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2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Los Angeles Clippers.

Salary Cap Outlook

The Clippers currently have approximately $109MM committed to nine guaranteed salaries for 2020/21. That figure doesn’t account for potential free agents like Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, and JaMychal Green. The team will definitely be over the cap and could approach the tax line if it wants to re-sign more than one of those free agents.

If the Clippers’ team salary increases significantly as a result of re-signing those free agents, they may be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM). If not, they’ll have the full MLE ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) available. The club also had a couple modest trade exceptions on hand, including one worth $3.57MM.

Our full salary cap preview for the Clippers can be found right here.

Roster Decisions To Watch


  • JaMychal Green, player option: $5,005,350

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:

2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • None

Second Round:

  • No. 57 overall pick

The Clippers hung onto their own second-round pick at No. 57, but sent their first-rounder (No. 27) to the Knicks at the 2020 deadline in a deal for Marcus Morris.

Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Which frontcourt free agent(s) will the Clippers prioritize?

The Clippers’ stars remain under contract through next season, as do key backcourt contributors like Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. However, many of Los Angeles’ most important frontcourt players not named Kawhi Leonard or Paul George are eligible to his the open market, creating some difficult decisions for the franchise.

Montrezl Harrell, coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award, will be an unrestricted free agent and is poised to be one of the most talented big men on the market. He’s still just 26 years old and has put up big-time offensive numbers since arriving in L.A., including an average of 18.6 PPG on 58.0% shooting in 63 games in 2019/20.

Fortunately for the Clippers, and unfortunately for Harrell, this isn’t 2016. There’s not an abundance of league-wide cap room available, and teams probably aren’t going to reward a non-star center with a massive long-term contract like the ones Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, and Ian Mahinmi received four years ago.

That doesn’t mean that Harrell isn’t in line for a nice payday, but he’s unlikely to cost $20MM per year to retain. ESPN’s Bobby Marks estimated that the Clippers’ big man will receive a starting salary in the $10-12MM range. I think he could do a little better than that, but his defensive inconsistency will limit his value. And if the few teams with cap room use that space on other players, Harrell’s options will be extremely limited.

The Clippers’ decision on Harrell will be tied to which direction the team goes on two power forwards, Marcus Morris and JaMychal Green. Morris is an unrestricted free agent, while Green can also become a UFA if he turns down his $5MM player option — given the role he played on the Clippers, he can reasonably argue he outperformed that option.

Morris’ offensive numbers fell off substantially after he was traded from the Knicks to L.A., but he’ll still be a sought-after veteran this offseason — his toughness, size, defensive versatility, and scoring ability make him an easy fit on just about any contender. Marks estimates that Morris’ starting salary might be in the same range as Harrell’s ($10-12MM), though teams may be more reluctant to offer the 31-year-old a long-term deal.

As for Green, he’ll likely be the most affordable of the three, but getting him back on another $5MM deal might be too optimistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s offered a contract similar to the two-year, $16MM pact he signed with Memphis in 2017.

The Clippers, who already project to be over the cap without accounting for any of their free agents, probably aren’t enthusiastic about the idea of going into tax territory to re-sign Harrell, Morris, and Green without making any other upgrades. So something’s got to give here, and it will be fascinating to see which of these players becomes the Clippers’ top priority and which is viewed as expendable.

2. How will the Clippers address the point guard position?

A consensus emerged following the Clippers’ disappointing second-round exit last month that while the team had a deep, versatile roster, it could have used a point guard capable of assuming more ball-handling and play-making responsibilities.

When Leonard won titles in San Antonio and Toronto, he did so alongside Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry, respectively — there was no point guard like that on L.A.’s 2019/20 roster. Beverley is a strong defender but isn’t a dynamic offensive player, while Williams is more of a score-first player and Reggie Jackson couldn’t be relied upon for major playoff minutes.

It will be a challenge for the Clippers to find the kind of player they’re looking for on the free agent market this fall. Fred VanVleet will be out of their price range and most of the other point guards available won’t move the needle for L.A. — veterans like D.J. Augustin or Jeff Teague are solid but probably not the extra piece a team needs to win a championship.

The two most intriguing names on the free agent market are Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic. The Clippers have already been linked to Rondo, who played an important part in helping the Lakers capture their 17th championship and should be attainable for a deal worth the mid-level or less. He’d be a nice fit — especially since signing him away from the Lakers would help weaken the defending champions’ roster.

As for Dragic, he’s less likely to be within the Clippers’ price range. It’s possible a multiyear deal could lure him away from the Heat, who figure to make him a sizeable one-year offer. But a salary in the mid-level range probably won’t be enough to do it.

If the Clippers don’t land Rondo and don’t like their other free agent options, pursuing a trade could be the way to go. Unfortunately, some of the veteran point guards who would be the best fits – such as Chris Paul, Mike Conley, and Lowry – are impractical trade targets for various reasons, including their mammoth cap hits. But there are more affordable players out there who could realistically be available, like perhaps Ricky Rubio, Dennis Schroder, and Derrick Rose.

3. Are Leonard and George in it for the long haul?

It was a major coup for a long-downtrodden franchise last July when Leonard chose to sign with the Clippers and essentially brought George along with him in a trade from the Thunder.

The moves instantly made L.A. a title contender and generated so much excitement that it was easy to overlook one key detail — the contract Kawhi signed was only for three years, with a player option after year two. That means both he and George will be eligible to reach free agency in 2021, just one year from now.

