- Paul George‘s upcoming free agency becomes more interesting with every Thunder loss, notes Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated. George said earlier this season that he wouldn’t make a decision based on the playoffs, but obviously a first-round exit won’t help Oklahoma City’s chances of keeping him. Sharp acknowledges George’s talent, but questions whether he can be a team leader and speculates that things may not turn out well for the Lakers if they sign him but not LeBron James.
Isaiah Thomas‘ hip issue has severely damaged his value on the open market, some front office executives told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News. Fears that his hip is either pre-arthritic or already arthritic will likely force the Lakers point guard to accept a one-year “prove it” deal or a two-year deal with a team option, Deveney continues. That’s a dramatic fall for a player who was expected to be a max contract candidate just a year ago, Deveney notes. One GM that Deveney talked to predicted that Thomas would have to accept a “low-risk deal.”
With the Pelicans thriving so far in the postseason without DeMarcus Cousins, ESPN’s Zach Lowe is the latest to look ahead to the big man’s upcoming free agency, exploring just how hard New Orleans will push to re-sign him. While there was once a consensus around the NBA that the small-market Pelicans, not wanting to let Cousins get away, would put a max deal on the table even after his Achilles injury, that’s far less certain now, Lowe writes.
Here are a few updates and notes from Lowe on what could be one of this offseason’s most interesting free agencies:
- The Pelicans have internally discussed the possibility of offering Cousins a two- or three-year contract worth less than the max, sources tell Lowe. The ESPN.com scribe doesn’t think that sort of offer would go over well with Cousins’ camp, but notes that New Orleans has a good amount of leverage, given the veteran center’s health — not to mention the lack of teams around the NBA with sizable cap room.
- Sources tell Lowe that most of the teams with max-level cap space aren’t expected to pursue Cousins. Some clubs are worried about his “baggage,” and he wouldn’t make much sense for a rebuilding team, since it will likely take him a full season to recover from his Achilles tear.
- Lowe identifies the Lakers and Mavericks as two wild cards for Cousins. However, he notes that the Lakers could use their cap room to land other stars or roll it over to 2019. As for the Mavs, if they go hard after a restricted free agent like Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon, they probably wouldn’t be in the mix for Cousins.
- The Wizards, Trail Blazers, Clippers, Raptors, Bucks, and Heat are a few of the teams Lowe mentions as possible landing spots if the Pelicans want to sign-and-trade Cousins, but he acknowledges that none would be a perfect match — and some are extreme long shots.
- With a four- or five-year max offer for Cousins seemingly unlikely, Lowe speculates that a third year could be the “inflection point” in the bidding for the All-Star big man. If one team is willing to do a fully or partially guaranteed third year, while another club wants to do a deal more like Paul Millsap‘s with the Nuggets (where the third year is a team option), that could be the difference, Lowe writes.
Lakers power forward Julius Randle could wind up in his hometown of Dallas next season, Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype speculates. Randle would be a nice fit alongside guard Dennis Smith Jr. and the Mavericks have plenty of cap space to sign him. He played very well against them this season, averaging 21.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 5.6 APG on 66% shooting, Urbina notes. Randle would also slot in well with the Suns and Pacers, Urbina adds, though it’s more likely he winds up staying with the Lakers. Randle will be a restricted free agent if, as expected, the Lakers extend a $5.564MM qualifying offer by the June 29th deadline.
The Lakers might be the logical landing spot if the Spurs decide not to offer Kawhi Leonard a supermax deal or if he tells them he’ll walk after next season, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe speculates. Leonard can opt out of his deal next summer and the Spurs would want to acquire assets rather than wind up with nothing, as the Thunder experienced when Kevin Durant bolted, Washburn continues. The Lakers have enough assets to make such a deal happen, but the Celtics would likely decline the Spurs’ advances if they were asked to give up Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and a first-rounder for him, Washburn adds.
In other news around the Southwest Division:
- Clint Capela‘s value to the Rockets hasn’t gone unnoticed and should lead to a lucrative offseason for the impending restricted free agent, as Stefano Fusaro of The Undefeated notes. Houston went 42-3 this season when Capela, Chris Paul and James Harden were all in the lineup, and Paul told Fusaro it’s no coincidence. “Y’all know the record when we all play together, and I’ll tell you it’s not because of me and James,” Paul said. “Clint is really the X factor. He opens up so much for us.”
- Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley anticipates playing a full season after his injury-marred 2017/18 campaign, the team’s PR department tweets. Conley opted for season-ending heel surgery in late January after appearing in just 12 games. “Thankfully I had the surgery early enough to where I have a full summer of work and getting my body ready for an 82-game season,” Conley told reporters.
- Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes wants to play for the U.S. national team again, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports. Barnes, who had a limited role in the 2016 Olympics, is one of 35 players USA Basketball has named as candidates to play in the 2019 World Championships and 2020 Olympics. “Everybody would love to play in a World Cup and the Olympics,” Barnes told Sefko. “Those are bucket-list experiences. If I could be included in that group, it would be really special.”
Former Clippers small forward Jamil Wilson has agreed to a contract for the remainder of the European League season with Italian Serie A team Virtus Bologna, according to Daniele Labanti of Corriere di Bologna, as relayed by Sportando.
