Jahlil Okafor

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.

And-Ones: Buford, Wiseman, Okafor, Bibby

Wisconsin Herd coach Chase Buford has been suspended two games without pay for a direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials, according to a league press release. Among other comments, Buford called one of the officials a “clown” after his team, the Bucks’ G League affiliate, got outscored 48-20 in the fourth quarter and lost 126-117 to the Grand Rapids Drive on Sunday. Buford subsequently apologized for his tirade.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Projected lottery pick James Wiseman felt he was treated unfairly by the NCAA before he decided to leave Memphis during his freshman season, as he told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. He left the Tigers during a 12-game suspension for rules violations. His family accepted $11,500 in moving expenses in 2017 from Penny Hardaway, who became the team’s coach a year later. “I was really in the middle of a hurricane,” Wiseman said. “That’s like the worst place you could possibly be.” Wiseman is currently rated No. 3 on ESPN’s Best Available list.
  • Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor has agreed to play for Nigeria in this year’s Tokyo Olympics, Marc Spears of The Undefeated tweets. The team will be coached by Warriors assistant Mike BrownOkafor’s grandfather Chicko was born in Nigeria.
  • Mike Bibby will coach the Aliens in the BIG3 this season, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets. The former Kings guard was the Ghost Ballers’ team captain last season.

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, Griffin, Offseason

Pelicans players, coaches and executives alike are trying to shield phenom Zion Williamson from as much of the pressure and spotlight that comes with being the most-hyped player since LeBron James that they can, but it may be a futile endeavor, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

Vardon admits it’s an admirable strategy, to try to create an environment in which Williamson matures into an adult naturally, to the degree that’s possible as a professional basketball player. But it’s hard to convince people that this is Jrue Holiday‘s team when everybody and their mother at media day only wants to hear from Zion, even if it meant waiting after the Pels purposely didn’t bring him out until later.

“He’s still 19, a very young 19,” Pelicans’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin said. “I think Zion is finding more comfort just with himself as a man, as a person. And that’s really important to us. We don’t have expectations that we are hoisting on him with the players. It’s really about finding himself, finding comfort with his teammates, finding his role and we’re blessed. All Zion wants to do is win.”

But whatever Griffin says, the NBA didn’t “put (the Pelicans) on national TV 30 times” because of anybody but Zion, and New Orleans knows this. So try as they might, the Pelicans probably won’t be able to protect Williamson from what’s coming at him this season.

There’s more news this evening from the Big Easy:

  • As training camp gets underway, William Guillory of The Athletic writes that the Pelicans’ uncertainty entering camp might be higher than it is with any other NBA franchise, as New Orleans only returns five of 20 players from last season’s roster – Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Jahlil Okafor, and Frank Jackson.
  • Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com explores how Griffin was able to make good on his promise to bring multiple, accomplished NBA veterans to New Orleans when he took over in April. One example? Griffin managed to bring in J.J. Redick, Derrick Favors, and Nicolo Melli, a trio that boasts a combined 30-plus seasons of professional experience.
  • ICYMI, Luke Adams took a look at how New Orleans was able to successfully transition from one franchise player to another in the span of a few months, among other Pelicans’ related tidbits, as part of our 2019 Offseason in Review series.

Pelicans Exercise Team Option On Jahlil Okafor

3:27pm: The Pelicans have officially exercised Okafor’s team option, the team announced today in a press release.

11:24am: New Orleans will pick up its $1.7MM option on center Jahlil Okafor for next season, tweets Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The third overall pick in 2015, Okafor revived his career after signing with the Pelicans as a free agent last summer. He appeared in 59 games, starting 24, and averaged 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per night. He impressed the coaching staff with his improved fitness and a commitment to defense, Andrews adds.

Okafor only has a $54K guarantee on next year’s contract, notes Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link). He’ll have to remain on the roster through January 7 for it to become fully guaranteed.

Okafor is one of a handful of players with team options for 2019/20. The complete list is available here.

Pelicans Notes: Davis, Demps, Benson, Okafor

Despite Anthony Davis not wanting to be the bad guy, his botched trade request in New Orleans has left him with no other choice, Michael Lee of The Athletic writes.

