Offseason Outlook

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Los Angeles Lakers.


Salary Cap Outlook

Five Lakers starters or rotation players hold options for 2020/21, while multiple others are free agents. As a result, it’s a little tricky to pin down where team salary will land. We can start with accounting for the team’s five guaranteed contracts and the cap hold for its first-round pick — those total about $70MM. A new max salary for Anthony Davis will come in at $32.7MM, so we can safely assume the Lakers will operate as an over-the-cap club.

If the Lakers need to give Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo sizeable raises, team salary could approach the tax line, in which case the club would be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM). But if Los Angeles is willing to let a free agent or two go – or gets them back on team-friendly deals – then the full MLE ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) could be in play.

Our full salary cap preview for the Lakers can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • Anthony Davis, player option: $28,751,774
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, player option: $8,543,746
    • Note: Caldwell-Pope will reportedly decline his option.
  • Avery Bradley, player option: $5,005,350
  • JaVale McGee, player option: $4,200,000
  • Rajon Rondo, player option: $2,692,991

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Quinn Cook ($3,000,000)
    • Note: Partially guaranteed for $1MM.

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 28 overall pick

Second Round:

  • None

While the Lakers retained their own first-round pick, their second-rounder (No. 58) belongs to the Sixers. L.A. originally sent that pick to Orlando last June in a deal for Talen Horton-Tucker; the Magic flipped it to Philadelphia at the trade deadline for James Ennis.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. What will Anthony Davis‘ new contract look like?

A year ago, there was plenty of drama entering free agency about where top free agents like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant would ultimately land. For Davis, this year’s No. 1 free agent, that drama is essentially nonexistent — he forced a trade to the Lakers from New Orleans a year ago, then won a title with his new club this fall. Why would he leave?

Still, it won’t simply be a matter of exercising his player option to stick around. If he opts out, Davis can comfortably exceed the $28.75MM he’d earn by opting in. As such, he has already signaled his intention to turn down that option.

On his new deal with the Lakers, Davis will earn a maximum salary of $32.74MM in 2020/21, but the length and structure of that contract are still question marks. Although the seven-time All-Star could lock in nearly $190MM in guaranteed money by signing a five-year contract with L.A., I suspect he’ll avoid that option, preferring to maintain some flexibility over the next couple years — not so he can eventually leave the Lakers, but so he can maximize his earnings going forward.

Signing a two-year contract that has a player option in year two would line up Davis’ contract with LeBron James‘. It would also secure him an 8% raise for 2021/22, when the cap may increase by as little as 3%. That’s a realistic and potentially favorable option for AD.

The other most viable option would be a three-year pact with a third-year player option. That would ensure that when Davis gets the chance to opt out in 2022, he’ll have 10 years of NBA experience under his belt, meaning he’ll be eligible to receive a starting salary worth 35% of the cap. Even if the cap only increases by 3% annually for the next two years, that would put Davis in line to sign a five-year contract that starts at $40.5MM in 2022/23 and has a total value of $235MM.

Davis’ decision will ultimately come down to his priorities. Signing a one-plus-one contract and going year to year puts him in the best position to maximize his earnings and his flexibility, but it also means potentially dealing with free agency every year. If he doesn’t want to bother with that, a two-plus-one deal might be the move. If he really doesn’t want to be distracted by impending free agency anytime soon, a five-year pact is possible, but I think that’s probably a long shot.

2. Can the Lakers bring back all their key free agents while using their mid-level to add another productive player?

The Lakers are a lock to re-sign Davis, but what about the role players who came up big during the team’s championship run, like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo? Both veteran guards are expected to turn down their player options in search of new deals, and they’ll definitely be in line for raises after taking up just over $10MM in cap space in 2019/20.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how much KCP’s and Rondo’s next contracts will be worth. I don’t expect major bidding wars on too many free agents this fall, but rival teams might want to put pressure on the defending champions by making aggressive offers for the Lakers’ most important free agents.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks estimates a starting salary in the $12-14MM range for Caldwell-Pope and $4-6MM for Rondo, so let’s project it takes about $20MM to bring both players back.

Even if we assume the Lakers waive-and-stretch Quinn Cook and don’t use their first-round pick, that still puts team salary above $120MM for just eight players, and doesn’t account for the possibility that JaVale McGee ($4.2MM) and Avery Bradley ($5MM) will both exercise their player options. It also doesn’t include salaries for Dwight Howard or Markieff Morris, who will both be free agents too.

Ideally, the Lakers would like to be able to use the full, non-taxpayer mid-level exception. It’s worth $9.3MM, which should be enough to bring in a valuable rotation piece this fall, since only a small handful of clubs have cap room. But L.A.’s team salary would be hard-capped at $138.9MM if the organization uses more than the taxpayer portion of the mid-level ($5.7MM), so that doesn’t leave a whole lot of breathing room.

Still, there are ways the Lakers may be able to create enough flexibility to use the full MLE. If McGee or Bradley opts out, that would help. Jettisoning one of Caldwell-Pope or Rondo would too, though that’s not an ideal solution. The Lakers could also shed some salary in a trade, perhaps by moving Danny Green‘s expiring $15MM+ contract, but that may be a trade chip better used in a swap for an impact player rather than in a salary-dump deal.

The Lakers’ best hope of bringing back most of their key free agents while maintaining enough flexibility to bring in another good player with the MLE is that veterans are willing to take a bit of a discount to contend for another title in L.A.

If, for instance, Caldwell-Pope and Rondo only cost a combined $15MM and Howard is willing to sign another minimum-salary deal, that extra bit of flexibility could make a big difference for the Lakers. And if there’s a useful veteran out there willing to play for the taxpayer MLE rather than the full $9.3MM, that’d be a bonus, since the hard cap would be of no concern.

The Lakers’ free agency puzzle will be a tricky one to solve, especially since Howard and Morris only have Non-Bird rights, preventing the team from giving them much of a raise. But if one or two things break right for the franchise, the other pieces could fall into place in short order.

3. Could a trade package of Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, and the No. 28 pick bring back an impact player?

Given the construction of the Lakers’ roster, Green, Kuzma, and their first-round pick are probably the team’s most expendable pieces in a potential trade. Green and Kuzma are on expiring deals, and Kuzma wasn’t a particularly great fit alongside fellow power forwards James and Davis. Plus, a title-contending team probably doesn’t need to add a late-first-round rookie who would have a hard time cracking the rotation.

On the surface, it looks like a pretty appealing package for a potential trade partner. Green is a reliable three-and-D wing who has won multiple championships and has knocked down 40% of his career three-pointers. Kuzma is a 25-year-old who averaged 16.0 PPG in his first three NBA seasons and will cost just $3.6MM in 2020/21. And every NBA team would welcome a first-round pick that can be used to control a young player on an affordable contract for the next four years.

Still, there’s reason to believe the package wouldn’t be as valuable as the Lakers might hope. Green is now 33 years old and has struggled with his outside shot in each of the last two postseasons, forcing the Raptors and the Lakers to cut back his minutes in the 2019 and 2020 Finals. He’s also the sort of player who would primarily appeal to a playoff team, and it’s probably safe to assume not many of those teams would be looking to send an impact player to L.A.

As for Kuzma, he put up nice scoring numbers on the Lakers’ lottery-bound teams in his first two seasons, but had more trouble carving out a role in 2019/20. He’s not a good enough shooter (.308 3PT% over the last two seasons) to reliably space the floor, and he’s not a particularly strong defender either. He’s also headed for restricted free agency in 2021, meaning a team that acquires him would be responsible for giving him a significant raise a year from now.

The No. 28 pick, meanwhile, is a useful asset, given the relatively strong depth of this year’s draft class. But that late in the first round, it’s probably unreasonable to expect that pick to turn into anything more than a solid role player.

It’s not a package that would get the Lakers’ foot in the door for a player like Jrue Holiday, but it might be enough for a distressed asset. I think the Pacers would probably want more for Victor Oladipo, but if they’re genuinely concerned about his health and his impact on Indiana’s locker room, they could do worse than Green, Kuzma, and a first-rounder.

The Green/Kuzma duo has also been mentioned as the start of a package for Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, which would be interesting. DeRozan, a Los Angeles native, would give the Lakers some scoring punch beyond LeBron and AD, and there’s enough defensive talent on the roster to cover up his shortcomings on that end of the floor. If San Antonio is pivoting to a rebuild, reuniting with Green while acquiring Kuzma and a first-rounder would be a decent return for DeRozan’s expiring deal, though L.A. would have to include a little more salary for matching purposes.