Technically then, Leonard’s and George’s futures are questions that will have to be answered next offseason and not necessarily this year. But with that uncertainty looming over the franchise, there will be added urgency in the front office to make sure this year’s roster has the right pieces in place to make a championship run. Another early exit in the playoffs could significantly dent the Clippers’ odds of keeping their two star forwards for the long term.

While the Clippers will do what they can to make sure Leonard and George are happy, the odds that the two stars will bolt in a year seem low to me.

They’re both Southern California natives who chose Los Angeles over every any other potential destination — Kawhi left a championship team to move home, while George has been talking for years about the possibility of playing in L.A., even as he signed a new deal with the Thunder. Plus, Leonard’s decision to sign a shorter-term contract can be attributed to his desire to ink a more lucrative maximum-salary contract once he earns 10 years of NBA experience after next season.

Even if the idea of Leonard and George jumping ship is a long shot, the Clippers can’t take anything for granted. But if they can get any sort of assurances from those two stars that they’re planning on sticking around for the long haul, it’ll make it easier for the team to bring in the necessary pieces without making any panicky, short-term moves.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Shootaround: Clippers Moves

With the possible exception of the Bucks, no team left the Orlando campus more disappointed that the Clippers.

Expectations of a championship for the long-downtrodden franchise went through the roof after they signed superstar free agent Kawhi Leonard and made a blockbuster trade for Paul George last summer.

They appeared headed for a Western Conference Finals showdown with the Lakers until they squandered some big leads and a 3-1 series lead to the upstart Nuggets.

The flameout ultimately cost head coach Doc Rivers his job. The front office settled on Rivers’ top assistant and former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue to replace him.

As long as Leonard and George stay healthy, the Clippers will undoubtedly make the postseason again but the memories of their collapse will linger unless they make amends and reach the Finals.

Beyond their perennial All-Stars, the Clippers have some tough decisions to make regarding their roster. Young center Ivica Zubac and guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Landry Shamet are the only other rotation players locked into contracts for next seasons. Their prospects for making a significant trade are dim, considering they gave up a bucketful of first rounders to acquire George.

JaMychal Green has a $5MM option on his contract and should he decline it, the Clippers will have to rebuild their frontcourt. Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell are headed to unrestricted free agency and the Clippers already have $109MM in salary commitments to nine players.

Harrell won the Sixth Man of the Year award but he had a rather forgettable experience in Orlando. Morris will attract plenty of interest in the free agent market, though he didn’t have as great an impact as the Clippers hoped when they traded for him in February.

The front office will have to prioritize which of those forwards they wish to retain and likely dip into the free agent market to fortify the guard rotation and frontcourt. Depending on whether they have a full mid-level exception or the taxpayers’ MLE, they could be looking at players such as Goran Dragic, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Teague, Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, Marc Gasol and Aron Baynes.

That brings us to our topic of the day: What should the Clippers do in free agency? Should they concentrate on re-signing their prominent free agents or pursue other options?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Poll: Rockets’ Next Head Coach

One of two teams that has yet to hire a new head coach, the Rockets are taking their time to finalize a decision on who will replace Mike D’Antoni. It has been over six weeks since D’Antoni and the team went their separate ways, and it has been nearly two weeks since a report suggested the Rockets had narrowed their search to three candidates.

Since Jeff Van Gundy, John Lucas, and Stephen Silas were identified as the Rockets’ presumed finalists, there have been conflicting reports on which candidate has the upper hand.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested last week during a TV appearance that Lucas had emerged as the frontrunner for the position and seemed to imply that Van Gundy was no longer a serious candidate. However, his colleague Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter later that day that Van Gundy had remained the “focus” of Houston’s search and that conversations between the two sides were continuing.

Providing an update this week on the state of the Rockets’ search, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (video link) said he doesn’t believe Lucas is the favorite.

“I really think at this point it’s going to be Jeff Van Gundy or Stephen Silas,” Feigen said. “John Lucas was – and is – a good candidate that they very seriously considered, and are considering, but I think it’s those two.”

Feigen explained that the Rockets’ desire to involve several different members of the organization in the decision – from the basketball operations department to team ownership to players – is one reason why the team has yet to make a hire. But with the draft just weeks away and free agency and training camps expected to follow shortly thereafter, it’s safe to assume Houston will finalize its decision pretty soon.

With that in mind, we want to know which direction you think the Rockets will go with their hire.

Will they lure Van Gundy away from the broadcast booth for another go-round in Houston? Will they stay in-house and promote Lucas, making him an NBA head coach for the first time since 2003? Will they opt for a first-time head coach with plenty of assistant experience in Silas? Or is there still time for the team to go off script and bring in someone unexpected for the job?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts on which candidate the Rockets will – and should – hire to replace D’Antoni.

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

Community Shootaround: Start Of Next Season

It took a few extra months to get to the finish line of the 2019/20 season. The starting point of next season is now shrouded in mystery.

As we noted earlier today, there’s great uncertainty regarding next season’s schedule.

In June, the league projected a December 1 start to next season. In September, the league office told the league’s Board of Governors the season wouldn’t start until after Christmas. There were projections that the season might start as late as March.