Davis made his request last month through agent Rich Paul, who took the request to various media outlets and publicized his client’s wish. Davis confirmed his list of preferred trade destinations over All-Star Weekend: The Bucks, Celtics, Clippers, Knicks and Lakers.

“When you’re somewhere for seven years, of course it’s tough but, I don’t know how long I’m going to play this game,” Davis said, according to Lee. “I want to make sure I have a chance to win. I want to win. Like I said, no matter where it is. I have no preferred destination. But I want to play the game of basketball and I want to win. I just felt like it was time for me to move forward, try to take control of my career and go out there and try to win.

“Market doesn’t matter to me. I just want to win,” Davis said. “Big market, small market, that doesn’t matter. I’m focused on winning at this point in my career, wherever that may be. It could be a big market or a small market, I just want to win.”

Davis will have to finish out the 2018/19 season in New Orleans despite seeking a trade. The Pelicans failed to move him before the Feb. 7 trading deadline, meaning the earliest they can open new trade discussions is when season comes to an end.

Davis has mostly received boos from Pelicans fans in pregame intros, and the reaction from the fan base on social media has been mixed.

There’s more out of New Orleans today:

  • The Pelicans made the right decision by parting ways with general manager Dell Demps last week, Ben Golliver of The Washington Post opines. Demps, who served as New Orleans’ GM for nine seasons, failed to effectively build a winning roster around Davis since drafting him back in 2012. Pelicans owner Gayle Benson said the team will immediately begin the process of restructuring its basketball operations department, which will include a comprehensive and confidential search of a new leader that reports to Benson.
  • Benson’s next major decision will either break or make the Pelicans, Larry Holder of The Athletic writes. New Orleans has to decide whether to trade Davis this offseason, or try to persuade him into staying with their younger group. “I think they’re young, and we’re going to invest more money and get the big players and do everything we can to keep Anthony here,” Benson said. “I really like what we have in place. I really like Anthony, but if he wants to leave, you can’t hold him back.”
  • William Guillory of The Athletic hosted a Q&A with Jahlil Okafor, who’s having a bounce-back season with the Pelicans through 38 games. Okafor discussed his mentality this season, playing with Davis, how he’s improved as a player and much more in the story.

Western Notes: Clippers, Durant, Mavericks, Blazers

The Clippers‘ decision to trade Tobias Harris was part of their larger plan to sign Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard this summer, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. With its current roster, L.A. can create up to $53.19MM in cap room, enough for one maximum contract and about $20MM to chase a second star. But Amick reports that the Clippers have a plan to open space for two max deals, even if they can’t find a taker for Danilo Gallinari before today’s trade deadline. Gallinari is owed $22.6MM for next season.

The Clippers are also excited about the assets they received in the Sixers deal, Amick adds. They weren’t committed to giving Harris a max offer this summer, so they moved him for four draft picks (Miami’s first-rounder in 2021, Philadelphia’s first-rounder in 2020 with three years of lottery protection, plus Detroit’s second-rounders in 2021 and 2023) plus a promising rookie in Landry Shamet.

Amick also notes that Steve Ballmer’s willingness to spend gives the Clippers an edge in building a contender. He’s by far the wealthiest owner in the NBA and has connections to the tech industry that many players find appealing.

There’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Free agency is nearly five months away, but Durant is already testy about speculation over his future, relays Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic. Breaking a week-long silence with the media, Durant lashed out at reporters after Wednesday’s game. “I have nothing to do with the Knicks,” he said. “I don’t know who traded (Kristaps) Porzingis. That’s got nothing to do with me. I’m trying to play basketball. Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it. Let us play basketball. That’s all I’m saying.”
  • The Mavericks have traded four of their five starters over the past week as they start to build a new team around Luka Doncic, notes Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News. Harrison Barnes was sent to Sacramento last night after last week’s blockbuster that brought in Porzingis for Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews“This week is a zoo,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “but that’s part of the compelling business of our league.”
  • The Trail Blazers have a $3.5MM trade exception remaining if they want to swing one more deal before the deadline, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Portland declined the chance to create a pair of small exceptions worth $1.5MM in the trade for Rodney Hood.
  • Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor has chosen an agent after being without representation since September, tweets Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal. He signed with Excel Sports and will have Sean Kennedy as his agent.