Green and Kuzma each played regular roles for this year’s championship team, and the Lakers have exhibited a knack for getting value late in the first round of drafts, so if they hang onto their assets, they’ll be fine. But if they make a move on the trade market, it’s a good bet that some or all of those pieces will be part of a deal.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Miami Heat

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Miami Heat.


Salary Cap Outlook

The Heat’s six guaranteed contracts, Kelly Olynyk‘s player option, non-guaranteed salaries for Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, and the cap hold for their first-round pick add up to approximately $86MM. That means the team could theoretically open up about $22MM in cap room.

However, there are a number of free agents Miami may try to re-sign, starting with Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder. Unless all those free agents walk, the Heat will likely operate as an over-the-cap team, with the full mid-level exception ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) available. That will allow the club to retain its lone trade exception, worth about $7.5MM.

Our full salary cap preview for the Heat can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • Kelly Olynyk, player option: $13,198,243

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Kendrick Nunn ($1,663,861)
  • Duncan Robinson ($1,663,861)

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 20 overall pick

Second Round:

  • None

The Heat still have their own first-round pick, but traded their second-rounder to the Celtics way back in 2015 in a deal that also sent Zoran Dragic to Boston. That pick (No. 50) changed hands many times over the years and ultimately landed with the Hawks as a result of their Dewayne Dedmon/Alex Len/Jabari Parker swap with Sacramento at last season’s trade deadline.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, and the Heat’s other free agents be back?

Nearly half of the Heat’s 15-man roster is eligible for free agency this offseason, and while not all of those players need to be re-signed (Miami likely won’t push too hard for a new deal with Solomon Hill, for instance), a majority of them were key contributors at some point during the 2019/20 season. Dragic and Crowder are the two most important veterans in that group.

Dragic had a strong bounce-back season after an injury-plagued 2018/19, averaging 16.2 PPG and 5.1 APG on .441/.367/.776 shooting and taking over starting point guard duties from Kendrick Nunn in the postseason before going down with a foot injury. Crowder, meanwhile, emerged as one of the Heat’s most reliable contributors on the wing after being acquired in February, averaging 11.9 PPG with a .445 3PT% in 20 regular season games and taking on a number of big defensive assignments in the postseason.

Re-signing both players will be a priority, but the Heat are also prioritizing cap flexibility for the 2021 offseason, when they’d like to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo or another star free agent. As such, the club will be reluctant to extend many – or perhaps any – multiyear contract offers this fall.

That might be okay with Dragic. At age 34, the veteran point guard is unlikely to receive strong multiyear offers from other suitors, and the Heat are in position to pay him a substantial amount on a one-year contract, perhaps even matching his $19MM salary from this past year. Even if Dragic gets two- or three-year offers in the mid-level range from other clubs, it probably makes more sense for him to accept a big one-year offer from Miami, then return to the free agent market in 2021.

Crowder may be a little trickier to retain. A strong defender who has the size and versatility to match up with opposing scorers, Crowder can also knock down outside shots pretty consistently, making him an easy fit in any system — and he’s four years younger than Dragic. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets three- or four-year offers from other playoff teams this fall.

The Heat could put a big one-year deal on the table for Crowder, but it might be hard for him to pass up long-term security if he gets an offer in, say, the four-year, $40MM range. Crowder’s free agency will depend in large part on what kind of offers are out there for him and whether those longer-term deals are lucrative enough to turn down a shorter-term commitment from Miami. I think he’s a little less likely to return to the Heat than Dragic is.

Of the Heat’s other free agents, it’s safe to say Udonis Haslem will be back on the team’s bench next season — at some point, he’ll probably do so in a coaching role, but as long as he wants to keep playing, a minimum-salary deal should be available for him in Miami.

Derrick Jones and Meyers Leonard played regular minutes for the Heat during the regular season, but saw their playing time dry up in the playoffs. Jones is still just 23 years old and may want an opportunity to spread his wings in a new situation, while Leonard has talked about wanting to play 20-25 minutes for whichever team signs him.

If they aren’t convinced there will be enough playing time to go around in Miami – and aren’t interested in signing for just one year – I wouldn’t expect them to be back. Jones, in particular, seems like a candidate to get a multiyear offer from a retooling team bullish on his youth and upside.

2. Will the Heat sign Bam Adebayo to a maximum-salary extension this offseason?

Avoiding multiyear free agent commitments this fall will be one way for the Heat to keep their cap as clean as possible for the 2021 offseason. Adebayo’s contract situation is another crucial wild card.

Coming off an impressive breakout season, Adebayo will be eligible later this month to sign a rookie scale extension which goes into effect in 2021/22. For players like Adebayo, who have already earned an All-Star nod and are likely to continue improving, a maximum-salary extension is virtually automatic. Teams prefer to get that business done as soon as they can, keeping their young stars happy and avoiding the possibility of an offer sheet in restricted free agency, so negotiations are usually quick and painless.

However, extending Adebayo early would significant eat into Miami’s projected cap room for the 2021 offseason. If we estimate a $112MM salary cap for ’21/22, a max-salary extension for Adebayo would start at $28MM (or more, if he meets Rose Rule criteria).

If Adebayo doesn’t sign an extension and instead reaches restricted free agency next summer, his temporary cap hold would be just $15.35MM. That means the Heat would have upwards of $13MM in additional cap room available. Once they use that space, they could go over the cap to re-sign Adebayo to a new contract that would be identical to the extension he could sign this offseason.

In theory, the Heat should have no problem convincing Adebayo to wait to sign his new deal. As long as the team plans to put the same offer on the table next year, he won’t lose a dollar by waiting. And his cooperation could clear a path for Miami to acquire a star teammate to play alongside him for the next few years, turning the club into a perennial title contender.

Still, a $150MM+ payday isn’t the sort of thing most players are particularly eager to wait on, especially if they’ve only earned a very small fraction of that amount so far in their professional careers. Adebayo may understand the Heat’s thinking, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be comfortable passing on life-changing money and risking the possibility of a career-threatening injury over the next eight months.

It’s a tough spot to put Adebayo in, and if he insists on being paid sooner rather than later, I don’t think the Heat will put up too much of a fight. Keeping their current stars happy is more of a priority than maintaining flexibility for new ones.

Plus, even if Adebayo’s new deal cuts into Miami’s cap room and prevents the club from opening up enough space for a maximum salary in 2021, that doesn’t mean signing a star is off the table. As we saw a year ago, when the Heat acquired Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade without having any cap space available, the front office is capable of getting creative and making it work if an All-Star really wants to come to South Beach.

3. Could the Heat go star hunting this year rather than waiting until 2021?

Given how many of the Heat’s offseason moves hinge on retaining cap flexibility in 2021, it’s fair to wonder if it makes sense for the team to pursue a star player now rather than waiting for another year. Miami won’t have max cap room this fall and the free agent market isn’t exactly loaded, but the trade market is an avenue the club could explore. And securing another impact player now would free up the organization to extend Adebayo and make more aggressive offers to free agents like Crowder.

The problem with that approach is that there’s virtually no chance the Bucks will consider trading Antetokounmpo, the Heat’s top target. Even if he doesn’t sign an extension, the only way Milwaukee would become inclined to move him is if he asks out, and I don’t see that happening.

As long as landing Giannis in free agency in 2021 remains possible, the Heat won’t want to give up on that chance. Still, there are potential trade candidates who may be free agents in ’21 themselves, which could appeal to Miami.

If, for instance, the Heat could pry Victor Oladipo away from the Pacers for a reasonable return, they’d be in position to re-sign him in 2021 if Giannis isn’t available. And if Antetokounmpo is in play in a year, Oladipo’s expiring contract wouldn’t get in the way of Miami’s pursuit.

On the other hand, if Antetokounmpo re-ups with the Bucks this fall, the Heat would have more flexibility to aggressively pursue a star on the trade market without worrying as much about their 2021 cap situation or the length of their trade target’s contract.

In that scenario, Jrue Holiday and especially Bradley Beal would likely be among Miami’s top targets. Holiday appears to be far more available than Beal, but I imagine the Heat would be willing to give up a more substantial haul for the Wizards’ star — Tyler Herro may be on the table for Beal, whereas I don’t think Miami would put him in an offer for Holiday.