That all changed during a Board of Governors meeting last week, as the league’s finance committee recommended a pre-Christmas start date. Naturally, Christmas Day is normally a showcase for the league with a handful of games spread throughout the holiday but the revenue concerns come more at the back end than the front end.

The restart playoffs were a TV ratings dud, as fans were not accustomed to watching regular season and postseason games during the summertime and early fall. There’s also a strong desire among the league’s power brokers to have some sense of normalcy by the 2021/22 season, with that season beginning with a usual starting point in late October.

However, selling the players on this plan won’t be a slam dunk, particularly among the playoff participants. During a TV interview on Monday, Lakers guard Danny Green predicted numerous players would sit out the early portion of the season, adding that “I wouldn’t expect [LeBron James] to be there for the first month of the season.”

A quick turnaround would also make it much less likely to have fans in the stands as well as shortening the free agency period following the November draft. On the flip side. an earlier start date could preserve as much as $500MM in revenue, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

That leads us to our question of the day: Should the NBA start next season around Christmas in order to finish earlier in the summer? Or should the league wait until later in the winter in order to give the players more rest and increase the chances of having fans in the stands?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Milwaukee Bucks.

Salary Cap Outlook

Taking into account their eight players with guaranteed salaries and the cap hold for the first-round pick, the Bucks already have $116MM in commitments on their books for 2020/21, so they’ll be over the cap.

There are some other wild cards to consider here, including Ersan Ilyasova‘s non-guaranteed $7MM salary, a pair of player options, and the Bucks’ desire to add an impact player.

I’d ultimately expect Milwaukee to be in the tax or close to it, limiting the team to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM). But if the club maintains some maneuverability below the tax line, it could have the full MLE ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) to work with.

Our full salary cap preview for the Bucks can be found right here.

Roster Decisions To Watch


Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Ersan Ilyasova ($7,000,000)

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:

2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 24 overall pick

Second Round:

  • None

The Bucks’ own draft picks (Nos. 30 and 60) belong to Boston and New Orleans, respectively. The first-rounder was part of the package sent to Phoenix in 2017 for Eric Bledsoe before it was eventually rerouted to the Celtics. The second-rounder was one of several picks Milwaukee traded to the Pelicans for Nikola Mirotic at the 2019 deadline.

Milwaukee regained a first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in last summer’s sign-and-trade deal that sent Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers.

Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will Giannis Antetokounmpo sign a contract extension?

Antetokounmpo’s contract doesn’t expire until 2021, but the decision he makes in 2020 may have a greater impact and longer-term ramifications than any of this fall’s free agent signings. The two-time reigning MVP is up for a “super-max” contract extension that would start at 35% of the 2021/22 salary cap and would tack five years onto his current deal, locking him up through 2026.

[RELATED: Examining What Super-Max For Giannis Would Be Worth]

There’s no doubt that the Bucks will put that offer on the table, but after two consecutive seasons of the team finishing the regular season with the NBA’s best record and then falling short of the Finals in the postseason, it remains to be seen whether Giannis will accept it.

Antetokounmpo has said all the right things about his desire to remain in Milwaukee long-term and to win a championship with the Bucks. And while NBA fans have been conditioned to treat those sort of remarks with skepticism, there’s reason to believe Giannis’ comments are more genuine than most.

The Bucks’ star has spoken in the past about preferring to beat his fellow superstars rather than befriending and teaming up with them. He didn’t grow up playing on the AAU circuit and isn’t part of the Team USA program, so he hasn’t used those avenues to build relationships and plot unions like some stars have in the past. Additionally, Milwaukee is the only home Antetokounmpo has known since he arrived in the U.S., which means he’s unlikely to pull a Kawhi Leonard — Leonard, of course, chose to return home to Los Angeles last summer despite having just won a championship in Toronto.

Still, while there are plenty of factors working in the Bucks’ favor, there are also some reasons why Giannis may not be eager to immediately sign up for five more years in Milwaukee.

The Bucks’ last two playoff exits have been especially disappointing — the team blew a 2-0 in the Eastern Finals in 2019, then couldn’t muster more than a single win against an underdog Heat team in the second round of the 2020 postseason. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the NBA’s salary cap outlook for the next two or three seasons, meaning Antetokounmpo may be incentivized to sign shorter-term deals until the cap starts to rise again.

While it’s certainly not out of the question that Antetokounmpo signs a super-max extension with the Bucks this offseason, my feeling for now is that he’s more likely to put off that decision. He could sign the same five-year, super-max offer with Milwaukee as a free agent in 2021, and by that point, he should have a clearer picture of the NBA’s financial outlook. He’ll also have another playoff run with the Bucks under his belt, giving him a better idea of whether the club is a legit title contender. It’s even possible the club will win a title in 2021, which would presumably make his decision that much easier.

If Giannis isn’t ready to commit to a five-year extension, but doesn’t want the contract situation hanging over his head all season, a shorter-term extension – like the one Bradley Beal signed last year with the Wizards – is another option. However, that would close the door on the super-max possibility until he gains 10 years of NBA experience in 2023 and might mean accepting less than even the 30% max in 2021/22. In other words, if he’s looking to maximize his future earnings, signing a bridge extension a year before free agency probably isn’t the right play.

2. Is Bucks ownership ready to pay the tax?

As Antetokounmpo mulls a potential long-term commitment to the Bucks, it may be time for the team’s ownership group to prove it’s serious about investing big money not just in its superstar, but in the roster around him.

