Khris Middleton

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Central 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 those players’ stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Central Division:

Justin Holiday, Bulls 29, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $9MM deal in 2017
Holiday is playing heavy minutes for the injury-riddled Bulls. His scoring average (12.0 PPG) is modest, given the amount of playing time he’s receiving, but he’s been solid from long range (38.9%) and rarely turns the ball over. His OBPM (Offensive Box Plus/Minus) is a career-best 1.7, according to Basketball Reference. Defensively, he leads the club in steals (1.6). Holiday probably won’t find a starting gig on the open market, but he’d be a solid second unit option on a playoff contender.

Rodney Hood, Cavaliers, 26, SG (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $3.47MM deal in 2018
Hood accepted the Cavaliers’ qualifying offer as a restricted free agent over the summer with the aim of landing a lucrative mult-year pact as an unrestricted FA next summer. Thus far, Hood hasn’t really stood out from the pack on a struggling team. With Kevin Love sidelined by a foot injury, Hood had an opportunity to be a bigger offensive force. Instead, his numbers have declined. He averaged 14.0 PPG in 27.7 MPG last month but has posted a 9.3 PPG average in 26.0 MPG through four November outings.

Stanley Johnson, Pistons, 22, SF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $12.85MM deal in 2015
Johnson didn’t receive a rookie scale extension and he’ll be a restricted free agent if the Pistons extend a $5.3MM qualifying offer after the season. Right now, that’s a big if. Johnson lost his starting job to Glenn Robinson III after shooting 35.2% overall and 25.0% from deep while committing 16 turnovers in seven starts. The Pistons are currently looking at Johnson as a small ball power forward off the bench. He’s looked comfortable in that role, posting back-to-back double-digit games while shooting with more confidence.

Tyreke Evans, Pacers, 29, SG (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $12MM deal in 2018
Coming off a career year with the Grizzlies in which he averaged 19.3 PPG, Evans was expected to be one of the league’s premier sixth men. He’s still finding his way with a much more talented team, averaging 10.9 PPG, though he’s been fine beyond the arc (41.7%). In his last six games, Evans is averaging 10.0 PPG while shooting 38.2% from the field. Evans’ numbers should spike up but for now, he hasn’t done anything to make him more attractive on the open market than he was this summer.

Khris Middleton, Bucks, 27, SF (Up) – Signed to a five-year, $70MM deal in 2015
Middleton has a $13MM option on his contract for next season and it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll test the open market. His value continues to rise with his early-season performances. He’s the second-best player on a very good team, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting a whopping 45.5% from long range. Throw in career bests in rebounding (5.2 per game) and assists (4.3) along with his solid defense and Middleton will be highly coveted in July.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Central Notes: Budenholzer, Sexton, Sabonis

The Bucks credit new coach Mike Budenholzer for their hot start, as Nick Friedell of ESPN relays. The Bucks’ offense has more structure than it did under former coach Jason Kidd and interim coach Joe Prunty, multiple players told Friedell and other media members. “We have multiple sets we can get into, we have — just more of a foundation to play off of rather than just freestyle,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. The players are displaying trust in the system, which emphasizes 3-point shots and ball movement, Friedell adds. “I think teams are starting to take notice and realize we’re not the Bucks that we were when I first got here six years ago,” small forward Khris Middleton said. “We’re a totally different team even from last year.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers coach Larry Drew is going to ride the team’s first-round pick and he’s told the rest of the team to buy in. Drew has instructed his veterans that they need to allow rookie point guard Collin Sexton to work through his mistakes, according to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer“I actually pulled some guys to the side when we were in Orlando (on Monday),” Drew said. “That was my exact point — having to be patient with a 19-year-old kid.”
  • Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis is off to a hot start and that presents a tricky dilemma for the front office, Zach Lowe of ESPN notes. Myles Turner signed a four-year, $72MM extension last month but Sabonis has thus far outplayed him. Statistics bear out that Indiana’s offense suffers when both are on the court, though Turner has a higher ceiling because of his 3-point shooting and rim protection, Lowe continues. Sabonis is eligible for an extension prior to the start of next season but it’s tough to pay big bucks for two players at the same position, Lowe adds.
  • The Pistons rank among the top 10 in the league in open 3-point attempts, yet they’ve done a poor job of making them. Meanwhile, the Bulls have been bit hard by the injury bug. Spencer Davies of Basketball Insiders takes a closer look at some of the areas of concern for Central Division clubs.

