Kawhi Leonard

Kyler’s Latest: Kawhi, Irving, Durant, AD, Pacers

Echoing what we heard from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this week, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders writes that the Raptors are optimistic about having a legit shot to re-sign Kawhi Leonard.

While they’ll face competition from the Clippers – and likely a handful of other teams – the Raptors feel as if they’ve done all they can to gain Leonard’s trust and to make sure he understands what the future could look like if he returns, according to Kyler. That doesn’t mean Leonard won’t take meetings with other teams, or that he’s a lock to re-sign, but Toronto is at least viewed as one of the two frontrunners for the star forward, along with the Clips.

In his latest article, Kyler explores a few other free agent situations from around the NBA, so let’s round up some of the highlights…

  • The Celtics still appear committed to a future with Kyrie Irving, and the idea that Irving and Kevin Durant have already decided to join the Knicks has been shot down by sources close to Irving and to the Knicks, writes Kyler. Still, Kyler notes that most league insiders believe Irving will explore his options on the open market in July, even beyond the Celtics and Knicks.
  • Despite all the Knicks-related chatter, Kyler’s sources are adamant that Durant isn’t talking about his future beyond this season. However, Kyler points out that was also the case in 2016, and all of that year’s KD-to-the-Warriors whispers ultimately came to fruition.
  • New Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin has said he’ll try to get Anthony Davis – and agent Rich Paul – to buy into a future in New Orleans before seriously exploring the trade market for Davis. According to Kyler, Griffin has made it clear “both publicly and privately” that he wants a long-term commitment from Davis if he’s going to retain him. That probably means that the only two realistic outcomes for AD this offseason are a super-max extension or a trade.
  • There’s a growing belief in agent circles that the Clippers, Nets, and Pacers will be more attractive free agent destinations this summer than many league observers may have expected, writes Kyler. L.A. and Brooklyn are more likely than Indiana to land a max free agent, but the Pacers are still worth watching and could also be a player in the Mike Conley sweepstakes if the Grizzlies look to move him, Kyler notes.

Raptors Making Progress In Kawhi Sweepstakes?

The Raptors have made “pretty good progress”in their efforts to retain Kawhi Leonard, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on his podcast. (Hat tip to RealGM)

While the Clippers have long been considered the frontrunners when Leonard hits free agency this summer, the Raptors’ gamble by trading for Leonard last offseason might pay long-term dividends. Toronto’s success in the playoffs thus far and the bonds Leonard has formed with the team has improved the Raptors’ chances of re-signing Leonard.

They put themselves in it,” Wojnarowski said. “And when Kawhi showed up there, I’m not sure he imagined any future in Toronto. I do think it’s a serious consideration now.”

The season-long courtship has been facilitated by the emergence of young forward Pascal Siakam and Leonard’s good relationship with point guard Kyle Lowry. However, the Raptors’ main selling point is their ability to win with the group they have. The Raptors tied their conference semifinal series with Philadelphia 2-2 behind Leonard’s 39-point eruption on Sunday.

“Toronto is selling winning on him,” Wojnarowski said. “They can’t sell geography to him, I don’t think. I don’t think they can’t sell weather on him. There’s nothing they can do about that. When you have that kind of organization, you sell winning and again, the chance to make the most money.”

Leonard gave up an opportunity for a super max deal in the vicinity of $219MM when he asked out of San Antonio and was granted his wish. He can sign a five-year deal with Toronto for approximately $189MM or head elsewhere on a four-year, $141MM contract.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Leonard, Small Lineup, Nurse

Kyle Lowry is facing a critical point not only in the Raptors‘ current playoff series, but maybe in his future in Toronto, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. A loss in the conference semifinals would likely lead to major changes for the organization, which could include moving on from Lowry, who will make $33.5MM next season in the final year of his contract.

The Raptors need more offense from Lowry, who made just two shots from the field and finished with seven points in a Game 3 loss. With Pascal Siakam listed as doubtful for today because of a calf contusion, Toronto will need someone to provide extra scoring punch.

“I passed up a lot of shots (in Game 3), and (I need to focus on) not anything but trying to make the next play, and the right play is me shooting sometimes,” Lowry said. “And overthinking that is trying to get everybody involved or get an easier shot or get someone else going. It’s kind of been one of the things where I shouldn’t have done (that) as much. But I’ve done it, but next game, and for the games going on, I’ve got to be a little bit more assertive.”