Following the Bucks’ elimination from the playoffs in September, co-owner Marc Lasry met with Antetokounmpo and reportedly assured him that the team is ready and willing to spend into the luxury tax to make upgrades.

The fact that Milwaukee signed-and-traded free agent guard Malcolm Brogdon to a division rival in 2019 rather than signing him to a new contract would seem to contradict the assertion that the team has no qualms about becoming a taxpayer. But it’s worth noting that the Bucks were said to have some long-term health concerns about Brogdon — it’s possible they simply didn’t feel he was the right player for that sort of investment.

Now that we’re a year closer to Antetokounmpo’s potential free agency, there’s more urgency for the Bucks to do all they can to ensure their star wants to stick around. And Lasry and his co-owners are positioned to have an immediate opportunity to back up their words with actions.

The Bucks only have about $114MM committed to eight guaranteed salaries for now, but that figure would surpass $128MM if Ersan Ilyasova is retained, Robin Lopez opts in, and the club keeps its first-round pick. And it would go even higher if the team wants to retain Pat Connaughton or Wesley Matthews, or bring in adequate replacements. Using the mid-level exception and/or making a trade that adds team salary could make the Bucks a taxpayer, especially if the threshold ($132.6MM) remains unchanged for next season.

The Bucks will likely become more comfortable with paying an annual tax bill – including potential repeater penalties down the road – if Giannis signs an extension and they know he’ll be around for the next half-decade. But they can’t wait until after Giannis re-ups to exhibit their willingness to spend big. Making upgrades and going into the tax for 2020/21 will show the two-time MVP they’re serious without necessarily putting them on the hook for future tax payments if Antetokounmpo ultimately decides to leave.

3. Can the Bucks acquire an impact player by building a trade package around Eric Bledsoe?

Free agency will be one potential avenue for the Bucks as they consider roster upgrades this offseason, but they won’t have any cap room available. And if they’d prefer to avoid becoming hard-capped, then using the full mid-level exception or acquiring a player via sign-and-trade won’t be options either. That means Milwaukee’s most intriguing path to acquiring a potential impact player is via the trade market.

The Bucks have a few pieces they could package in trade offers this fall. Bledsoe ($16.9MM) is the club’s most obvious trade chip, both because his salary is useful for matching purposes and because he has been an offensive liability in the postseason over the last two years, despite impressive regular season performances. George Hill (9.6MM) and Ilysaova ($7MM) are among the team’s other potential veteran assets, though Ilyasova’s expiring contract would have to be fully guaranteed if it’s to be used for salary matching.

Those three players are useful rotation pieces, but they’re not moving the needle in a major way for any team shopping an impact player. The Bucks will have to sweeten the pot a little, perhaps offering the Pacers’ 2020 first-round pick (No. 24), along with at least one of their own future first-rounders. Having already conditionally dealt their 2022 pick, a ’24 first-rounder is probably the best Milwaukee can do.

It’s a somewhat underwhelming package — if the Bucks go after someone like Jrue Holiday, they’ll almost certainly be outbid by other suitors. But an offer headed by Bledsoe and a couple first-rounders might be enough to land a player like Chris Paul (whose massive contract hurts his value), Buddy Hield (who may have worn out his welcome in Sacramento), or even Victor Oladipo (who didn’t look fully healthy this season).

I think Paul, in particular, would be a nice fit for the Bucks. The veteran point guard could share ball-handling duties with Giannis and would provide the sort of reliable shooting that Bledsoe hasn’t — he wouldn’t be a major downgrade on defense either. However, a September report suggested it’s “highly unlikely” that Milwaukee goes after CP3. His contract is apparently a concern, as is bringing a strong veteran personality onto a roster that already has a superstar leader in Antetokounmpo.

If Paul isn’t high on the Bucks’ list of potential targets, I’ll be curious to learn who is. It’s possible the front office believes only minor roster adjustments are necessary, given the team’s regular season track record since 2018. But adding a reliable play-maker and shot-maker to the backcourt would make Milwaukee an even more formidable postseason threat, and I’m skeptical that sort of difference-maker will be affordable and attainable in free agency.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Shootaround: Best, Worst Head Coaching Hires

More coaching vacancies were filled this week, with Nate Bjorkgren and Stan Van Gundy becoming the sixth and seventh head coaches hired since July. The Pacers believe Bjorkgren can deliver the modern offense they were looking for when they decided to replace Nate McMillan, while the Pelicans were impressed by Van Gundy’s leadership skills and his track record at his previous stops in Miami, Orlando and Detroit.

Earlier in the week, the Clippers officially promoted Tyronn Lue to head coach to take over for Doc Rivers. Lue inherits one of the most talented rosters in the league and already has a familiarity with his players after serving as lead assistant under Rivers for the past year.

This year’s coaching moves started in late July when the Knicks reached an agreement to bring Tom Thibodeau to New York. Thibodeau was rumored to be in contention for jobs with several teams that were part of the NBA’s restart, so the Knicks took advantage of their opportunity as one of the league’s eight inactive clubs.

Steve Nash was the most surprising move of the offseason as the Nets hired the two-time MVP as their head coach without any previous experience. Nash beat out interim coach Jacque Vaughn, along with an impressive field of rumored candidates that included Lue, Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, ABC/ESPN broadcasters Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson and Sixers assistant Ime Udoka.