Western Notes: Suns, McCollum, Jazz, Middleton

The Suns used a portion of their room exception to sign De’Anthony Melton to his first NBA contract, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Without using that exception, Phoenix would only have been able to offer Melton a first-year salary of $838K. Instead, the Suns were able to bump that figure to $949K. They still have $3.5MM of their room exception available.

Meanwhile, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders indicates (via Twitter) that while Devin Booker‘s new extension with the Suns is projected to start at 25% of the cap in 2019/20, there are triggers in the deal that could push that figure higher. Pincus isn’t sure of the specific details, but reports that Booker could get 27.5%, 28.5%, or 30% of the cap if he meets certain criteria. I’d guess that those criteria are related to whether he earns spots on the first, second, or third All-NBA teams.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • C.J. McCollum is often the subject of trade speculation, but the Trail Blazers guard tells Michael Scotto of The Athletic that he’d welcome a long-term stay in Portland. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me and would love to be a Blazer for life,” McCollum said.
  • While it may be a little early to start speculating about 2019’s free agent period, Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune suggests (via Twitter) that Bucks wing Khris Middleton is a player the Jazz like a lot. With Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks, and others on expiring deals this season, Utah could have plenty of cap flexibility next summer.
  • As Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com details, Jahlil Okafor said there were a “multitude of reasons” for him to sign with the Pelicans, calling the decision a “no-brainer.” Keith Smith of RealGM.com (Twitter link) hears that New Orleans was comfortable with waiving Emeka Okafor in part due to how good Jahlil has looked. “He’s in amazing shape, and he’s going hard on both ends too,” Smith’s source said. “Seems like he really gets it now.”
  • The Timberwolves recently announced some additions and promotions on their coaching staff, including Pat Zipfel as an advance scout and Malik Allen and Larry Greer as assistant coaches (link via Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune).

Jimmy Butler Rumors: Dieng, Clippers, Bucks, More

The early trade market for Jimmy Butler is “confused and cool” as teams contemplate the risk of trading for the All-Star wing, according to Zach Lowe, who takes a deep dive into the Butler situation his his latest piece for ESPN.com. The 29-year-old’s reported desire for a five-year contract that could be worth in the neighborhood of $190MM may make some potential suitors back off, though those teams could also be posturing in the early going, Lowe notes.

One of the most interesting tidbits that Lowe passes along in his article is on the Timberwolves‘ desire to include Gorgui Dieng in a deal if they decide to move Butler. Lowe is skeptical that any prospective trade partners will be eager to take on Dieng, who still has three years and over $48MM left on his contract.

Here’s more from Lowe and others on Butler and the Wolves:

  • It would be “shocking” if the Clippers were willing to offer rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in any package for Butler, sources tell Lowe. In fact, there has been no indication that the Clips haven’t acted aggressively – or much at all – on Butler so far.
  • The Bucks placed a courtesy call to the Timberwolves asking to be kept in the loop if the team gets serious about moving Butler. Still, Lowe doesn’t view Milwaukee as a fit, observing that Khris Middleton would probably have to be included. The Bucks would likely have a better chance next summer to re-sign Middleton than Butler.
  • After reporting earlier today that the Timberwolves are telling teams Butler’s not available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has updated his story to suggest that opposing clubs believe the “fastest avenue” to negotiating a trade is to engage owner Glen Taylor, rather than Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau is less inclined to part with Butler, but Taylor has stepped in on this sort of matter in the past, overseeing trades involving Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love.
  • In the wake of Butler’s trade request, initial reports suggested his desire to leave Minnesota was motivated more by “contractual matters” than any discord with Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins. A source in Butler’s camp who spoke to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times disputes that notion, suggesting it was “manufactured” by “ownership mouthpieces” to make Butler look bad. “According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference,” Cowley writes. “In Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.” Presumably, that’s a reference to Towns and Wiggins.