Pelicans Notes: Okafor, Roster Decisions, Payton

The Pelicans only have 12 players on fully guaranteed contracts, leaving three potential openings on their 15-man regular season roster. However, it sounds like one of those three spots has already been claimed. According to Scott Kushner of The Advocate (Twitter link), Jahlil Okafor is a virtual lock to end up on the 15-man squad.

Okafor, who joined the Pelicans this summer after stints in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, injured his ankle last week, but head coach Alvin Gentry suggested that the ailment wouldn’t prevent him from making New Orleans’ roster. Kushner cautions that it’s not quite a done deal yet, but Okafor’s spot appears safe for now.

Here’s more from out of New Orleans:

Southwest Notes: Chriss, Okafor, Grizzlies, Mavs

The Rockets hope Marquese Chriss will develop into the type of backup center they thought they acquired when they signed Brandan Wright late last season, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Wright got hurt quickly and only played one game for Houston, but the team sees Chriss as the same style of player, a mobile big man who can attack the rim on pick-and-rolls.

Chriss was acquired from the Suns at the end of August in the trade that sent Ryan Anderson to Phoenix. The former eighth overall pick had a solid debut for the Rockets on Tuesday with 11 points and four rebounds and welcomes a more defined role.

“The difference is they know what they want me to do,” Chriss said of the Rockets. “They’re asking me to do a specific job. I’m trying to do it to the best of my ability. There really is no question about what they want my role to be. They made it straightforward to me when I first got traded here. I embraced it, and I’m working to do it as best as I can. Being on the Suns, it was kind of touch and go what we were capable of doing or I was able to show.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Jahlil Okafor‘s ankle injury won’t prevent him from making the Pelicans‘ roster, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate. Okafor is expected to miss a week or two after spraining his right ankle late in Sunday’s game, but coach Alvin Gentry said that won’t affect his decision on Okafor’s status.
  • The Grizzlies should have plenty of minutes for both rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and JaMychal Green, the returning starter at power forward, writes Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian. Jackson attracted more attention at media day, but Green is entering the final year of his contract at nearly $7.7MM and has incentive to put up big numbers heading into free agency.
  • Mavericks‘ forward Ding Yanyuhang hasn’t practiced yet because of knee tendinitis, but may be able to make his preseason debut in his home nation of China, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Coach Rick Carlisle said Ding has been ruled out for the team’s game in Shanghai, but he may practice and play in Shenzhen. Carlisle also said the next update on Dirk Nowitzki‘s condition will come October 12 (Twitter link).

Jahlil Okafor To Miss 1-2 Weeks

Jahlil Okafor sprained his right ankle toward the end of the Pelicans‘ first preseason game on Sunday and he’s expected to miss 1-2 weeks because of the ailment, according to the team’s website.

Okafor signed with New Orleans and was expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. After seeing limited playing him with the Sixers and Nets last season, he was hoping to carve out a role for himself on the Pelicans by working on his weaknesses.

“The knock on me has always been my defense and my rebounding,” Okafor said last month“I let the coaches know that I’m aware of that, and obviously they’re aware of that. They know that I’m 150% bought into doing whatever it takes to win. I think I’ve taken the necessary steps this summer just to become a better defender, a better rebounder — just because I’m moving better and I’m doing all of the right stuff. I’m really excited about it.”

Okafor scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in his 17 preseason minutes. The Pelicans conclude the preseason on October 11, so Okafor won’t likely make it back on the court to get additional reps before the team starts the regular season on October 17.

Southwest Notes: Anthony, Okafor, Randle, Grizzlies

Carmelo Anthony is looking to make the game fun again in his first season with the Rockets, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. Anthony is set to enter his 16th professional season, with the 34-year-old having his vision set on winning an NBA championship.

“Just enjoy the game and play basketball … I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Anthony said. “I still know how to do it. I’ve just got to make it fun. The game just has to be fun.”

The Rockets are expected to be a championship contender this season, with the team featuring a deep bench, star center and All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and James Harden. The level of production Anthony gives will help determine how far the team gets in its journey.

“He’s a great basketball player, so we just try to make it optimal for him and us,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s always a little bit of a challenge, but if you had asked me the same question (last year) about James and Chris I would have said the same thing: ‘Well, it looks good. I’m excited.’ So same thing with him.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division: