Nemanja Bjelica

Pacific Notes: Booker, Suns, Clippers, House

When Devin Booker underwent surgery on his injured last hand in September, the Suns estimated that it would take six weeks for him to recover and return to the court. Based on that timeline, Booker would miss the first week of the regular season, but the 21-year-old is still aiming to get back on the court for Phoenix’s season opener, according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link).

The Suns’ season will begin next Wednesday night when the team hosts the Mavericks in what has been billed as a showdown between two of this year’s top rookies, Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic.

As Booker looks to beat his recovery timetable, here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • The Suns cleaned house in their front office on Monday, with a team source confirming to Adam Johnson of 2 Ways & 10 Days (Twitter link) that Louis Lehman, the GM of Phoenix’s G League affiliate, was fired. GM Ryan McDonough, assistant GM Pat Connelly and director of scouting Courtney Witte were among the other executives let go by the club.
  • The Clippers‘ success in 2018/19 may hinge in large part on the health of Avery Bradley, writes Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Bradley, who re-signed with the Clips over the summer, only has a small partial guarantee on the second year of his new contract, so he may return to the free agent market in 2019 if he’s slowed by injuries again.
  • With Patrick McCaw still unsigned, there may be an opportunity for Danuel House to earn a regular season roster spot with the Warriors. Anthony Slater of The Athletic (subscription required) takes a closer look at House’s case for a place on the 15-man squad.
  • After initially reaching a free agent agreement with Philadelphia, Nemanja Bjelica changed course and inked a three-year deal with the Kings. Now, he’s showing off his ability to open up the floor for his new team, as Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee details.

Nemanja Bjelica Signs Three-Year Deal With Kings

JULY 21, 1:57pm: The deal is official, per a media release from the Kings.

JULY 20, 9:08pm: The Kings have reached a three-year, $20.5MM agreement with free agent forward Nemanja Bjelica, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports tweets. The third year will not be guaranteed, Charania adds.

This completes Bjelica’s unusual odyssey in free agency. The former Timberwolves reserve originally agreed to a one-year, $4.45MM deal with the Sixers early in free agency, then backed out of that agreement on Tuesday. He stated publicly he would likely head back to Europe, explaining that he wanted to create “some kind of stability” for his family.

Kings general manager Vlade Divac and other teams then reached out to Bjelica, trying to convince him to remain in the NBA. Sacramento’s offer won him over.

“The organization’s belief in and commitment to me overwhelmed me and my family,” he told Charania. “I am ready to do everything I can to help the Kings and be a part of the Sacramento community.”

It helped the Kings’ cause that EuroLeague powerhouses like Fenerbahce and CSKA Moscow reportedly were not interested in him at this time.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor noted in a conversation last week with Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 that Bjelica entered the offseason seeking a multiyear NBA contract. The stretch four has been a rotation player with Minnesota the past three seasons. He averaged 6.8 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 67 games last season, including 21 starts.

Where Bjelica fits in with the Kings is a mystery. Sacramento already has No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III, Zach Randolph and Harry Giles at the power forward spot. His path to playing time may be at small forward.

Kings, Nemanja Bjelica Discuss Possible Deal

JULY 19, 8:54am: The Kings and Bjelica are discussing a two-year contract worth about $13MM with roughly $2MM guaranteed for 2019/20, sources tell international writer David Pick (Twitter link).

JULY 18, 2:57pm: Kings general manager Vlade Divac reached out directly to Bjelica to explain his value, tweets Charania. Krawczynski expands on that point, tweeting that the Kings and other teams have expressed to Bjelica that he’s “too good to go back to Europe.”

Meanwhile, international basketball reporter David Pick tweets that Bjelica felt “devalued” in his agreement with the Sixers. With EuroLeague powerhouses like Fenerbahce and CSKA Moscow not interested in him at this time, Sacramento may represent his best bet for a big payday, Pick adds.

2:36pm: The Kings and free agent forward Nemanja Bjelica intend to discuss a potential contract, according to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).

Bjelica, who initially agreed to a one-year, $4.45MM deal with the Sixers early in free agency, backed out of that agreement on Tuesday. Reports at the time indicated that the former EuroLeague MVP would likely head back to Europe, with Bjelica explaining that he wanted to create “some kind of stability” for his family.

However, as Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor noted in a conversation last week with Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500, Bjelica entered the offseason seeking a multiyear NBA contract. His interest in remaining in the NBA seemingly waned when he was only able to secure a one-year deal, as he suggested in his interview with Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

If the Kings are willing to give him two or three guaranteed years, that may prompt the 30-year-old to reconsider his plan to head back overseas, particularly since not many EuroLeague clubs are in position to make a competitive offer, per Sportando (Twitter link).