Central Notes: Love, Middleton, Perkins, Pistons

Earlier tonight, we heard talk of the Cavaliers sending Kyle Korver to Philadelphia in exchange for Jerryd Bayless. While we wait to see if anything materializes in Cleveland, let’s take a look at some notes from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers are not shopping Kevin Love, though he could be on the move if the right offer presents itself, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst mentions on the Lowe Post podcast. The scribe adds that Khris Middleton is in the same boat with the Bucks not deeming him untouchable nor looking to deal him.
  • Cleveland waived Kendrick Perkins to “do right” by the big man and allow him to pursue training camp deals, a source tells Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. The Cavaliers signed Perkins on the final day of the 2017/18 regular season back when LeBron James was still on the roster. The team had hoped to use Perkins’ contract as part of an offseason trade.
  • The Pistons have added Tim Grgurich and Micah Nori as assistant coaches to Dwane Casey‘s staff, Ansar Khan of Mlive.com relays.
  • Alex Boeder of NBA.com examines what Brook Lopez will bring to the Bucks. Lopez should be able to help the team stretch the floor with his three-point shot, as over 40% of his shots from the field last came from behind the arc.
  • FIBA has banned Bucks center Thon Maker for three games in international play for his part in a brawl during a game in the Philippines earlier this month, according to an ESPN report. Maker said he disagreed with the decision in a written statement that was released on his Twitter account.

And-Ones: NBA Africa Game, Global Camp, Upshaw

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and Sixers center Joel Embiid will headline the rosters in this summer’s NBA Africa Game, the league announced today. The event, which will take place on Saturday, August 4 in Pretoria, South Africa, will feature a Team Africa vs. Team World format, with Cameroon native Embiid heading Team Africa and DeRozan representing Team World.

Joining Embiid on Team Africa will be fellow NBAers Al-Farouq Aminu, Bismack Biyombo, Cheick Diallo, Evan Fournier, Serge Ibaka, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Pascal Siakam. DeRozan’s teamates on Team World will include Harrison Barnes, Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Gay, Khris Middleton, and Hassan Whiteside.

Here are a few more odds and ends from across the basketball world:

  • A total of 40 draft-eligible prospects from outside the United States will take part in the NBA Global Camp 2018 in Treviso, Italy from June 2-5, the NBA announced on Wednesday. While Luka Doncic won’t attend the pre-draft showcase, there will be plenty of prospects worth watching, including Cedevita forward Dzanan Musa, who is the No. 19 prospect on Jonathan Givony’s big board at ESPN.com.
  • The mother of Zeke Upshaw, the G League player who passed away earlier this year after collapsing during a Grand Rapids Drive game, has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Pistons of negligence. The suit alleges that the defendants failed to provide the Drive with the “the resources, policies, and procedures reasonably necessary” to prevent or handle Upshaw’s collapse. Noah Trister of The Associated Press has the full story and more details.
  • Now that two-way contracts have been in effect for nearly a full year, Adam Johnson of 2 Ways & 10 Days explores what sort of changes we may see to the rules surrounding those contracts in the future.

Middleton Hopes To Play Long-Term With Bucks

Khris Middleton feels appreciated by the Bucks’ management team and hopes to play in Milwaukee beyond his current deal, he told Michael Scotto of The Athletic. Middleton has two years and $26MM remaining on his contract, with a player option in that final year. During the process in which Mike Budenholzer was hired as head coach, Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo were invited to a breakfast with the ex-Hawks coach.

“They want me to be there long-term. They brought it to my attention that they wanted me to be a part of the process,” Middleton said. “That’s a huge thing for me. It makes me feel comfortable. It makes me want to be there longer.”

Some other nuggets from Scotto’s story:

  • Budenholzer will emphasize player and ball movement over isolation plays. That should help take some of the scoring burden off of Antetokounmpo and Middleton.
  • Co-owner Jamie Dinan is impressed by the way Budenholzer takes responsibility for a team’s success or failure. “He basically said a poor coach blames his players,” Dinan said. “He says, ‘I think I can get the most out of my players, and you’d be amazed at how good, if you motivate people, that they can actually be.’”
  • Middleton has toured the team’s new arena, slated to open next season, and gives it a big thumbs up. “It’s top-notch and first class. The locker rooms are amazing,” he said. “I gave Peter Feigin, our president, a little bit of grief about the visiting locker rooms being nice, too. They can’t be this nice in the arena.”

Budenholzer Seeks To Unlock Bucks’ Defensive Potential

Mike Budenholzer will prioritize improving the Bucks’ defense, Genaro C. Armas of the Associated Press reports. Budenholzer, who agreed to a four-year contract last week to become the team’s head coach, feels Milwaukee’s roster has plenty of good defensive pieces and it’s his task to put them together. “I think with the individual talents we have in Milwaukee … I think one of the words I used in the interview process was, ‘How can we unlock this talent defensively?'” Budenholzer said during his introductory press conference on Monday. “I just think there’s so much to work with.” Milwaukee finished 17th in the league’s defensive ratings last season, 21st in defensive field-goal percentage, 22nd in opponents’ second-chance points and 23rd in points allowed in the paint.

