‘colossal bust.’ Hezonja is destined to go down as one of the worst top-five picks in the last two decades. In 46 games, Hezonja has averaged 7.6 PPG on 39.7% shooting and 3.7 RPG while compiling more turnovers than assists. He hasn’t played since mid-February due to a knee injury or coach’s decision. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Croatian native spends the remainder of his career in Europe.

Boban Marjanovic, 76ers, 30, C (Down) — Signed to a three-year, $21MM deal in 2016
Marjanovic has been sidelined recently by a knee injury. He’s been highly productive and always entertaining when he plays. The 7’3″ center is a throwback to another era when slow-footed giants were more prevalent in the league. Marjanovic is impossible to stop when he gets the ball down low but his lack of mobility make it tough to play him for long stretches. The happy-go-lucky Marjanovic is a fan and locker-room favorite who might get a short-term deal as a third-string backup but it’s doubtful he’ll receive another three-year offer.

Danny Green, Raptors, 31, SG (Up)– Signed to a four-year, $40MM deal in 2015
Green was the ‘other’ starter in the blockbuster Spurs-Raptors trade this offseason. Green isn’t an All-Star talent like Kawhi Leonard or DeMar DeRozan, but he’s a solid NBA starter on one of the top teams in the league. He gained that status in San Antonio and nothing’s changed north of the border. Green has taken two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and made 43.3%, his best long-distance average since the 2011/12 season. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating has dropped this year but he’s still a plus 1.2. Green’s 3-point shooting alone will guarantee him a nice payday this summer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rodions Kurucs May Be The Nets Power Forward Of The Future

  • Rodions Kurucs may have solved the Nets‘ search for a stretch four, suggests Brian Lewis of The New York Post. The rookie has started the past three games, helping Brooklyn to wins in all of them. He posted 16 points and six rebounds in Saturday’s victory at Atlanta. “I don’t know what neighborhood he grew up in in Latvia, but that’s a tough neighborhood. That’s a tough dude,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He might not look the part, looks like a good-looking choirboy; but him and [John] Collins were going at it the whole game, and he doesn’t back down from anybody. That’s Rodi from Day 1: No fear.”

New York Notes: McCall, White, Dinwiddie, Jordan

Tahjere McCall, who had been on a 10-day contract with the Nets, had that deal expire overnight on Thursday, and has returned to Brooklyn’s G League affiliate in Long Island, the club announced today in a press release. That means that, for now, the Nets will have an open spot on their 15-man roster.

G League forward Okaro White, who has been playing well for the Long Island Nets, might have been a candidate for that final roster spot, but White recently sustained a season-ending ankle injury, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post. McCall will take White’s place on Long Island’s roster, and Brooklyn will have to look elsewhere for a potential 10-day signee.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York teams:

  • Speaking to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype (audio link), Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said he’d be happy to get involved in recruiting free agents this summer. “I would love to do anything that’s within the rules and not considered tampering to get guys to come to Brooklyn,” Dinwiddie said, adding that the club should appeal to star players because it’s a “players-first” organization.
  • It may seem like 11-year NBA veteran DeAndre Jordan has been around forever, but the Knicks center is still only 30 years old. As he prepares to re-enter unrestricted free agency, Jordan wants to push back on the idea that he’s getting old, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “People think you’re 30 and think you’re old,” Jordan said this week. “I hate that. When I do something athletic, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, he’s so athletic and especially because he’s so old.’ I’ll take that.”
  • After securing one of the most lucrative rookie contracts ever for a second-round pick last summer, Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has continued to cash in off the court, lining up endorsement deals with Nike and several other companies, writes Tommy Beer of Forbes.com.

NBA Execs Predict Market For D’Angelo Russell

As I noted on Wednesday when I singled out a few restricted free agents poised to land lucrative multiyear deals this summer, few RFAs-to-be are better positioned than D’Angelo Russell.

The Nets‘ point guard has enjoyed a breakout season in 2018/19, establishing new career highs in PPG (20.5), APG (6.8), FG% (.436), 3PT% (.368), and a number of other categories. He has been a driving force behind Brooklyn’s push for a playoff spot, and is expected to cash in in a big way during the 2019 offseason.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: D’Angelo Russell’s Free Agency]

With that in mind, Michael Scotto of The Athletic spoke to a handful of executives around the NBA to get a sense of what Russell’s market might look like this July. The consensus? He should be among 2019’s highest-paid free agents.

“He has had a great year,” an Eastern Conference general manager said of Russell. “There’s no reason to believe he will not stay at this level.”

“He’s going to be in high demand and will get close to max with his overall improvement,” a Western Conference executive told Scotto.

As our early maximum salary projections for 2019/20 show, based on a $109MM salary cap, Russell could earn a contract worth up to $158.05MM over five years with the Nets. If he signs with another team, his projected max would be $117.18MM over four years. That raises another question: Will the 23-year-old re-sign with Brooklyn or ink an offer sheet with another team, forcing the Nets to make a tough decision?

While Scotto doesn’t explicitly identify any teams that will pursue Russell this offseason, he notes that the Pacers, Suns, and Magic are among the clubs expected to be in the market for a point guard. Indiana has the most cap flexibility of the three, but Phoenix and Orlando could both create the space necessary to pursue Russell, depending on their roster moves.

The Nets also have a history, under GM Sean Marks, of making aggressive offers to rival RFAs, having forced the Heat, Trail Blazers, and Wizards to match big-money deals for Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, and Otto Porter, respectively. At least one of the executives who spoke to Scotto wondered if another club will turn the tables on Brooklyn this time around.

“I think D’Angelo is worth around $20MM (annually),” the longtime Eastern exec said. “Is this payback time for the Nets? Will teams offer him the way they (Nets) did for Crabbe, Porter, and Johnson? I think he turned the corner. I think he has a chip on his shoulder.”