Two other head coaches were hired shortly after being dismissed by other teams. The Sixers jumped at the chance to add Rivers, reaching an agreement three days after he was fired by the Clippers. Likewise, the Bulls pounced on Billy Donovan after the Thunder let him go.

Houston and Oklahoma City still have vacancies to fill, but we want to get your feedback on the coaching changes so far. Which teams made the best and worst decisions in choosing their head coaches? Please leave your answers in the comment section.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Houston Rockets

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Houston Rockets.

Salary Cap Outlook

Nearly identical $41MM salaries for James Harden and Russell Westbrook will prevent the Rockets from opening up any cap space this offseason, barring a major roster shakeup. With over $123MM in guaranteed money already committed to just six players, Houston is in position to surpass the luxury tax threshold in 2020/21 unless the club cuts costs.

For now, we’re assuming the Rockets will be operating with the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM) rather than the full MLE or the bi-annual.

Our full salary cap preview for the Rockets can be found right here.

Roster Decisions To Watch


Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:

2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • None

Second Round:

  • None

While it remains possible that the Rockets will trade back into the draft, they’re currently the only team without a 2020 pick.

Houston dealt its first-rounder (No. 22) to Denver in the four-team deadline deal last season involving Robert Covington and Clint Capela. The Rockets’ second-rounder (No. 52) went to Sacramento in a three-team 2019 deadline trade that sent Brandon Knight to Cleveland and Iman Shumpert to Houston.

Three Key Offseason Questions

1. What will the Rockets look like without Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni in charge?

All NBA franchises reflect the philosophies of the people in charge to some extent, but few teams have been more defined by the their leaders during the past several years than the Rockets.

Morey and D’Antoni have each played a major role in revolutionizing the way modern basketball is played, and the marriage of their overlapping philosophies in Houston has resulted in an extreme style of small-ball that features an unprecedented amount of outside shooting.

Before D’Antoni arrived in Houston in 2016, no NBA team had ever come close to averaging 40 three-point attempts per game in a single season. Over the last four years, the Rockets have done it four times in a row, ranking first in the league in three-point attempts in each one of those seasons and establishing new records on three separate occasions (after averaging 45.4 threes per game in 2018/19, Houston averaged “only” 45.3 in ’19/20, preventing a fourth straight record season).

With Morey and D’Antoni both now out of the picture in Houston, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll see the Rockets modify their style of play going forward. If so, it would have a major impact on the roster moves they make this offseason and beyond.

I wouldn’t expect any major immediate changes, however, for a few reasons. For one, Morey’s replacement at the head of the basketball operations department is Rafael Stone, a veteran Rockets executive who presumably shares many of the same philosophies as his longtime boss. He’s helping to lead the search for a new head coach, so he’ll – in turn – likely be targeting candidates whose philosophies match up with his own.

Additionally, the Rockets have poured a ton of money, draft picks, and other resources into building a roster capable of thriving by playing small ball and launching three-pointers. Adopting a brand-new style of play would mean revamping the roster in a major way, and team owner Tilman Fertitta has said there are no plans to take that path this fall.

Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rockets make some minor adjustments to their roster going forward. Perhaps they’ll be willing to spend a few extra million bucks this offseason to bring in one or two more traditional big men who can be relied upon to play rotation roles. But I certainly wouldn’t expect Houston to fall back to the middle of the pack in three-point attempts next season just because Morey and D’Antoni aren’t pulling the strings anymore.

2. How much is Tilman Fertitta willing to invest into the 2020/21 roster?

After coming within one game of the NBA Finals in 2018, the Rockets have seemingly been losing ground in their playoff appearances since then. They fell to Golden State a round earlier – and without putting up as strong a fight – in 2019, then were dispatched from the 2020 postseason by the Lakers relatively unceremoniously, dropping four consecutive games in the second round.

Still, it’s not as if Houston is in a downward spiral. After all, the club lost to the eventual champions this year and can bring back essentially the same core next season. The Rockets’ most important players – James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House – are all under contract for 2020/21.

Unfortunately, that core won’t come cheap. The Rockets are already on the hook for more than $123MM in guaranteed money for those six players, including nearly $83MM for just Harden and Westbrook. Assuming the tax line remains relatively unchanged from the 2019/20 threshold (approximately $132.63MM), Houston projects to surpass it simply by filling out its roster with minimum-salary players.

The Rockets’ projections for 2020/21 will put team ownership to the test in a major way. Since buying the franchise in 2017, Fertitta has publicly conveyed a willingness to be a taxpayer if it means contending for a title, but the team’s actions have told another story.

Houston made a series of minor cost-cutting trades leading up to the 2019 deadline, surrendering cash and draft picks in order to sneak below the tax line. At the 2020 deadline, the Rockets didn’t have to work quite as hard to reduce salary, but the four-team trade that sent Clint Capela to Atlanta and brought Covington to Houston allowed the team to shed some money and get out of tax territory.

If the Rockets want to make any real upgrades to their roster and truly compete for a championship in 2021, they’ll probably have to be willing to use their mid-level exception. That will mean surpassing the tax line by a comfortable margin — or perhaps an uncomfortable one, if you’re Fertitta. If he was hesitant before about becoming a taxpayer, the Rockets’ owner certainly won’t be any more enthusiastic going forward, having had his businesses hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

But it would be counter-intuitive for the Rockets to dump their team-friendly contracts – like Covington’s, Tucker’s, or House’s – and the team probably can’t afford to give up more draft picks to entice a team to take Gordon’s long-term deal. Assuming Harden and Westbrook aren’t going anywhere, there just aren’t many avenues left to cut costs. So it’s time to see just how willing Fertitta is to spend on the roster.