There’s more this morning from Toronto:

  • Toronto may be at a crossroads regarding its future, writes Tom Ziller of SB Nation. A loss today would put the Raptors in a 3-1 hole, making it unlikely that they’ll win the series, which in turn makes it harder to imagine that Kawhi Leonard will stay in Toronto, Ziller notes. Leonard is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and is rumored to want to play in Los Angeles. Siakam looks like a future star, but if Leonard leaves, the Raptors will be left with an aging core of Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
  • The Raptors may move away from their smaller lineups after being dominated inside in Game 3, according to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. That means the trio of Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell may not take the floor together in today’s game, which could result in more minutes for Leonard and Patrick McCaw. “Obviously you look at — jeez, they just look bigger, and the size problem, and with Kyle-Fred-Norm out there we get a little small, right?” coach Nick Nurse said. “But there’s some things we can do with the rotations. We’ll take a look at that, but we can get bigger out there.”
  • Max Whittle of Sky Sports examines Nurse’s journey from the British Basketball League to the NBA playoffs.

Raptors Notes: Adjustments, Anunoby, Leonard

The Raptors came out flat in Game 2 of their series with the Sixers, though Toronto nearly crept back into the contest during the second half. Still, changes could be coming for the team up north.

“We’re going to probably look at many different things and try to attack them on every front,” Danny Green said (Gregory Strong of The Canadian Press). “But the biggest key for us is to do what we do — our identity — and that’s play fast-paced basketball.”

It’s possible that either Jeremy Lin or Patrick McCaw may take Jodie Meeks‘ playing time going forward, Strong adds. Meeks, who inked a deal after the trade deadline, hasn’t played much all that much in the playoffs, totaling just 38 minutes of action over the team’s seven games.

Lin, who signed with Toronto after the franchise traded away some of its depth in the Marc Gasol acquisition, saw three minutes of garbage time action during the Raptors’ Game 1 win over the Sixers. McCaw, who signed with Toronto earlier this season after a standoff with the Warriors and an extremely short stint with the Cavaliers, saw the same amount of time during the contest.

Here’s more out of Toronto:

  • Raptors coach Nick Nurse indicated that OG Anunoby is still a long ways away from returning to the court after his emergency appendectomy. “I don’t think there’s anything close at all,” Nurse said via Blake Murphy of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • Toronto’s “load management” strategy appears to be paying off for Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, Eric Koreen of the Athletic writes. Leonard, who previously praised the franchise for how it has handled his injury risk this season, has scored 80 points over the first two games in the team’s series with the Raptors.
  • Green, who played with Leonard in San Antonio, said he understood the need for the Raptors to manage Leonard’s risk throughout the season, as Koreen passes along in the same piece. “We’ve said the bigger picture is April, May and June from the start,” said Green. “We need him at his highest level and healthiest right now. Hopefully, he’s that. He’s showing it, anyway.”

Mavericks To Target Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker In Free Agency

The Mavericks plan on pursuing Khris Middleton and Kemba Walker this offseason with the hope of landing one of the All-Stars, as Marc Stein of the New York Times details in the latest edition of his newsletter.

Stein cautions that Dallas is still laying out its free agency plans. The franchise is prioritizing shooting, athleticism, and veteran presence as it looks to surround Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis with an improved squad.

The Mavs have slightly under $46MM in guaranteed salary on the books next season against a projected $109MM salary cap. That figure doesn’t include Dwight Powell‘s $10.3MM player option nor does it include any of the team’s cap holds. Realistically, the team’s available space could be capped around $30MM, as I previously detailed.

However, should Dallas find themselves with the need for additional cap space, the organization could carve out room by using the stretch provision on Courtney Lee, as Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors explains. Other options included agreeing to a long-term deal with Powell that lowers his annual cap hit or trading away Tim Hardaway Jr., something that would likely mean attaching an asset to him.

There’s no indication yet about whether Dallas will be able to land a top player in free agency. Stein adds the Mavs may not get near players like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or Kyrie Irving, and also writes that Nikola Vucevic – who has previously been mentioned as a Mavs target – isn’t high on their free-agent wish list.

Atlantic Notes: Leonard, Butler, Russell, Smart

Kawhi Leonard‘s performance in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals was exactly was the Raptors were hoping for when they acquired him, writes Michael Lee of the Athletic, but the Sixers need Jimmy Butler to step up in the same way. The matchup of recently traded forwards could go a long way toward deciding their playoff series. Leonard was brilliant in Game 1, scoring 45 points and pushing his career record against Philadelphia to 14-0.