Unlike other teams that have to rely primarily on the trade market to add impact players, the Heat can afford to wait until free agency to make a play for a star, knowing that Miami is among the league’s most desirable destinations. With that in mind, I’d be surprised if the Heat are overly aggressive on the trade market in the next few weeks, especially as long as Antetokounmpo remains on track to become a free agent in 2021.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Boston Celtics

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Boston Celtics.


Salary Cap Outlook

At first glance, the Celtics’ cap situation looks fairly comfortable, with about $95MM in guarantees committed to eight players.

However, that figure doesn’t include Gordon Hayward‘s $34MM+ option or Daniel Theis‘ $5MM non-guaranteed salary. Enes Kanter is also a candidate to pick up his $5MM option, and Boston would add another $7-8MM to its books by using its three first-round picks. With all those costs taken into account, the Celtics’ projected team salary jumps to $146MM+.

Boston could make some cost-cutting moves, including trading one or more of its three first-round picks. But this will be an expensive roster, and it seems like the Celtics will be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth $5.72MM).

Our full salary cap preview for the Celtics can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • Gordon Hayward, player option: $34,187,085
  • Enes Kanter, player option: $5,005,350
  • Semi Ojeleye, team option: $1,752,950
    • Note: Salary doesn’t immediately become guaranteed if option is exercised.

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 14 overall pick
  • No. 26 overall pick
  • No. 30 overall pick

Second Round:

  • No. 47 overall pick

After having held extra first-round picks for most of the last few years, the Celtics don’t have any surplus first-rounders beyond 2020. But they do have a pair of first-rounders besides their own (No. 26) this year.

The Grizzlies’ pick at No. 14 finally conveyed after being protected in the past — it was originally part of the deal that sent Jeff Green to Memphis in 2015. The Bucks’ pick (No. 30), meanwhile, was initially sent to Phoenix in 2017’s Eric Bledsoe swap. The Suns flipped it to Boston during last year’s draft in order to land Aron Baynes and Ty Jerome.

In the second round, the Celtics traded away their own pick (No. 56) as part of last year’s Terry Rozier/Kemba Walker sign-and-trade deal, so the Hornets have it now. But in that same trade, Boston acquired Brooklyn’s second-rounder (No. 47) from Charlotte.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will Gordon Hayward be back with the Celtics?

Hayward’s contract with Boston includes a player option worth $34MM for the 2020/21 season, which means there are a number ways the offseason could play out for him.

If he opts into the final year of his contract, Hayward could simply return to the Celtics for another year before reaching free agency, he could be traded, or he could sign a longer-term extension with the team. If he opts out, he could sign outright with a new team, join a new team via sign-and-trade, or negotiate a new, longer-term deal with the C’s.

For most of the year, it looked like a no-brainer that Hayward would exercise his player option. He has no chance of matching his $34MM salary for ’20/21 on a new deal, and the list of teams with cap room will be extremely short. Opting to test the open market wouldn’t seem to make much sense for the veteran forward.

However, there has been some recent chatter, instigated by ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Bobby Marks, that Hayward’s agent Mark Bartelstein is quietly surveying the landscape to see what might be out there for his client. During that ESPN podcast, Marks suggested there’s a chance that Hayward and Bartelstein could go the Al Horford route. A year ago, Horford unexpectedly turned down a $30MM option with Boston and signed a four-year contract with Philadelphia that guaranteed him $97MM.

The opportunity to secure one last lucrative long-term deal was the right move for Horford, who was 33 years old when he reached free agency in 2019. Hayward is still just 30 and will probably be well positioned for a nice payday a year from now if he has a healthy, productive 2020/21 season, so there’s less urgency for him to seek long-term security this year — especially with so few potential suitors with cap room out there.

It’s also worth noting that when the Celtics let Horford go, it helped them accommodate the acquisition of Kemba Walker. If they’d matched Philadelphia’s offer for Horford, landing Walker while staying under the tax apron would’ve been a challenge. This time around, there wouldn’t be much of an upside to letting Hayward walk. It would help the C’s avoid the tax, but wouldn’t open up any extra cap room to sign a comparable replacement.

Taking those factors into account, I think Hayward is most likely to either pick up his option or sign a longer-term deal with Boston that reduces his 2020/21 cap charge. In either scenario, the Celtics could simply run it back with Hayward or explore their trade options (though they’d have to wait a few months if they sign him to a new free agent contract).

There’s no shortage of teams looking for wings with size, but the Celtics already have a couple good young ones in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, making Hayward somewhat expendable. If they can figure out a trade that sends out Hayward for a player who addresses a more pressing need on the roster – perhaps in the frontcourt – it would make sense to explore that possibility.

If Boston’s hypothetical trade partner is a team Hayward wouldn’t mind committing to long-term, a sign-and-trade would be another option worth considering. However, that scenario would require plenty of pre-free-agency communication between the two teams and Hayward’s camp to figure out the logistics.

2. What will the Celtics do with their three first-round draft picks?

The Celtics own the 14th, 26th, and 30th picks in what is considered a deep draft. If they were a rebuilding club, that would put them in a great position to add a couple potential long-term building blocks to their roster. But since Boston has title aspirations and a nearly-full roster, adding another three rookies to next year’s squad isn’t in the organization’s best interests.

As a result, it’s pretty safe to assume the Celtics won’t keep all three of those picks, or at least won’t use all of them on players for next year’s roster. That gives them a few options.

Trading one or two of those picks for a future first-rounder is one path the Celtics could take. They did that a year ago, sending the Ty Jerome pick to Phoenix in a deal for the first-rounder that became this year’s No. 30 selection.

Continuously rolling a pick over to the following draft is a good way to retain value and flexibility — if the Celtics want to fortify their roster at next year’s trade deadline, having an extra first-rounder available for a veteran could come in handy. Plus, after holding extra first-round picks for most of the last several years, the Celtics only have their own first-rounders beyond 2020. Flipping one or two of this year’s picks for future selections would help avoid having those coffers run dry.

Trading a pick or two in a deal for a veteran would be another option, but salary matching would be an issue in that scenario. The Celtics have no trade exceptions to take on salary.

Using a pick on a draft-and-stash player is one way to try to maximize the value of the pick without requiring a spot on next year’s roster. That approach hasn’t worked out especially well for Danny Ainge in recent years, but perhaps Serbian forward Aleksej Pokusevski (18th on ESPN’s big board) would have more NBA success than Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic did.

One of the most intriguing options for the Celtics – and one the team is reportedly exploring – would be to use all three picks in an attempt to move up in the draft to land an impact rookie who could contribute immediately and develop into a key future contributor.

Picks at or near the top of the draft are exponentially more valuable than those later on, so the Celtics shouldn’t expect to move into the top five by dangling Nos. 14, 26, and 30. Still, there could be a deal to be had in the middle of the lottery.

The Pistons, for instance, could badly use an influx of young talent and may be open to moving down to No. 14 if they don’t have a specific target in mind at No. 7 — and if they believe they can get good value with those two extra Boston picks at the end of the first round. It’s not clear which player the Celtics would be targeting if they move into the top 10, but Onyeka Okongwu and Tyrese Haliburton are among the mid-lottery options who might be of interest.

3. What will Jayson Tatum’s extension look like?

Tatum will become extension-eligible for the first time this offseason and there’s no question he’ll get a maximum-salary deal from the Celtics. But not all max deals are created equal. There are some details that the team will have to negotiate with Tatum’s camp that could be important down the road.

For one, the length of the contract will be critical. Of the three maximum-salary rookie scale extensions signed a year ago, two were for five years, while Pascal Siakam‘s was for just four. It’s safe to say the Celtics will push for five years without a fifth-year player option for Tatum, who would still just be 28 years old by the time a five-year extension expires in 2026.

The Rose Rule language in Tatum’s deal will also be critical. As we outline in our glossary entry on the subject, the Rose Rule allows a player with fewer than seven years of NBA experience to qualify for a higher maximum salary (up to 30% of the cap, rather than 25%) if he meets certain criteria. Making an All-NBA team allows a player to qualify for that higher max, and teams and players are permitted to negotiate various starting salaries between 25-30% depending on which specific All-NBA team a player makes.

Siakam, Ben Simmons, and Jamal Murray all negotiated this language into their extensions a year ago. Siakam, for instance, will earn 28% of the cap in 2020/21 because he made the All-NBA Second Team — if he had only made the Third Team, his max salary would’ve been worth 25% of the cap. Simmons, who had more player-friendly Rose Rule language in his deal, will also get a 28% max salary after making the Third Team. Murray wasn’t an All-NBA player, but could theoretically have earned up to a 30% max if he’d made the First Team.