3. How can the Rockets upgrade their roster around their core players?

Even if we assume the Rockets are ready to spend to add complementary pieces this offseason, the team doesn’t have a ton of tools at its disposal.

One of those tools is the mid-level exception, worth will be worth approximately $5.72MM, assuming Houston uses the taxpayer MLE rather than the full version. With teams around the NBA not expected to spend big in free agency this offseason, the Rockets might actually be able to get a pretty solid rotation player with that exception.

If they target a wing, players like Garrett Temple, Wesley Matthews, Justin Holiday, Maurice Harkless, and Glenn Robinson III could be options.

They might be able to find an even bigger bargain if they focus on big men. I wouldn’t normally expect guys like Serge Ibaka or Derrick Favors to be in Houston’s price range, but Texas is a favorable landing spot and it’s possible there will be an established veteran willing to sign a team-friendly one-year deal before returning to a more player-friendly 2021 market.

As for non-mid-level options, players who have signed minimum-salary deals with Houston in past seasons – including Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and Gerald Green – might be attainable at the same price this fall. Rivers may even exercise his minimum-salary player option to return.

The Rockets also have a handful of trade exceptions on hand, though none are worth more than about $3.5MM. Those exceptions are essentially only good for players on rookie contracts or veterans earning close to the minimum, but perhaps an inexpensive player in need of a change of scenery – such as Omari Spellman – would appeal to Houston.

Of course, the draft represents the best opportunity to add young talent on the cheap, but the Rockets are the only team without any picks in 2020. Still, if there are teams looking to sell second-round picks and Houston is willing to spend a few million dollars, there could be opportunities to trade back into the draft and take advantage of what looks to be a deep class.

The Rockets may not have the flexibility to add big-time talent this offseason, but the club doesn’t necessarily need another star. Acquiring a couple rotation players who can be counted on to produce in the playoffs would go a long way toward keeping Houston in contention.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Toronto Raptors

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Toronto Raptors.

Salary Cap Outlook

Toronto has about $85MM committed to eight players and a first-round pick so far for the 2020/21 season, assuming Stanley Johnson opts in and the team retains Matt Thomas and Terence Davis. That theoretically puts the Raptors in position to create cap room, but re-signing one or more of their own veteran free agents – including Fred VanVleet and/or Serge Ibaka – will likely eliminate that room.

We’re assuming Toronto will operate as an over-the-cap club. Depending on what happens with VanVleet, Ibaka, and Marc Gasol, the team will likely have the full mid-level exception ($9.26MM) available. If re-signing those veterans gets pricey, the Raptors may instead have to work with the taxpayer MLE ($5.72MM). Either way, the team won’t have its bi-annual exception, having used it last season.

Our full salary cap preview for the Raptors can be found right here.

Roster Decisions To Watch


  • Stanley Johnson, player option: $3,804,150

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Matt Thomas ($1,517,981)
    • Note: Partially guaranteed for $725K.
  • Terence Davis ($1,517,981)
  • Dewan Hernandez ($1,517,981)

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:

2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 29 overall pick

Second Round:

  • No. 59 overall pick

The Raptors, who finished the 2019/20 season with the NBA’s second-best record, didn’t trade away either of their draft picks and didn’t acquire any extra selections for this year.

Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will the Raptors re-sign Fred VanVleet?

The Raptors haven’t been shy about signing their own players to lucrative new contracts and extension in recent years. Kyle Lowry has signed a pair of new deals since 2017, both of which paid him more than $30MM annually; Serge Ibaka got a long-term deal worth nearly $22MM per year in 2017; and Pascal Siakam received a maximum-salary extension last fall.

That pattern suggests that the team should have no qualms about locking up VanVleet to a new contract this offseason that fairly reflects his market value. But even if the Raptors feel that way – and I think they do – their long-term salary cap outlook complicates matters.

Toronto has long had its eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and is close with Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri. For the time being, Siakam’s $31MM cap hit is the only guaranteed money on the Raps’ books for 2021/22, and even though the team will also have to account for Norman Powell‘s player option, cap holds for OG Anunoby and Terence Davis, and some other small charges, that leaves plenty of room for a maximum-salary player.

However, if VanVleet signs a pricey new multiyear deal, his ’21/22 cap charge would cut into that remaining cap space in a major way.

We have no clear sense yet of where the NBA’s salary cap will land for ’21/22, and Powell’s extension and Anunoby’s next contract are wild cards that could affect how much flexibility the Raptors actually have a year from now. But as long as Ujiri and the Raps still have an outside shot at Antetokounmpo, the sense is that the franchise will want to maximize its cap room for 2021 as much as possible — and that will affect how much the club is willing to offer VanVleet this fall.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Raptors will only be willing to offer a one-year contract to VanVleet. The expectation is that Toronto will still be able to make a competitive offer in the four-year, $80MM range for the starting guard. Structuring the deal so that it declines in value in year two before increasing again for the remaining years would create a small amount of added flexibility for the Raptors in 2021 as well.