Lee notes that there are many similarities between Leonard and Butler, who were both drafted outside the lottery, became stars through hard work and forced themselves out of unhappy situations. However, Leonard was clearly the better player on Saturday as Butler hit just 4 of 12 shots and scored 10 points.

“He’s just evolving,” said Sixers forward Jonathon Simmons, who played alongside Leonard in San Antonio. “He wants to be in the conversations with the best of them. That’s what he works for.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers will need more production from Joel Embiid to have a chance in the series, notes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Despite being among the league’s best centers, Embiid has a history of struggling against Marc Gasol, a former Defensive Player of the Year in Memphis. Embiid made just one shot Saturday while Gasol was guarding him and finished 5 of 18 from the field.
  • The Nets can create enough cap room this summer to reshape their roster, but they’ll have to determine how many of their own free agents they want to keep, observes Tom Dowd of NBA.com. The most significant decision will involve point guard D’Angelo Russell, who will be a restricted free agent after a breakthrough season. Brooklyn can match any offer that Russell receives, but the front office will have to prioritize how much to pay another guard with Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie already in place. “He’s obviously one of our more talented players,” GM Sean Marks said of Russell. “You said we’ll have decisions. D’Angelo is going to have decisions, too. That is a little bit of the nature of this business.” 
  • Celtics coach Brad Stevens confirmed today that Marcus Smart is unlikely to be available for the conference semifinals, tweets Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. Smart, who suffered a torn oblique three weeks ago, is doing core work, but his return still appears far off. “I don’t see any way that he’s available until whenever his timeline hits that we thought initially — four to six (weeks),” Stevens said. “And I said at the start, the four seems awfully aggressive.”

Knicks Rumors: Offseason, Durant, Kyrie, Kawhi

Despite winning just 17 games in 2018/19, the Knicks repeatedly suggested they were happy with the direction the franchise was headed. As Ian Begley of ESPN.com details, head coach David Fizdale said that he had heard praise from people around the NBA for how hard his players were competing, and for how the Knicks were treating their players, which was the sort of praise the franchise hadn’t received in recent years.

“In our circles that we travel and the people that we talk to,” team president Steve Mills said, “we know that there is a change in how people perceive us.”

Not everyone is convinced that things are altogether different in New York. One rival executive who spoke to Begley expressed his skepticism: “Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to see the results on the court before making any bold statements about perception.”

Still, armed with a ton of cap flexibility, a top-five pick, and a handful of other assets, the Knicks are viewed as a team in a pretty good position as they enter the summer.

“If we’re ranking teams heading into the offseason, New York probably has the best tools in the toolshed,” said a Western Conference executive. “Maybe they get it right this time.”

Here’s more from Begley on the Knicks:

  • Several of Kevin Durant‘s current teammates have told friends they think KD will sign with the Knicks, and some of Durant’s former teammates think it’ll happen too, according to Begley. The Durant-to-New-York theories are also popular among rival agents around the NBA. “Just a matter of putting pen to paper,” one of those agents told Begley.
  • In addition to Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard are viewed as potential targets for the Knicks this summer, and while Leonard is considered a longer shot, multiple executives who are “doing their homework” on free agency believe Irving will end up with the Knicks, per Begley.
  • As Begley details, some executives would be surprised if the Knicks spend big on a long-term contract for any free agents besides Durant, Irving, or Leonard. Those execs expect New York to use its cap space in other ways – such as accommodating salary dumps or signing short-term free agent deals – if the team misses out on its top targets.
  • If the Knicks land the No. 1 overall pick, it would put them in a great position to make a play for Anthony Davis on the trade market. However, there’s no consensus that the club would definitely trade that pick in a package for the Pelicans star, sources tell Begley.

O’Connor’s Latest: Durant, Clippers, Kawhi, Gallinari

As we’ve mentioned multiple times throughout the 2018/19 NBA league year, there’s a widespread belief among people around the NBA that Kevin Durant will leave the Warriors for the Knicks in free agency. However, uncertainty about Durant’s future has increased in recent months, Kevin O’Connor writes in his latest article for The Ringer.

As O’Connor explains, Durant seems more likely to go to the Knicks if Kyrie Irving goes with him, and there’s no guarantee that Irving will leave the Celtics, given how well things have gone in Boston over the last several weeks. LeBron James‘ struggles during his first year as a Laker could also serve as a cautionary tale for Durant.