Tatum is coming off an All-NBA Third Team nod of his own, and had a strong case for a Second Team spot. Will the Celtics be willing to give him a 30% max if he makes any All-NBA team again in 2021, or would they require a First Team spot to go that high?

While the difference may appear marginal on the surface, that extra money adds up over the course of a five-year deal. Based on a $115MM cap, a player who starts at 30% of the cap would earn about $33MM more over five years than a player starting at 25%.

With big-money long-term deals for Walker and Brown already on the books, the Celtics could also end up as a repeat taxpayer down the road, so if they’re able to save a little money on Tatum’s contract while still technically giving him a “max” deal, they might welcome that opportunity.

There’s little doubt that the Celtics and Tatum will hammer out an extension this fall, but if it doesn’t get done immediately when the new league year begins, it’s likely because the two sides are haggling over these under-the-radar details.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Denver Nuggets

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Denver Nuggets.


Salary Cap Outlook

Taking into account eight players and their first-round draft pick, the Nuggets are currently on the hook for just over $100MM in commitments for 2020/21. That’s won’t put them in position to create any cap room, but it should allow them to re-sign some combination of Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig, and Mason Plumlee without going into tax territory.

The full mid-level exception ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.26MM) should be in play for Denver, though there’s a chance the team will be limited to the taxpayer MLE ($5.72MM) if re-signing its own free agents gets expensive.

Our full salary cap preview for the Nuggets can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • Jerami Grant, player option: $9,346,153

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:

  • Paul Millsap (Bird)
  • Mason Plumlee (Bird)
  • Noah Vonleh (Non-Bird)
  • Troy Daniels (Non-Bird)
  • Torrey Craig (RFA; Bird)
  • Tyler Cook (N/A)
    • Note: Cook won’t have any form of Bird rights because he was signed as a substitute player.

2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 22 overall pick

Second Round:

  • None

The Nuggets traded away both of their own picks in the 2020 draft. The first-rounder (No. 25) went to Oklahoma City in 2019’s Jerami Grant swap, while the second-rounder (No. 55) was part of a 2018 salary-dump deal that sent Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur to Brooklyn.

Denver did acquire an extra first-round pick to replace its own though, landing the Rockets’ pick (No. 22) in February’s four-team trade that sent Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez to Minnesota.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will the Nuggets re-sign Jerami Grant?

Grant’s time in Denver got off to a shaky start in 2019/20. In their 42 games through January 19, the Nuggets had a -5.6 net rating when Grant was on the court and a +14.0 rating when he sat, one of the most significant discrepancies in the league.

That gap wasn’t all Grant’s fault, of course — he was still scoring in the double digits and knocking down his threes at a 36.4% clip during that time. But he was inconsistent on the defensive end, as it took some time for Denver to figure out how to make the most of his versatility and pair him with the right teammates.

After January 19, the Nuggets’ net rating for the rest of the regular season was five points better when Grant was on the court. And he was a key contributor in the postseason, starting 16 of Denver’s 19 playoff games and averaging 34.4 minutes per contest against the Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers. The Nuggets couldn’t do much in the Western Finals against the Lakers, but Grant was one of the few bright spots — he averaged 21.0 PPG on 47.6% in the team’s final three games of the season.

While Grant’s first year in Denver wasn’t perfect, he had become one of the team’s most important role players by season’s end and showed why the club surrendered a first-round pick for him last July. The Nuggets didn’t give up that first-rounder expecting Grant to be a one-year rental, so there’s no reason to think the organization won’t make every effort to re-sign him this fall.

Grant will be an unrestricted free agent, which means he’s free to sign elsewhere if he doesn’t want to return to Denver. But unless the Nuggets are willing to work out a sign-and-trade deal, the 26-year-old’s best opportunity to play for a contender in 2020/21 will probably be with his current club. Using his Bird rights, the Nuggets can offer Grant a starting salary well above the mid-level exception, outbidding most rival suitors.

That doesn’t mean Grant won’t have other options, especially if he’s willing to join a lottery team. The Pistons and Hawks are expected to have interest and have the cap room necessary to put pressure on Denver. The Suns and Heat have also been linked to Grant, though both of those clubs would need to jettison some of their own free agents to create enough cap space for a run at the Nuggets forward, which could complicate matters. The Mavericks are also said to have interest in Grant, but they project to be over the cap, which could compromise their ability to put a competitive offer on the table.

It may ultimately come down to price. Bobby Marks of ESPN projects a $12-14MM starting salary for Grant, while Mike Singer of The Denver Post has estimated the forward could command upwards of $14-16MM per year. An offer in the four-year, $60MM range seems about right for Grant and the Nuggets. If another team is willing to significantly outbid that offer, Denver will face a difficult decision.

2. Will any of the Nuggets’ other notable free agents be back?

Besides Grant, a handful of other Nuggets will be free agents, including Paul Millsap (unrestricted), Mason Plumlee (unrestricted), and Torrey Craig (restricted).

None of those players are indispensable, but president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and general manager Calvin Booth have spoken about wanting to retain as many of their own free agents as possible. It’ll be interesting to see how committed they are to following through on that vow, especially when it comes to Millsap.

At age 35, Millsap is past his prime years and isn’t going to make any more All-Star teams, like he did in Atlanta for four consecutive years from 2014-17. But his value shouldn’t be understated. The big man has had a major impact on Denver’s defense since his arrival in 2017, fitting in perfectly on a team led by a pair of offense-first stars in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. His toughness and defensive savvy have take some pressure off Jokic, and he’d be missed if the Nuggets let him walk.

Connelly has said he’d “love to see” Millsap spend the rest of his career in Denver and I expect the team to attempt to re-sign him. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a rival suitor try to lure Millsap away with an oversized one-year offer in the hopes of shoring up its own frontcourt defense.

If the Nuggets are willing to match an offer in the $9-10MM range for Millsap while also re-signing Grant, it would push team salary close to the tax and would likely prevent Denver from using its full mid-level exception. Connelly, Booth, and company may have to decide whether bringing back both its top free agent forwards is more important than retaining the flexibility to use that MLE on an outside target.

Plumlee and Craig are less likely to incite a bidding war, but they each have some value. Plumlee has been a solid backup and won’t be as expensive this time around as he was when Denver signed him to a three-year, $41MM deal in 2017. Assuming the Nuggets can get him at half of his previous $14MM salary (or less), he could be back.

As for Craig, he was one of the team’s top perimeter defenders, but his offensive contributions were limited. With the Nuggets likely to explore the free agent and trade markets for a wing who has more two-way value, Craig could become expendable unless he’s willing to take a minimum deal or something very close to it.

3. Do the Nuggets have the pieces to swing a trade for a third impact player?

Jokic has emerged as a perennial candidate for the All-NBA First Team, and Murray – despite some frustrating ups and down during the regular season – showed during the postseason at Walt Disney World that he deserves to be considered Denver’s second star. He averaged 26.5 PPG and 6.6 APG on .505/.453/.897 shooting during the Nuggets’ 19 playoff games.

With a frontcourt and backcourt star locked up the foreseeable future, the Nuggets could badly use a wing capable of making an impact on both ends of the court. Will Barton and Gary Harris are good players, but they aren’t stars. And while Michael Porter Jr. has star potential on offense, he’s a liability on the other end of the floor at this point in his career and is unlikely to ever develop into a lockdown defender, even if he makes some strides in that area.

The Nuggets don’t have the cap room to make a splash in free agency this fall and there aren’t any logical targets on the open market anyway. So the trade market may be the team’s best bet to try to find a wing of that caliber.

One potential trade candidate, who has been linked to Denver in the past, is Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday. A defensive dynamo, Holiday is entering a potential contract year and the Nuggets are expected to be among his most aggressive suitors if New Orleans makes him available.

What would an offer for Holiday realistically look like? Obviously Denver won’t include Jokic or Murray, and Porter is said to be virtually untouchable too. Harris is the most logical salary-matching piece — from there it would just be a matter of how many sweeteners the Nuggets are willing to offer. Monte Morris and/or Bol Bol could interest the Pelicans. Denver also has all its first-round picks available beyond this season and could put more than one – including this year’s No. 22 selection – in an offer.