Still, with Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram considered virtual locks to return to their respective clubs, VanVleet may end up being the top free agent on the market this offseason. Rebuilding teams with plenty of cap room – such as the Pistons, Hawks, and Knicks – will be in position to top a four-year, $80MM offer if they so choose.

If one of those teams is willing to offer $10-15MM more than Toronto does, would that difference be enough to convince VanVleet to jump ship for a lottery club? What if one of those clubs goes even higher?

Would the Raptors be willing to increase their own offer and sacrifice potential a max-salary slot for 2021, figuring that if Antetokounmpo or another top free agent really wants to come to Toronto, they’ll be able to figure out a way to make it happen? And would the Raptors change their approach on VanVleet at all if Giannis re-ups with Milwaukee this offseason?

At this point, I think it’s probably more likely than not that the Raptors will be able to retain VanVleet rather than losing him for nothing, but the situation definitely isn’t cut-and-dried, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

2. Will the Raptors re-sign Marc Gasol and/or Serge Ibaka?

While VanVleet is the Raptors’ top priority in free agency, two of the team’s other top seven players are eligible for new deals this fall as well — Gasol and Ibaka.

It’s possible that Gasol – who will turn 36 this winter – will decide to return home to Spain, joining his old team in Barcelona. So far though, there has been no confirmation that that’s his plan, as rumors suggesting a potential reunion between the veteran center and the Spanish club were quickly shot down. So an NBA deal remains in play for Gasol.

As for Ibaka, there’s no doubt he’ll be continuing his career in the NBA. The 31-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, having averaged 15.4 PPG and 8.2 RPG on .512/.385/.718 shooting in 55 games (27.0 MPG). His ability to stretch the floor on offense and protect the rim on defense should make him one of the more intriguing big men on the market this offseason.

If the Raptors bring back VanVleet, re-signing both Gasol and Ibaka may be a long shot. Unless at least one of the two accepts a team-friendly deal, Toronto would be at risk of going into tax territory by re-signing all of its key free agents. And given the way the NBA is trending, it doesn’t make sense for the team to invest big money in a pair of aging centers.

Re-signing one of the two seems realistic though, and I’d expect the Raptors to prioritize Ibaka. While Gasol’s box-score numbers undersell his value as a defender, passer, or screen-setter, he had clearly lost a step or two by the end of the 2019/20 season, and expecting a bounce-back year in his 13th NBA season is probably ill-advised.

The Raptors’ plan for Ibaka will likely be similar to what they did for Lowry — offer him a lucrative one-year contract that expires in 2021, allowing the club to retain flexibility for that offseason. Toronto should be able to afford to pay Ibaka a salary close to what he made last year ($23MM) without getting too close to the tax threshold. I wouldn’t expect any other teams to go anywhere near that figure, given the lack of leaguewide cap room.

If Ibaka does get a competitive multiyear offer from another team, the Raptors could shift their focus to a one-year deal for Gasol and perhaps use their mid-level exception to add more frontcourt depth.

3. Will the Raptors extend Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster soon?

The Raptors have one notable extension-eligible player this offseason, but a deal for that player (Anunoby) may not be a top priority. Although Toronto would certainly like to keep Anunoby in the picture for years to come, an early extension would eat into their 2021 cap space, and the team will have an opportunity to lock up the young forward as a restricted free agent next year.

For the time being then, the Raptors’ most important extension candidates are in their front office. Toronto’s president of basketball operations (Ujiri) and general manager (Webster) are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and signing them to new ones has to be a top priority for the organization.

The Raptors already completed a new deal with head coach Nick Nurse this fall, and a report around that time suggested there were rumblings this summer that extensions for Ujiri and Webster were likely to follow. Over a month later though, there’s still no update on either front.

There’s no reason for Raptors fans to panic yet. Interest in Ujiri and Webster from rival franchises has frequently been rebuffed, and Larry Tanenbaum – the chairman of the team’s ownership group – has vowed to get something done.

Still, fans in Toronto will be able to breathe a little easier if and when word of new deals for the team’s top decision-makers breaks. Ujiri and Webster have led a front office that has become one of the NBA’s best at identifying under-the-radar talent, and they’ve helped turn the Raptors into one of the league’s more respected franchises.

Five or 10 years ago, the idea of a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber giving any consideration to making the move to Toronto would have been laughable. It’s still probably a long shot, but it can no longer be dismissed out of hand — Ujiri and his group have made the Raptors a team that players around the league have to take seriously.

That progress wouldn’t necessarily be undone if Ujiri and/or Webster leaves next year, but keeping the duo around would be the best way for the Raptors to continue building on that progress.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Future

Although he won’t be among this year’s pool of NBA free agents, Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the player whose next move is monitored closest this offseason.

Entering the final year of his contract with the Bucks, Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a five-year, super-max extension that would make him one of the NBA’s highest-paid players for years to come. However, after Milwaukee’s disappointing playoff showings during the last two seasons, there’s no guarantee that Giannis will sign that extension as soon as he’s eligible to do so.

Despite those postseason exits, Antetokunmpo has said all the right things about his desire to remain in Milwaukee long-term. And while we’ve heard those kind of comments before from star players who eventually leave their teams, Giannis’ stance seems genuine.

Milwaukee is the only home he has known since arriving in America, the Bucks are a talented team that has led the NBA in wins over the last two years, and Antetokounmpo doesn’t sound like he’s simply reading from a generic script when he talks about wanting to break through and win a title with the Bucks.