One front office executive who spoke to O’Connor suggests that everything should be considered on the table for Durant, since the Warriors forward has proven to be unpredictable in the past.

O’Connor’s piece, which focuses primarily on the Clippers, features a few more items of note, so let’s round them up…

  • The Clippers continue to be viewed as the more likely destination than the Lakers if Kawhi Leonard decides to return home to Southern California, though O’Connor writes that it would be “foolish” to rule out the Lakers.
  • The odds of both Durant and Leonard joining the Clippers are slim, but the team could theoretically make it happen based on its cap situation. As O’Connor details, if the Clippers trade Danilo Gallinari and renounce all their free agents except Ivica Zubac, they’d have more than enough room for two max contracts, and would be able to go over the cap to re-sign Zubac.
  • Of course, in that scenario, the Clippers wouldn’t be able to take money back for Gallinari, which would limit their potential trade partners. Still, O’Connor has spoken to front office executives who don’t think it’d be too challenging to find a deal for Gallinari, especially if the Clips are willing to attach a future pick. O’Connor cites the Nets, Mavericks, Hawks, Jazz, and Pacers as a few teams that might be fits for the veteran forward in that scenario.

Stein’s Latest: Clippers, Warriors, Westbrook

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer believes his franchise can win an NBA championship before their co-tenants in Los Angeles and will look to add star talent this offseason. Marc Stein of the New York Times puts the “over/under” for superstars signed by the Clips this summer at one, as he writes in the mailbag section of his latest newsletter.

Stein adds that Kawhi Leonard is still the most likely superstar to join Ballmer’s team this summer. Los Angeles has a desirable situation for any star, and with their collection of draft picks and players on team-friendly deals, the Clippers could feasibly sign someone like Leonard and swing a deal that gives him a top running mate.

Stein has more in his latest newsletter, which you can subscribe to here. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:

  • One Western Conference scout told Stein that this year’s version of Steve Kerr‘s Warriors may not be as sharp as the teams in the past. “I just question the Warriors’ ability to continually focus,” the scout said. “It seems like nowadays they need to be punched in the mouth before they’re Golden State. They’re not just coming out on a mission and overwhelming teams. Maybe I will regret saying this, but I just don’t trust them like I used to.”
  • The Warriors‘ familiarity with the Rockets may give them an advantage in a potential playoff rematch, another scout tells Stein. “Stylistically Houston is a very different team,” the scout said. “It takes most teams two games just to try to figure out how they want to deal with Harden. Golden State will already know. And with Ron Adams running the defense, they do a great job of changing it up and not letting Harden get a great rhythm.”
  • The Thunder inked Russell Westbrook to a five-year, $200MM+ extension back in 2017. While the move will face some scrutiny as Westbrook ages, Stein reminds readers that the alternative to the extension was risking the former MVP walking out the door as Kevin Durant previously did.

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Butler, Nets, Leonard

Sixers center Joel Embiid will cover whatever fine Jimmy Butler receives for being ejected from today’s game with the Nets, relays Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The incident happened in the third quarter after Embiid received a Flagrant 1 foul while blocking a shot by Jarrett Allen. Jared Dudley physically confronted Embiid, and Butler pushed Dudley in the back. Dudley was also ejected for the fracas, and an NBA spokesman said fines could be announced tomorrow.

“I for sure fed off that,” Embiid said. “The fact that he had my back, I will pay the fine and it was great to see.”

Butler stood by his actions in the post-game press conference.

“I am just there to protect my big fella,” he told reporters. “If somebody runs up on him, I will push them again.”

There’s more tonight from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers once again waited until shortly before tip-off to decide that Embiid would play, notes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Embiid’s status was listed as doubtful 90 minutes before the game, but the medical staff determined he could go. “It’s dictated by the doctors more than the coach — what harm are we putting him in? What unnecessary harm are we putting him in?” coach Brett Brown said. “If the answer is none, then you play him. Then it gets down to whatever level it is, then you question it.” 
  • The trade that brought D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers was just one of the ways the Nets were able to speed up their rebuilding process, writes Ian Begley of ESPN. Another was the hiring of coach Kenny Atkinson, who was able to guide the organization through dark times as it tried to rebuild with just one first-round pick in three years. “You’re just questioning yourself,” Atkinson said. “The next day, you’re renewed, refreshed and you get back on track, but I have to be honest: There were doubts.”
  • Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times examines how much the Raptors‘ fortunes in the playoffs will matter to Kawhi Leonard this summer when he decides whether to stay in Toronto.