It’s not clear if such a proposal would appeal to the Pelicans more than something the Nets or another suitor could put together. If New Orleans demands Porter, would the Nuggets be willing to change their stance on the 22-year-old? I’m skeptical. As good as Holiday is, he’s made one All-Star team in his career (in 2013), is on the wrong side of 30, and could reach free agency in a year. If Denver is convinced to give up Porter, I think it’d probably have to be for a player a tier above Holiday.

It’s not clear if that sort of player will be available this fall though. Victor Oladipo is another target who might make sense for the Nuggets, but his health makes him a risk — I’m not sure Denver would want to offer much more than Harris and a first-round pick for the Pacers guard.

The Nuggets made it to the Western Finals in 2020 after forcing a seventh game in the Western Semifinals in 2019. They’re close to breaking through and acquiring an impact wing could be the move that helps put them over the top. We’ll have to wait see how aggressively Connelly and the front office pursue that sort of player this offseason.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Los Angeles Clippers.


Salary Cap Outlook

The Clippers currently have approximately $109MM committed to nine guaranteed salaries for 2020/21. That figure doesn’t account for potential free agents like Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, and JaMychal Green. The team will definitely be over the cap and could approach the tax line if it wants to re-sign more than one of those free agents.

If the Clippers’ team salary increases significantly as a result of re-signing those free agents, they may be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM). If not, they’ll have the full MLE ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) available. The club also had a couple modest trade exceptions on hand, including one worth $3.57MM.

Our full salary cap preview for the Clippers can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • JaMychal Green, player option: $5,005,350

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • None

Second Round:

  • No. 57 overall pick

The Clippers hung onto their own second-round pick at No. 57, but sent their first-rounder (No. 27) to the Knicks at the 2020 deadline in a deal for Marcus Morris.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Which frontcourt free agent(s) will the Clippers prioritize?

The Clippers’ stars remain under contract through next season, as do key backcourt contributors like Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. However, many of Los Angeles’ most important frontcourt players not named Kawhi Leonard or Paul George are eligible to his the open market, creating some difficult decisions for the franchise.

Montrezl Harrell, coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award, will be an unrestricted free agent and is poised to be one of the most talented big men on the market. He’s still just 26 years old and has put up big-time offensive numbers since arriving in L.A., including an average of 18.6 PPG on 58.0% shooting in 63 games in 2019/20.

Fortunately for the Clippers, and unfortunately for Harrell, this isn’t 2016. There’s not an abundance of league-wide cap room available, and teams probably aren’t going to reward a non-star center with a massive long-term contract like the ones Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, and Ian Mahinmi received four years ago.

That doesn’t mean that Harrell isn’t in line for a nice payday, but he’s unlikely to cost $20MM per year to retain. ESPN’s Bobby Marks estimated that the Clippers’ big man will receive a starting salary in the $10-12MM range. I think he could do a little better than that, but his defensive inconsistency will limit his value. And if the few teams with cap room use that space on other players, Harrell’s options will be extremely limited.

The Clippers’ decision on Harrell will be tied to which direction the team goes on two power forwards, Marcus Morris and JaMychal Green. Morris is an unrestricted free agent, while Green can also become a UFA if he turns down his $5MM player option — given the role he played on the Clippers, he can reasonably argue he outperformed that option.

Morris’ offensive numbers fell off substantially after he was traded from the Knicks to L.A., but he’ll still be a sought-after veteran this offseason — his toughness, size, defensive versatility, and scoring ability make him an easy fit on just about any contender. Marks estimates that Morris’ starting salary might be in the same range as Harrell’s ($10-12MM), though teams may be more reluctant to offer the 31-year-old a long-term deal.

As for Green, he’ll likely be the most affordable of the three, but getting him back on another $5MM deal might be too optimistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s offered a contract similar to the two-year, $16MM pact he signed with Memphis in 2017.

The Clippers, who already project to be over the cap without accounting for any of their free agents, probably aren’t enthusiastic about the idea of going into tax territory to re-sign Harrell, Morris, and Green without making any other upgrades. So something’s got to give here, and it will be fascinating to see which of these players becomes the Clippers’ top priority and which is viewed as expendable.

2. How will the Clippers address the point guard position?

A consensus emerged following the Clippers’ disappointing second-round exit last month that while the team had a deep, versatile roster, it could have used a point guard capable of assuming more ball-handling and play-making responsibilities.

When Leonard won titles in San Antonio and Toronto, he did so alongside Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry, respectively — there was no point guard like that on L.A.’s 2019/20 roster. Beverley is a strong defender but isn’t a dynamic offensive player, while Williams is more of a score-first player and Reggie Jackson couldn’t be relied upon for major playoff minutes.

It will be a challenge for the Clippers to find the kind of player they’re looking for on the free agent market this fall. Fred VanVleet will be out of their price range and most of the other point guards available won’t move the needle for L.A. — veterans like D.J. Augustin or Jeff Teague are solid but probably not the extra piece a team needs to win a championship.

The two most intriguing names on the free agent market are Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic. The Clippers have already been linked to Rondo, who played an important part in helping the Lakers capture their 17th championship and should be attainable for a deal worth the mid-level or less. He’d be a nice fit — especially since signing him away from the Lakers would help weaken the defending champions’ roster.

As for Dragic, he’s less likely to be within the Clippers’ price range. It’s possible a multiyear deal could lure him away from the Heat, who figure to make him a sizeable one-year offer. But a salary in the mid-level range probably won’t be enough to do it.

If the Clippers don’t land Rondo and don’t like their other free agent options, pursuing a trade could be the way to go. Unfortunately, some of the veteran point guards who would be the best fits – such as Chris Paul, Mike Conley, and Lowry – are impractical trade targets for various reasons, including their mammoth cap hits. But there are more affordable players out there who could realistically be available, like perhaps Ricky Rubio, Dennis Schroder, and Derrick Rose.

3. Are Leonard and George in it for the long haul?

It was a major coup for a long-downtrodden franchise last July when Leonard chose to sign with the Clippers and essentially brought George along with him in a trade from the Thunder.

The moves instantly made L.A. a title contender and generated so much excitement that it was easy to overlook one key detail — the contract Kawhi signed was only for three years, with a player option after year two. That means both he and George will be eligible to reach free agency in 2021, just one year from now.

Technically then, Leonard’s and George’s futures are questions that will have to be answered next offseason and not necessarily this year. But with that uncertainty looming over the franchise, there will be added urgency in the front office to make sure this year’s roster has the right pieces in place to make a championship run. Another early exit in the playoffs could significantly dent the Clippers’ odds of keeping their two star forwards for the long term.

While the Clippers will do what they can to make sure Leonard and George are happy, the odds that the two stars will bolt in a year seem low to me.

They’re both Southern California natives who chose Los Angeles over every any other potential destination — Kawhi left a championship team to move home, while George has been talking for years about the possibility of playing in L.A., even as he signed a new deal with the Thunder. Plus, Leonard’s decision to sign a shorter-term contract can be attributed to his desire to ink a more lucrative maximum-salary contract once he earns 10 years of NBA experience after next season.

Even if the idea of Leonard and George jumping ship is a long shot, the Clippers can’t take anything for granted. But if they can get any sort of assurances from those two stars that they’re planning on sticking around for the long haul, it’ll make it easier for the team to bring in the necessary pieces without making any panicky, short-term moves.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Milwaukee Bucks.


Salary Cap Outlook

Taking into account their eight players with guaranteed salaries and the cap hold for the first-round pick, the Bucks already have $116MM in commitments on their books for 2020/21, so they’ll be over the cap.

There are some other wild cards to consider here, including Ersan Ilyasova‘s non-guaranteed $7MM salary, a pair of player options, and the Bucks’ desire to add an impact player.

I’d ultimately expect Milwaukee to be in the tax or close to it, limiting the team to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM). But if the club maintains some maneuverability below the tax line, it could have the full MLE ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM) to work with.

Our full salary cap preview for the Bucks can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Ersan Ilyasova ($7,000,000)

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 24 overall pick

Second Round:

  • None

The Bucks’ own draft picks (Nos. 30 and 60) belong to Boston and New Orleans, respectively. The first-rounder was part of the package sent to Phoenix in 2017 for Eric Bledsoe before it was eventually rerouted to the Celtics. The second-rounder was one of several picks Milwaukee traded to the Pelicans for Nikola Mirotic at the 2019 deadline.

Milwaukee regained a first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in last summer’s sign-and-trade deal that sent Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will Giannis Antetokounmpo sign a contract extension?