In other notable items from the press conference:

  • Budenholzer believes he can help All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo expand his game. He has already had breakfast with the team’s superstar and Khris Middleton. “He’s a smart player,” Budenholzer said. “I think together, he and I will probably push each other. But I look forward to pushing him. He believes it, I believe it. He’s going to get a lot better.”
  • GM Jon Horst interviewed at least seven candidates, according to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Horst wanted to find someone with whom he could engage in casual, productive conversations. “It was just an enjoyable time the entire period of time,” Horst said of his initial interview with the ex-Hawks coach.
  • Budenholzer wants to his staff to be mainly comprised of former Hawks assistants. “I’m very hopeful that the majority of my staff will come with me,” Budenholzer said. “I’m a huge believer in my group that’s been with me the last five years.”

Trade Rumors: Hernangomez, Bucks, Hawks, Raps

Word broke on Monday that Willy Hernangomez‘s representatives have asked the Knicks to trade the young center, though as Marc Berman and Zach Braziller of The New York Post note, that trade request was hardly shocking news. Hernangomez had publicly said several times already this season that he’d welcome a move to another team if that’s what it took for him to receive more playing time.

According to Ian Begley of ESPN, more than a dozen teams have expressed some level of interest in Hernangomez, and several of those clubs have put specific offers on the table for the Knicks. Still, New York’s front office won’t give Hernangomez away — the team is seeking a significant return for the 23-year-old, per Begley.

One source who has spoken to Knicks higher-ups expects the team to hang onto Hernangomez through the deadline unless a deal returns better long-term assets than the young big man, according to Berman and Braziller. Meanwhile, Begley notes that the Knicks are confident they’ll be able to reintegrate Hernangomez if they don’t trade him by Thursday.

As we wait to see what Hernangomez’s future holds, here are more trade-related notes and rumors from around the NBA:

  • Even after acquiring Tyler Zeller, the Bucks remain interested in Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, tweets Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times. However, according to Woelfel, Milwaukee is unwilling to give up a key piece like Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, or Jabari Parker in exchange for Jordan.
  • While the Hawks are ready to deal, GM Travis Schlenk tells Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he doesn’t feel pressure to make moves, since the club has already stockpiled a number of extra draft picks. “We are willing to use our (cap) flexibility if we can get assets we want,” Schlenk said. “But I feel like we’ve done enough early on (that) we have the flexibility to sit back and not take too much (salary) on because we have so many picks. We don’t feel pressure to do anything because of that, but if there is an opportunity that makes sense for us we are certainly going to take a hard look at it.”
  • Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet (Twitter link) is hearing “more and more” that the Raptors will be minor players at the trade deadline, if they’re active at all. Toronto has no interest in Tyreke Evans and views RFA-to-be Rodney Hood as too pricey, says Grange.
  • Daryl Morey and the Rockets view the buyout period as just as likely to result in a roster addition as the trade market, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The Rockets still may complete a deal this week, with an emergency backup guard atop their wish list, but they want to hang onto their 2020 first-round pick, says Feigen. Houston’s 2019 first-round pick can’t be moved, since the team has already traded its 2018 first-rounder.

Bucks Make Concerted Push For DeAndre Jordan

The Bucks are making a concerted push to acquire DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers, Gery Woelfel of the Woelfel’s Press Box writes.

According to the scribe’s sources, the Clips seek a partial or even full complement of John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton in return.

While there hasn’t been any direct indication that the Clippers are shopping Jordan, he’s eligible for free agency this summer, making him the most logical trade chip if the team does decide to become a seller ahead of the trade deadline.

Considering that trading Jordan would at least appear to be the opening salvo in a rebuild, it makes sense that the squad would pursue the reigning Rookie of the Year and, if possible, shed salary while they were at it.

While the Bucks had long sought to organically develop their young talent, they’re eager to more aggressively compete for a title now, as evidenced by their acquisition of Eric Bledsoe from the Suns earlier in the season.

Slotting Jordan into the starting lineup ahead of (or in place of) Henson would give the team an imposing starting five as they continue on their quest to usurp the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

In addition to the Bucks, Woelfel writes, the Raptors, Wizards and Timberwolves are said to have shown the most interest in Jordan.