Still, until Antetokounmpo officially puts pen to paper on a new contract, anything can happen. Specifically, there are four scenarios that could play out for Giannis and the Bucks over the next year.

  1. Antetokounmpo signs a five-year, super-max extension with the Bucks this offseason. It would go into effect in 2021/22 and would start at 35% of the cap for that year.
  2. Antetokounmpo forgoes an extension this offseason, but remains with the Bucks for another year, then signs a new deal with the team during the 2021 offseason. He could still sign the five-year super-max in ’21. Or he could opt for a shorter-term deal, especially if the league’s updated salary cap projections suggest that approach might be more financially advantageous in the long run.
  3. Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign an extension this offseason, then joins a new team when he reaches free agency in 2021 — either by signing outright or via sign-and-trade. His max contract would be for four years, starting at 30% of the cap.
  4. Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign an extension this offseason and is traded before the 2021 deadline.

The fourth option has always seemed like the least probable outcome to me. As Tim Bontemps of ESPN reiterated this week, the Bucks are opposed to the idea of trading Antetokounmpo before his contract expires, preferring to make another run at a title with him in 2021. I imagine the team would only seriously consider a trade if Antetokounmpo asks for one, and he has stated he has no plans to do so.

The other three options are all more realistic possibilities, though I don’t have a feel yet for which outcome is likeliest. The Bucks will be able to put their super-max offer on the table for Antetokounmpo once the 2020/21 league year begins, which figures to happen in late November or early December. We should get a better idea by that point whether he’ll accept that offer this offseason.

If he doesn’t, the Bucks don’t need to panic. They’ll be able to put that same super-max offer back in play during the 2021 offseason and it’s worth more years and more money than Antetokoumpo can get anywhere else. Plus, if the Bucks can make the roster upgrades necessary to make a run to the NBA Finals in ’21, that would go a long way toward selling Giannis on a long-term future in Milwaukee.

We want to know what you think. Which outcome is the most likely for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks? Do you envision him remaining in Milwaukee for years to come, or are his days as a Buck numbered?

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

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

Hoops Rumors Glossary: Hard Cap

The NBA’s salary cap is a “soft” cap, which is why every single club’s team salary comfortably surpassed $109,141,000 at some point during the 2019/20 season. Once a team uses up all of its cap room, it can use a series of exceptions, including the mid-level, bi-annual, and various forms of Bird rights, to exceed the cap.

Since the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t feature a “hard” cap by default, teams can construct rosters that not only exceed the cap but also blow past the luxury tax line ($132,627,000 in ’19/20). While it would be nearly impossible in practical terms, there’s technically no rule restricting a club from having a team salary worth double or triple the salary cap.

However, there are certain scenarios in which a team can be hard-capped. Those scenarios are as follows:

  1. The team uses its bi-annual exception to sign a player.
  2. The team uses more than the taxpayer portion of the mid-level exception to sign a player (or multiple players).
    • Note: In 2019/20, the taxpayer MLE was worth $5,718,000, compared to $9,258,000 for the full non-taxpayer MLE.
  3. The team acquires a player via sign-and-trade.

A team making any of those three roster moves must ensure that its team salary is below the “tax apron” when it finalizes the transaction and stays below the apron for the rest of the league year. The tax apron was set $6MM above the luxury tax line in 2017/18 (the first year of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement) and creeps up a little higher each season as long as the cap keeps increasing.

For the 2019/20 league year, the tax apron – and the hard cap for certain clubs – was set at $138,928,000. Assuming the cap doesn’t change by much for the 2020/21, the apron figures to remain relatively unchanged for next season.

Last offseason, before the Warriors acquired D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade deal, they had to dump Andre Iguodala‘s $17MM+ salary in a trade and waive Shaun Livingston‘s partially guaranteed contract to ensure their team salary was below the apron upon acquiring Russell.

Golden State then had to remain below the apron for the rest of the season, which was why the team spent much of the year carrying fewer than 15 players on standard contracts — even an extra minimum-salary player would’ve compromised the Warriors’ ability to stay below the hard cap. Golden State made some trades at the deadline that created some breathing room below the apron and allowed the club to fill its 15-man roster.

Many other teams technically faced hard caps during the 2020/21 season, but the Warriors were the team most affected by the restrictions imposed upon them. Most of the other teams with hard caps never got close to the $138,928,000 apron.

Once the 2020/21 league year officially gets underway, the Warriors will no longer be subject to the hard cap. And as long as they don’t use their bi-annual exception, acquire a player via sign-and-trade, or use more than the taxpayer portion of the mid-level, they won’t face a hard cap next season. So even though the Dubs already have a projected $142MM+ in guaranteed money on the books for ’20/21, they’ll still be able to make full use of their $17MM+ trade exception and $5.72MM taxpayer MLE if they so choose.

Finally, it’s worth noting that even though the Warriors will likely start the 2020/21 league year above the apron, that doesn’t mean they can’t become hard-capped at some point later in ’20/21. For example, if Golden State kicked off the offseason by trading Andrew Wiggins‘ $29.5MM contract without taking back any salary in return, then subsequently used its full, non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the team would once again be prohibited from surpassing the apron for the rest of the league year.

In other words, the hard cap applies from the moment a team completes one of the three transactions listed above, but isn’t applied retroactively.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.