Antetokounmpo’s contract doesn’t expire until 2021, but the decision he makes in 2020 may have a greater impact and longer-term ramifications than any of this fall’s free agent signings. The two-time reigning MVP is up for a “super-max” contract extension that would start at 35% of the 2021/22 salary cap and would tack five years onto his current deal, locking him up through 2026.

[RELATED: Examining What Super-Max For Giannis Would Be Worth]

There’s no doubt that the Bucks will put that offer on the table, but after two consecutive seasons of the team finishing the regular season with the NBA’s best record and then falling short of the Finals in the postseason, it remains to be seen whether Giannis will accept it.

Antetokounmpo has said all the right things about his desire to remain in Milwaukee long-term and to win a championship with the Bucks. And while NBA fans have been conditioned to treat those sort of remarks with skepticism, there’s reason to believe Giannis’ comments are more genuine than most.

The Bucks’ star has spoken in the past about preferring to beat his fellow superstars rather than befriending and teaming up with them. He didn’t grow up playing on the AAU circuit and isn’t part of the Team USA program, so he hasn’t used those avenues to build relationships and plot unions like some stars have in the past. Additionally, Milwaukee is the only home Antetokounmpo has known since he arrived in the U.S., which means he’s unlikely to pull a Kawhi Leonard — Leonard, of course, chose to return home to Los Angeles last summer despite having just won a championship in Toronto.

Still, while there are plenty of factors working in the Bucks’ favor, there are also some reasons why Giannis may not be eager to immediately sign up for five more years in Milwaukee.

The Bucks’ last two playoff exits have been especially disappointing — the team blew a 2-0 in the Eastern Finals in 2019, then couldn’t muster more than a single win against an underdog Heat team in the second round of the 2020 postseason. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the NBA’s salary cap outlook for the next two or three seasons, meaning Antetokounmpo may be incentivized to sign shorter-term deals until the cap starts to rise again.

While it’s certainly not out of the question that Antetokounmpo signs a super-max extension with the Bucks this offseason, my feeling for now is that he’s more likely to put off that decision. He could sign the same five-year, super-max offer with Milwaukee as a free agent in 2021, and by that point, he should have a clearer picture of the NBA’s financial outlook. He’ll also have another playoff run with the Bucks under his belt, giving him a better idea of whether the club is a legit title contender. It’s even possible the club will win a title in 2021, which would presumably make his decision that much easier.

If Giannis isn’t ready to commit to a five-year extension, but doesn’t want the contract situation hanging over his head all season, a shorter-term extension – like the one Bradley Beal signed last year with the Wizards – is another option. However, that would close the door on the super-max possibility until he gains 10 years of NBA experience in 2023 and might mean accepting less than even the 30% max in 2021/22. In other words, if he’s looking to maximize his future earnings, signing a bridge extension a year before free agency probably isn’t the right play.

2. Is Bucks ownership ready to pay the tax?

As Antetokounmpo mulls a potential long-term commitment to the Bucks, it may be time for the team’s ownership group to prove it’s serious about investing big money not just in its superstar, but in the roster around him.

Following the Bucks’ elimination from the playoffs in September, co-owner Marc Lasry met with Antetokounmpo and reportedly assured him that the team is ready and willing to spend into the luxury tax to make upgrades.

The fact that Milwaukee signed-and-traded free agent guard Malcolm Brogdon to a division rival in 2019 rather than signing him to a new contract would seem to contradict the assertion that the team has no qualms about becoming a taxpayer. But it’s worth noting that the Bucks were said to have some long-term health concerns about Brogdon — it’s possible they simply didn’t feel he was the right player for that sort of investment.

Now that we’re a year closer to Antetokounmpo’s potential free agency, there’s more urgency for the Bucks to do all they can to ensure their star wants to stick around. And Lasry and his co-owners are positioned to have an immediate opportunity to back up their words with actions.

The Bucks only have about $114MM committed to eight guaranteed salaries for now, but that figure would surpass $128MM if Ersan Ilyasova is retained, Robin Lopez opts in, and the club keeps its first-round pick. And it would go even higher if the team wants to retain Pat Connaughton or Wesley Matthews, or bring in adequate replacements. Using the mid-level exception and/or making a trade that adds team salary could make the Bucks a taxpayer, especially if the threshold ($132.6MM) remains unchanged for next season.

The Bucks will likely become more comfortable with paying an annual tax bill – including potential repeater penalties down the road – if Giannis signs an extension and they know he’ll be around for the next half-decade. But they can’t wait until after Giannis re-ups to exhibit their willingness to spend big. Making upgrades and going into the tax for 2020/21 will show the two-time MVP they’re serious without necessarily putting them on the hook for future tax payments if Antetokounmpo ultimately decides to leave.

3. Can the Bucks acquire an impact player by building a trade package around Eric Bledsoe?

Free agency will be one potential avenue for the Bucks as they consider roster upgrades this offseason, but they won’t have any cap room available. And if they’d prefer to avoid becoming hard-capped, then using the full mid-level exception or acquiring a player via sign-and-trade won’t be options either. That means Milwaukee’s most intriguing path to acquiring a potential impact player is via the trade market.

The Bucks have a few pieces they could package in trade offers this fall. Bledsoe ($16.9MM) is the club’s most obvious trade chip, both because his salary is useful for matching purposes and because he has been an offensive liability in the postseason over the last two years, despite impressive regular season performances. George Hill (9.6MM) and Ilysaova ($7MM) are among the team’s other potential veteran assets, though Ilyasova’s expiring contract would have to be fully guaranteed if it’s to be used for salary matching.

Those three players are useful rotation pieces, but they’re not moving the needle in a major way for any team shopping an impact player. The Bucks will have to sweeten the pot a little, perhaps offering the Pacers’ 2020 first-round pick (No. 24), along with at least one of their own future first-rounders. Having already conditionally dealt their 2022 pick, a ’24 first-rounder is probably the best Milwaukee can do.

It’s a somewhat underwhelming package — if the Bucks go after someone like Jrue Holiday, they’ll almost certainly be outbid by other suitors. But an offer headed by Bledsoe and a couple first-rounders might be enough to land a player like Chris Paul (whose massive contract hurts his value), Buddy Hield (who may have worn out his welcome in Sacramento), or even Victor Oladipo (who didn’t look fully healthy this season).

I think Paul, in particular, would be a nice fit for the Bucks. The veteran point guard could share ball-handling duties with Giannis and would provide the sort of reliable shooting that Bledsoe hasn’t — he wouldn’t be a major downgrade on defense either. However, a September report suggested it’s “highly unlikely” that Milwaukee goes after CP3. His contract is apparently a concern, as is bringing a strong veteran personality onto a roster that already has a superstar leader in Antetokounmpo.

If Paul isn’t high on the Bucks’ list of potential targets, I’ll be curious to learn who is. It’s possible the front office believes only minor roster adjustments are necessary, given the team’s regular season track record since 2018. But adding a reliable play-maker and shot-maker to the backcourt would make Milwaukee an even more formidable postseason threat, and I’m skeptical that sort of difference-maker will be affordable and attainable in free agency.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Houston Rockets

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Houston Rockets.


Salary Cap Outlook

Nearly identical $41MM salaries for James Harden and Russell Westbrook will prevent the Rockets from opening up any cap space this offseason, barring a major roster shakeup. With over $123MM in guaranteed money already committed to just six players, Houston is in position to surpass the luxury tax threshold in 2020/21 unless the club cuts costs.

For now, we’re assuming the Rockets will be operating with the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.72MM) rather than the full MLE or the bi-annual.

Our full salary cap preview for the Rockets can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • None

Second Round:

  • None

While it remains possible that the Rockets will trade back into the draft, they’re currently the only team without a 2020 pick.

Houston dealt its first-rounder (No. 22) to Denver in the four-team deadline deal last season involving Robert Covington and Clint Capela. The Rockets’ second-rounder (No. 52) went to Sacramento in a three-team 2019 deadline trade that sent Brandon Knight to Cleveland and Iman Shumpert to Houston.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. What will the Rockets look like without Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni in charge?

All NBA franchises reflect the philosophies of the people in charge to some extent, but few teams have been more defined by the their leaders during the past several years than the Rockets.

Morey and D’Antoni have each played a major role in revolutionizing the way modern basketball is played, and the marriage of their overlapping philosophies in Houston has resulted in an extreme style of small-ball that features an unprecedented amount of outside shooting.