It’s not clear yet what sort of deal the Kings would be willing to do with Bjelica, but they have more than $20MM in cap room available with only two roster spots still open, so they’ll have plenty of flexibility if they decide they want to bring the stretch four aboard.

Meanwhile, the Sixers figure to be less than thrilled about Bjelica’s about-face if he ends up signing on with another NBA club rather than playing in Europe.

Latest On Nemanja Bjelica

Earlier today, we relayed the somewhat surprising news that despite agreeing on a one-year, $4.449MM deal with the Sixers earlier this month, free agent Nemanja Bjelica will not sign a contract with Philadelphia or any other NBA team this summer, opting instead to return to Europe for the 2018/19 season.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic has more details on why Bjelica chose to return to Europe, writing that the decision ultimately came down to what the 30-year-old Serbian forward believes is in the best interest of his family.

“I’m thankful for Philly for the opportunity, but I will always do what is the best for my family,” Bjelica said. “It’s not about coach or the Philly organization. Brett Brown, he’s a great guy and a great coach. The most important thing for me is family and some kind of stability.”

Bjelica and his wife have a school-age daughter and an infant son, and Bjelica did not want to uproot his family from their home in Minneapolis for the past three seasons to live in Philadelphia for the next eight months before potentially having to move again if he wasn’t able to re-sign with Sixers next summer.

It’s certainly possible, based on Krawczynski’s story, that Bjelica would have been willing and open to remain stateside if he were given a multi-year deal, but unfortunately, the free agent market this summer was largely limited to one-year contracts, with teams determined to keep as much cap flexibility as possible for next summer, when players like Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and Kyrie Irving are all potentially free agents.

Bjelica, who was named the EuroLeague MVP in 2015, returns to Europe with NBA career averages of 6.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game in 192 contests.

Nemanja Bjelica Won’t Sign With Sixers

10:00am: Bjelica has elected to return to Europe for the 2018/19 season rather than signing with the Sixers, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). Philadelphia will now have its $4.449MM available to use on another player.

9:47am: Having used up all their cap space, the Sixers are now in position to finalize their agreement with Nemanja Bjelica with their room exception. Philadelphia and Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year, $4.449MM deal earlier this month.

However, according to Nikos Varlas of Eurohoops.net, the 76ers and Bjelica have yet to complete that deal, and there’s still a belief among EuroLeague teams that the veteran forward could be lured away from his verbal agreement with Philadelphia. Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic confirms as much, tweeting that “with a young family,” Bjelica is “looking at all of his options.”

As Varlas suggests, Bjelica had expected a more lucrative and longer-term contract than the one he agreed to with the Sixers. In a recent conversation with Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said that the Serbian forward had been seeking a multiyear deal from Minnesota before the team withdrew its qualifying offer. Taylor added that the one-year contract Bjelica agreed to with the Sixers was worth less than what the Wolves had offered.

European teams can’t match NBA clubs in terms of overall spending power, but Bjelica – a former EuroLeague MVP – would represent a major acquisition. As such, it’s possible a EuroLeague powerhouse would be willing to give him a longer-term contract that would be worth more total money than his Sixers deal.

It’s not clear how seriously Bjelica is weighing a return to Europe, or whether the Sixers gave him their blessing to consider other options. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two sides eventually finalize their agreed-upon deal, but that no longer appears to be a lock.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Timberwolves Owner Talks Towns, Wiggins, FAs

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed last week that Jimmy Butler turned down the team’s contract extension offer, since he’ll have the ability to earn a much larger payday if he waits another year and signs as a free agent in 2019. In his conversation with Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, Taylor also discussed several other topics, including a possible rookie scale extension for Karl-Anthony Towns.

According to Taylor, the Wolves have already put a maximum-salary offer on the table for Towns and there shouldn’t be much negotiating required. The club has until mid-October to finalize an extension with the former first overall pick, and Taylor sounds confident it’ll happen before then.

“I’m sure he’s going to sign it. It doesn’t really make that much difference to me when he does it,” Taylor said. “We haven’t put any deadline on it or anything like that. The offer’s out there. … I’m confident that we won’t have any problem with it.”