Wilson had a whirlwind season. He signed a two-way contract with the Clippers during the offseason and appeared in 15 games with them, including 10 starts, while averaging 7.0 PPG in 18.3 MPG. The Clippers decided to waive him in early January, rather than converting his deal to a standard contract.
The Lakers were on the verge of signing him to a 10-day contract, then changed their mind. A TMZ report surfaced around that time, revealing Wilson had been named in a civil suit involving sexual battery and fraud. Wilson eventually joined the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers’ G League team.
The 6’7” Wilson, 27, spent time in training camp with the Suns and Mavericks in past years, but this season marked his first NBA experience. He played in Italy last season with Torino, according to Sportando.
Blue played five games for L.A. before being waived in January, seeing just nine total minutes of court time. He was much more effective for the Lakers’ South Bay affiliate in the G League, averaging 19.0 points in 15 games.
Blue was MVP of the Italian Cup in February, but had difficulty adjusting to the new league after that. He averaged 3.1 points per game while shooting 12% from the field and 10% from 3-point range.
- The Lakers enter this offseason with cap space, young assets, and the attention of the entire basketball world. The team is expected to compete for the services of soon-to-be free agents such as LeBron James and Paul George. Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated dives into the team’s front office and why the team will be heavily watched this summer.
- Bill Oram of the Orange County Register released his report card for the 2017/18 Lakers squad. Oram grades the team’s rookies and veterans on their performance, contribution to the team’s success, and future with the organization.
The Clippers apparently aren’t the only L.A. team considering pursuing a trade for Kawhi Leonard during the coming offseason. According to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News, front-office sources around the NBA believe that the Lakers will also make Leonard a top target over the summer.
Leonard remains under contract with the Spurs for at least one more season, but a season-long saga has seemingly created friction between the two sides, as Spurs doctors and Leonard’s doctors have disagreed on the status of the forward’s quad injury. While there has still been no indication out of San Antonio that the Spurs will seriously explore trading their best player, teams are keeping a close eye on the situation and will be ready to inquire on Leonard’s availability.
As Deveney writes, the Lakers are viewed as a top candidate to pursue Leonard given their future cap flexibility. The Lakers are expected to have enough room for two maximum-salary free agents this offseason, but could also use that cap flexibility to sign a top free agent in 2019 or to trade for a star.
Additionally, Leonard is a Los Angeles native and at least one executive who spoke to Deveney believes that Leonard is angling to eventually land in his hometown. A separate general manager suggested that the Lakers look like the most logical landing spot if Leonard is moved.
“He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer,” the GM told Deveney. “There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.
“That’s the thing to watch,” the GM continued. “It might be a pipe dream for them to get two max guys this summer, but if they have a player like Leonard who wants to be in L.A.? They’d have to make that happen now.”
It’s hard to imagine Leonard making an explicit trade request that goes public like Paul George did with the Pacers last summer, but it’ll still be interesting to see whether the way the Lakers handled the George situation impacts the way they go after Leonard. The Lakers were viewed as a prime trade suitor for George, but there were questions about whether to give up much for him since he could sign with the team outright as a free agent a year later. Now, he’s a member of the Thunder and he’s no lock to leave Oklahoma City. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka may find themselves in a similar situation with Leonard during the 2018 offseason, weighing just how hard they should push for a trade if the Spurs are really willing to listen.
Of course, the Spurs and Leonard could put trade and free agency speculation to rest entirely if they agree to a contract extension this July. If Leonard doesn’t accept an extension offer right away though – or if the Spurs don’t put that offer on the table at all – the trade rumors surrounding him only figure to grow louder.
Wesley Matthews expects to get full medical clearance when he undergoes an MRI tomorrow, relays Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. Matthews is recovering from a stress fracture in his right fibula that forced him to miss the final 16 games of the season. Except for a torn Achilles in 2014/15, this is the only time Matthews has missed an extended stretch because of injury.
“By the end of the week, I should be good to go,” he said.
Matthews has to decide soon whether to exercise an $18.6MM player option for next season. He offered a clue today when asked about participating in community events over the summer, saying, “Yeah, I mean, I’m going to be here, so I’d love to.”
There’s more today out of Dallas:
- The Mavericks should aggressively target Lakers forward Julius Randle in free agency, writes NBC5’s Newy Scruggs in The Dallas Morning News. Randle, who grew up in Texas, is coming off his best NBA season, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds in 82 games. Dallas will have at least $20MM in cap room, and possibly much more depending on what happens with Matthews and several non-guaranteed contracts. Randle is a restricted free agent, but the Lakers will be seeking bigger names, so he could be available if the Mavericks strike quickly.
- Expect Rick Carlisle to remain the coach in Dallas for at least another three to four seasons, Scruggs adds in the same piece. Many Mavericks fans have turned on Carlisle as the losses piled up, Scruggs notes, but GMs still consider him one of the best coaches in the league.
- Don’t bet on the Mavericks trading their first-round pick, Sefko states in a separate story. Dallas goes into next month’s lottery with the third-best odds at the No. 1 choice after winning a tiebreaker with Atlanta. The Mavs seem committed to taking their time in rebuilding, Sefko adds, and are seeking another cornerstone player to go with last year’s top pick, Dennis Smith Jr.