Before D’Antoni arrived in Houston in 2016, no NBA team had ever come close to averaging 40 three-point attempts per game in a single season. Over the last four years, the Rockets have done it four times in a row, ranking first in the league in three-point attempts in each one of those seasons and establishing new records on three separate occasions (after averaging 45.4 threes per game in 2018/19, Houston averaged “only” 45.3 in ’19/20, preventing a fourth straight record season).

With Morey and D’Antoni both now out of the picture in Houston, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll see the Rockets modify their style of play going forward. If so, it would have a major impact on the roster moves they make this offseason and beyond.

I wouldn’t expect any major immediate changes, however, for a few reasons. For one, Morey’s replacement at the head of the basketball operations department is Rafael Stone, a veteran Rockets executive who presumably shares many of the same philosophies as his longtime boss. He’s helping to lead the search for a new head coach, so he’ll – in turn – likely be targeting candidates whose philosophies match up with his own.

Additionally, the Rockets have poured a ton of money, draft picks, and other resources into building a roster capable of thriving by playing small ball and launching three-pointers. Adopting a brand-new style of play would mean revamping the roster in a major way, and team owner Tilman Fertitta has said there are no plans to take that path this fall.

Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rockets make some minor adjustments to their roster going forward. Perhaps they’ll be willing to spend a few extra million bucks this offseason to bring in one or two more traditional big men who can be relied upon to play rotation roles. But I certainly wouldn’t expect Houston to fall back to the middle of the pack in three-point attempts next season just because Morey and D’Antoni aren’t pulling the strings anymore.

2. How much is Tilman Fertitta willing to invest into the 2020/21 roster?

After coming within one game of the NBA Finals in 2018, the Rockets have seemingly been losing ground in their playoff appearances since then. They fell to Golden State a round earlier – and without putting up as strong a fight – in 2019, then were dispatched from the 2020 postseason by the Lakers relatively unceremoniously, dropping four consecutive games in the second round.

Still, it’s not as if Houston is in a downward spiral. After all, the club lost to the eventual champions this year and can bring back essentially the same core next season. The Rockets’ most important players – James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House – are all under contract for 2020/21.

Unfortunately, that core won’t come cheap. The Rockets are already on the hook for more than $123MM in guaranteed money for those six players, including nearly $83MM for just Harden and Westbrook. Assuming the tax line remains relatively unchanged from the 2019/20 threshold (approximately $132.63MM), Houston projects to surpass it simply by filling out its roster with minimum-salary players.

The Rockets’ projections for 2020/21 will put team ownership to the test in a major way. Since buying the franchise in 2017, Fertitta has publicly conveyed a willingness to be a taxpayer if it means contending for a title, but the team’s actions have told another story.

Houston made a series of minor cost-cutting trades leading up to the 2019 deadline, surrendering cash and draft picks in order to sneak below the tax line. At the 2020 deadline, the Rockets didn’t have to work quite as hard to reduce salary, but the four-team trade that sent Clint Capela to Atlanta and brought Covington to Houston allowed the team to shed some money and get out of tax territory.

If the Rockets want to make any real upgrades to their roster and truly compete for a championship in 2021, they’ll probably have to be willing to use their mid-level exception. That will mean surpassing the tax line by a comfortable margin — or perhaps an uncomfortable one, if you’re Fertitta. If he was hesitant before about becoming a taxpayer, the Rockets’ owner certainly won’t be any more enthusiastic going forward, having had his businesses hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

But it would be counter-intuitive for the Rockets to dump their team-friendly contracts – like Covington’s, Tucker’s, or House’s – and the team probably can’t afford to give up more draft picks to entice a team to take Gordon’s long-term deal. Assuming Harden and Westbrook aren’t going anywhere, there just aren’t many avenues left to cut costs. So it’s time to see just how willing Fertitta is to spend on the roster.

3. How can the Rockets upgrade their roster around their core players?

Even if we assume the Rockets are ready to spend to add complementary pieces this offseason, the team doesn’t have a ton of tools at its disposal.

One of those tools is the mid-level exception, worth will be worth approximately $5.72MM, assuming Houston uses the taxpayer MLE rather than the full version. With teams around the NBA not expected to spend big in free agency this offseason, the Rockets might actually be able to get a pretty solid rotation player with that exception.

If they target a wing, players like Garrett Temple, Wesley Matthews, Justin Holiday, Maurice Harkless, and Glenn Robinson III could be options.

They might be able to find an even bigger bargain if they focus on big men. I wouldn’t normally expect guys like Serge Ibaka or Derrick Favors to be in Houston’s price range, but Texas is a favorable landing spot and it’s possible there will be an established veteran willing to sign a team-friendly one-year deal before returning to a more player-friendly 2021 market.

As for non-mid-level options, players who have signed minimum-salary deals with Houston in past seasons – including Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and Gerald Green – might be attainable at the same price this fall. Rivers may even exercise his minimum-salary player option to return.

The Rockets also have a handful of trade exceptions on hand, though none are worth more than about $3.5MM. Those exceptions are essentially only good for players on rookie contracts or veterans earning close to the minimum, but perhaps an inexpensive player in need of a change of scenery – such as Omari Spellman – would appeal to Houston.

Of course, the draft represents the best opportunity to add young talent on the cheap, but the Rockets are the only team without any picks in 2020. Still, if there are teams looking to sell second-round picks and Houston is willing to spend a few million dollars, there could be opportunities to trade back into the draft and take advantage of what looks to be a deep class.

The Rockets may not have the flexibility to add big-time talent this offseason, but the club doesn’t necessarily need another star. Acquiring a couple rotation players who can be counted on to produce in the playoffs would go a long way toward keeping Houston in contention.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Toronto Raptors

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Toronto Raptors.


Salary Cap Outlook

Toronto has about $85MM committed to eight players and a first-round pick so far for the 2020/21 season, assuming Stanley Johnson opts in and the team retains Matt Thomas and Terence Davis. That theoretically puts the Raptors in position to create cap room, but re-signing one or more of their own veteran free agents – including Fred VanVleet and/or Serge Ibaka – will likely eliminate that room.

We’re assuming Toronto will operate as an over-the-cap club. Depending on what happens with VanVleet, Ibaka, and Marc Gasol, the team will likely have the full mid-level exception ($9.26MM) available. If re-signing those veterans gets pricey, the Raptors may instead have to work with the taxpayer MLE ($5.72MM). Either way, the team won’t have its bi-annual exception, having used it last season.

Our full salary cap preview for the Raptors can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • Stanley Johnson, player option: $3,804,150

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • Matt Thomas ($1,517,981)
    • Note: Partially guaranteed for $725K.
  • Terence Davis ($1,517,981)
  • Dewan Hernandez ($1,517,981)

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 29 overall pick

Second Round:

  • No. 59 overall pick

The Raptors, who finished the 2019/20 season with the NBA’s second-best record, didn’t trade away either of their draft picks and didn’t acquire any extra selections for this year.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Will the Raptors re-sign Fred VanVleet?

The Raptors haven’t been shy about signing their own players to lucrative new contracts and extension in recent years. Kyle Lowry has signed a pair of new deals since 2017, both of which paid him more than $30MM annually; Serge Ibaka got a long-term deal worth nearly $22MM per year in 2017; and Pascal Siakam received a maximum-salary extension last fall.

That pattern suggests that the team should have no qualms about locking up VanVleet to a new contract this offseason that fairly reflects his market value. But even if the Raptors feel that way – and I think they do – their long-term salary cap outlook complicates matters.

Toronto has long had its eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and is close with Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri. For the time being, Siakam’s $31MM cap hit is the only guaranteed money on the Raps’ books for 2021/22, and even though the team will also have to account for Norman Powell‘s player option, cap holds for OG Anunoby and Terence Davis, and some other small charges, that leaves plenty of room for a maximum-salary player.

However, if VanVleet signs a pricey new multiyear deal, his ’21/22 cap charge would cut into that remaining cap space in a major way.

We have no clear sense yet of where the NBA’s salary cap will land for ’21/22, and Powell’s extension and Anunoby’s next contract are wild cards that could affect how much flexibility the Raptors actually have a year from now. But as long as Ujiri and the Raps still have an outside shot at Antetokounmpo, the sense is that the franchise will want to maximize its cap room for 2021 as much as possible — and that will affect how much the club is willing to offer VanVleet this fall.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Raptors will only be willing to offer a one-year contract to VanVleet. The expectation is that Toronto will still be able to make a competitive offer in the four-year, $80MM range for the starting guard. Structuring the deal so that it declines in value in year two before increasing again for the remaining years would create a small amount of added flexibility for the Raptors in 2021 as well.