Here’s more from the Timberwolves’ owner:

  • According to Taylor, the Timberwolves aren’t interested in trading Andrew Wiggins at this point. The Wolves owner stressed that the franchise doesn’t want to “give up” on a player as young as Wiggins, who is still just 23. “A lot of players, it took them three or four years to get better and then they just keep getting better,” Taylor said. “I don’t see why Andrew won’t be one of those people, because he has such natural ability.”
  • The Timberwolves signed Anthony Tolliver because they didn’t want to wait on a decision from Nemanja Bjelica, who was seeking a two-year deal. Bjelica ultimately signed with Philadelphia for less than what Minnesota offered him, according to Taylor.
  • Asked about filling out the rest of the Timberwolves’ roster, Taylor acknowledged that minimum-salary signings are the most likely path for the club. “I got the list of who they’re talking to, and they’re not exactly [big-]name players,” Taylor said of the free agents his front office is targeting. “The names they have right now are a little younger, but they have some experience. [The front office] believes that they have the ability to improve.”
  • Taylor also noted that many of Minnesota’s free agent targets are strong defensively, adding that the team wants to improve its bench’s defensive numbers.
  • The Timberwolves owner downplayed the idea that there’s tension between Jimmy Butler and some of the Wolves’ other stars, suggesting that Butler “just wants to win” and wants to make sure that “people around him play really hard.”

Free Agent Notes: Bucks, Parker, Anderson, Bjelica

When they agreed to sign Ersan Ilyasova to a three-year, $21MM contract early in free agency, the Bucks committed to hard-capping themselves for the 2018/19 league year. Teams that acquire a player via sign-and-trade or use more than $5.337MM of the mid-level exception will have a hard cap of $129.817MM this year, and Milwaukee will have to take one of those paths to add Ilyasova.

In hard-capping themselves, the Bucks essentially drew a line in their negotiations with Jabari Parker, ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes during an appearance on Adrian Wojnarowski’s Woj Pod. As Marks explains, with that hard cap in place, the Bucks likely won’t be able to offer Parker more than about $15-17MM, which essentially caps the negotiations between the two sides at that point.

Marks observes that the situation is similar to what the Pistons did last year with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Detroit also had a hard cap after using most of its MLE, and could only go up to a certain point for Caldwell-Pope, who reportedly turned down an offer worth a total of $80MM-ish and ended up settling for a one-year, $18MM deal with the Lakers. If Parker can’t find a lucrative offer sheet with another team, he’ll have to be wary of ending up in a similar spot, so it will be interesting to see whether he can work out a multiyear deal with the Bucks or if he’ll consider signing his one-year qualifying offer.

Here are a few more free agent notes and rumors:

  • The Spurs want to retain restricted free agent Kyle Anderson and intend to work on a deal for him, Wojnarowski said in his podcast.
  • Nemanja Bjelica had six total offers that were all somewhat comparable to the one he agreed to with the Sixers, tweets Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. According to Wolfson, head coach Brett Brown and the opportunity to make a deep playoff run were factors in Bjelica’s choice.
  • While there were rumblings that Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou was mulling an NBA return, he’ll remain with Olympiacos. The team officially announced a new deal for Papanikolaou today (hat tip to Sportando).

Sixers’ Deal With Nemanja Bjelica Falls Apart

JULY 17: The Sixers’ agreement with Bjelica has fallen apart, with the forward opting to return to Europe for the 2018/19 season. We have more details right here.

JULY 5: The Sixers will sign Nemanja Bjelica to a contract, a source tells Jake Fischer of SI.com (Twitter link). According to Fischer, Bjelica will receive Philadelphia’s room exception, which is worth $4.449MM in 2018/19. It’ll be a one-year deal, adds ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

Bjelica began July as a restricted free agent, but when the Timberwolves reached an agreement to sign Anthony Tolliver, they withdrew their qualifying offer to Bjelica, making him unrestricted. As such, Minnesota won’t be able to match Philadelphia’s offer to the veteran forward.

Bjelica, 30, was a key contributor off the Wolves’ bench in 2017/18, averaging 6.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 1.3 APG with a .461/.415/.800 shooting line in 67 games (21 starts). In Philadelphia, he’ll fill a stretch-four role vacated by Ersan Ilyasova, who reached a three-year deal with the Bucks early in free agency.

Bjelica will be officially signed after the Sixers use up their cap room to re-sign J.J. Redick and acquire Wilson Chandler from the Nuggets.

The acquisition of Bjelica is the latest in a string of offseason additions for the Sixers. So far this summer, the club has drafted and signed Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet, agreed to re-sign Redick and Amir Johnson, struck a deal to acquire Chandler, and now reached an agreement with Bjelica.

Philadelphia entered the offseason with 11 players already under contract, so the team will have to trade or waive at least a couple players by mid-October to get down to the 15-man regular-season roster limit. More roster trimming would be required if the club brings draft-and-stash prospect Jonah Bolden stateside for the coming season or signs second-rounder Shake Milton to an NBA contract.

Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are among the players on guaranteed salaries whose roster spots could be at risk. T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes are on non-guaranteed contracts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Rumors: Crawford, Ellington, Bjelica, Williams

The Sixers are interested in veteran free agent guard Jamal Crawford, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Crawford could fortify a bench that has lost Ersan Ilyasovaand Marco Belinelli since the start of free agency. Crawford, 38, averaged 10.3 PPG in 20.7 MPG for the Timberwolves last season. The Pelicans, Cavaliers, Warriors and Nuggets are also reportedly in the mix for Crawford, who opted out of his contract with Minnesota and left $4.54MM on the table.

In other news regarding the free agent market:

  • Unrestricted free agent shooting guard Wayne Ellington has drawn significant interest but he’s viewed as a good bet to re-sign with the Heat, Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports tweets. Miami has a cap hold of $8.15MM on Ellington, who appeared in 77 games and averaged 11.2 PPG in 26.5 MPG while shooting 39.2% from long range.
  • The Jazz have a strong interest in Nemanja Bjelica, Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune tweets. The Timberwolves pulled their qualifying offer to the power forward in order to sign Anthony Tolliver, thus making Bjelica an unrestricted free agent.
  • The Knicks are interested in Alan Williams if he clears waivers, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. The Suns waived the power forward/center on Monday. The Knicks have also reached out to free agent power forwards Amir Johnson and Trevor Booker, Berman adds.
  • Williams hasn’t ruled out a return to the Suns but his agent has already heard from a handful of teams interested in his services, according to Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic. Williams, who appeared in only five games last season due to a knee injury, had a non-guaranteed salary of $5.5MM for next season and will likely get through waivers.
  • The Lakers have renounced their free-agent exception rights to guard Andre Ingram and power forward Travis Wear, according to the RealGM transactions log. The Lakers had a cap hold of $1.338MM on Ingram and $1.5MM on Wear. Ingram appeared in two games with Los Angeles last season, while Wear saw action in 17 games.
  • The Suns renounced their free-agent exception rights to center Alex Len, according to the RealGM transaction log. The Suns had a $7.96MM cap hold on Len. He appeared in 69 games last season but became expendable when they drafted Deandre Ayton.

Wolves Sign Anthony Tolliver

JULY 8: The Tolliver signing is now official, according to the NBA’s transactions log.

JULY 2: The Timberwolves have withdrawn their qualifying offer for Nemanja Bjelica, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). The move will make Bjelica an unrestricted free agent, with Minnesota losing the right of first refusal.

With Bjelica expected to land elsewhere, the Wolves will fill his spot on the roster by signing Anthony Tolliver.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports first reported (via Twitter) that Minnesota was nearing an agreement on a one-year deal with Tolliver, while David Aldridge of TNT confirms (via Twitter) that they’ve come to terms.

According to Charania (via Twitter), Tolliver’s new one-year contract with the Timberwolves will be in the $5-6MM range, so it sounds like the team will sign him using its mid-level exception.

If the Wolves want to avoid becoming hard-capped for the 2018/19 league year, they’d have to ensure that Tolliver’s salary doesn’t exceed $5.337MM, the value of the taxpayer mid-level exception. However, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link) pegs the value at $5.75MM. That would mean dipping into the full MLE and creating a hard cap.

The Timberwolves made Tolliver a priority when the free agent period opened, according to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News, who tweets that Tom Thibodeau had two separate phone calls with the veteran forward. Tolliver also drew interest from the Clippers, Mavericks, and Sixers, but liked the idea of returning to Minnesota, where he spent two seasons earlier in his career.

In 2017/18, Tolliver – the No. 43 free agent on our top-50 list – enjoyed perhaps his best NBA season for the Pistons. Appearing in 79 regular season games, he averaged 8.9 PPG and 3.1 RPG with a shooting line of .464/.436/.797. His ability to stretch the floor will benefit the Wolves, particularly with Bjelica no longer in the mix.

Bjelica, 30, averaged 6.8 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 20.5 minutes per contest (67 games) for the Wolves last season. His .415 3PT% should appeal to teams in the market for a stretch four, especially now that he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.