Still, with Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram considered virtual locks to return to their respective clubs, VanVleet may end up being the top free agent on the market this offseason. Rebuilding teams with plenty of cap room – such as the Pistons, Hawks, and Knicks – will be in position to top a four-year, $80MM offer if they so choose.

If one of those teams is willing to offer $10-15MM more than Toronto does, would that difference be enough to convince VanVleet to jump ship for a lottery club? What if one of those clubs goes even higher?

Would the Raptors be willing to increase their own offer and sacrifice potential a max-salary slot for 2021, figuring that if Antetokounmpo or another top free agent really wants to come to Toronto, they’ll be able to figure out a way to make it happen? And would the Raptors change their approach on VanVleet at all if Giannis re-ups with Milwaukee this offseason?

At this point, I think it’s probably more likely than not that the Raptors will be able to retain VanVleet rather than losing him for nothing, but the situation definitely isn’t cut-and-dried, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

2. Will the Raptors re-sign Marc Gasol and/or Serge Ibaka?

While VanVleet is the Raptors’ top priority in free agency, two of the team’s other top seven players are eligible for new deals this fall as well — Gasol and Ibaka.

It’s possible that Gasol – who will turn 36 this winter – will decide to return home to Spain, joining his old team in Barcelona. So far though, there has been no confirmation that that’s his plan, as rumors suggesting a potential reunion between the veteran center and the Spanish club were quickly shot down. So an NBA deal remains in play for Gasol.

As for Ibaka, there’s no doubt he’ll be continuing his career in the NBA. The 31-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, having averaged 15.4 PPG and 8.2 RPG on .512/.385/.718 shooting in 55 games (27.0 MPG). His ability to stretch the floor on offense and protect the rim on defense should make him one of the more intriguing big men on the market this offseason.

If the Raptors bring back VanVleet, re-signing both Gasol and Ibaka may be a long shot. Unless at least one of the two accepts a team-friendly deal, Toronto would be at risk of going into tax territory by re-signing all of its key free agents. And given the way the NBA is trending, it doesn’t make sense for the team to invest big money in a pair of aging centers.

Re-signing one of the two seems realistic though, and I’d expect the Raptors to prioritize Ibaka. While Gasol’s box-score numbers undersell his value as a defender, passer, or screen-setter, he had clearly lost a step or two by the end of the 2019/20 season, and expecting a bounce-back year in his 13th NBA season is probably ill-advised.

The Raptors’ plan for Ibaka will likely be similar to what they did for Lowry — offer him a lucrative one-year contract that expires in 2021, allowing the club to retain flexibility for that offseason. Toronto should be able to afford to pay Ibaka a salary close to what he made last year ($23MM) without getting too close to the tax threshold. I wouldn’t expect any other teams to go anywhere near that figure, given the lack of leaguewide cap room.

If Ibaka does get a competitive multiyear offer from another team, the Raptors could shift their focus to a one-year deal for Gasol and perhaps use their mid-level exception to add more frontcourt depth.

3. Will the Raptors extend Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster soon?

The Raptors have one notable extension-eligible player this offseason, but a deal for that player (Anunoby) may not be a top priority. Although Toronto would certainly like to keep Anunoby in the picture for years to come, an early extension would eat into their 2021 cap space, and the team will have an opportunity to lock up the young forward as a restricted free agent next year.

For the time being then, the Raptors’ most important extension candidates are in their front office. Toronto’s president of basketball operations (Ujiri) and general manager (Webster) are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and signing them to new ones has to be a top priority for the organization.

The Raptors already completed a new deal with head coach Nick Nurse this fall, and a report around that time suggested there were rumblings this summer that extensions for Ujiri and Webster were likely to follow. Over a month later though, there’s still no update on either front.

There’s no reason for Raptors fans to panic yet. Interest in Ujiri and Webster from rival franchises has frequently been rebuffed, and Larry Tanenbaum – the chairman of the team’s ownership group – has vowed to get something done.

Still, fans in Toronto will be able to breathe a little easier if and when word of new deals for the team’s top decision-makers breaks. Ujiri and Webster have led a front office that has become one of the NBA’s best at identifying under-the-radar talent, and they’ve helped turn the Raptors into one of the league’s more respected franchises.

Five or 10 years ago, the idea of a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber giving any consideration to making the move to Toronto would have been laughable. It’s still probably a long shot, but it can no longer be dismissed out of hand — Ujiri and his group have made the Raptors a team that players around the league have to take seriously.

That progress wouldn’t necessarily be undone if Ujiri and/or Webster leaves next year, but keeping the duo around would be the best way for the Raptors to continue building on that progress.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Oklahoma City Thunder.


Salary Cap Outlook

After paying tax penalties for five of the last six seasons, the Thunder don’t project to be above the luxury-tax line in 2020/21. Still, with $101.75MM already committed to nine roster spots (eight guaranteed contracts and a first-round pick), it won’t be easy to create any cap room. Barring a trade that significantly reduces salary, Oklahoma City will likely operate as an over-the-cap team.

In that scenario, the Thunder would have access to the full mid-level exception ($9.26MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.62MM). If the team cuts costs and ends up using cap space, it would lose those exceptions along with a couple sizeable trade exceptions, but would gain access to the room exception ($4.77MM).

Our full salary cap preview for the Thunder can be found right here.


Roster Decisions To Watch

Options:

  • Mike Muscala, player option: $2,283,034
  • Abdel Nader, team option: $1,752,950
    • Note: Salary doesn’t immediately become guaranteed if option is exercised.
  • Deonte Burton, team option: $1,663,861
    • Note: Salary will become partially guaranteed for $1.1MM if option is exercised.
  • Hamidou Diallo, team option: $1,663,861

Non-Guaranteed Contracts:

  • None

Two-Way Contracts:

Free Agents:


2020 Draft Assets

First Round:

  • No. 25 overall pick

Second Round:

  • No. 53 overall pick

The Thunder’s first-round pick this year is Denver’s pick, which they acquired last July. Oklahoma City’s own pick (No. 21) was sent to Philadelphia back in 2016. In an odd coincidence, both selections were traded for Jerami Grant.

The second-round pick is the Thunder’s own. Because they technically won a three-way tiebreaker in the first round (which the Sixers benefited from), the Thunder’s second-rounder landed at No. 53 instead of 51 or 52.


Three Key Offseason Questions

1. Is Sam Presti ready to launch a rebuild?

The Thunder finished the 2019/20 season tied for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference (44-28) and pushed the Rockets to seven games in the first round before being eliminated.

The team outperformed expectations this season, but there’s reason to believe that success could be replicated in 2020/21. Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder, and Steven Adams are still under contract. So are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley, and they should only improve going forward. Danilo Gallinari could be re-signed without going into tax territory. And with all the future first-round picks Oklahoma City has in hand, adding an impact player in a trade isn’t out of the question either.

However, there are signs the Thunder aren’t planning to go in that direction. The most glaring of those is the team’s inability to come to an agreement with head coach Billy Donovan, who elected to part ways with OKC despite receiving a multiyear contract offer from the club.

Reports at the time of the split – as well as comments from Presti himself – indicated that the Thunder and Donovan might not have been on the same page regarding the direction in the franchise. In other words, Donovan didn’t want to stick around only for the roster to undergo a retooling process, while Presti seems far more prepared to go in that direction.

With Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, and Bazley all locked up for multiple years, the Thunder have a promising young core and won’t require a full teardown. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if Paul, Gallinari, Schröder, and Adams are all gone a year from now.

Gallinari is an unrestricted free agent this fall, so if the Thunder don’t re-sign him, their only hope of getting value in return would be through a sign-and-trade. Schröder and Adams will each be on expiring contracts in 2020/21, but the former will have much more trade value than the latter, whose $27.5MM cap hit will make it tricky find a taker. Paul, who is owed $85MM+ over the next two years, is the most fascinating trade candidate of the bunch — we’ll dig deeper into his situation below.

While I expect the Thunder to explore the trade market for all of those veterans this offseason, I don’t think there’s any urgency for the team to make deals right away. That’s especially true for guys like Paul and Adams. If trade partners aren’t willing to take on their oversized contracts without draft compensation, Oklahoma City can afford to be patient.

Adams will be off the books in 2021 and Paul will be entering the final year of his deal at that point. It’s not as if the Thunder need to clear cap room immediately in order to pursue free agents. Dipping into their cache of future first-round picks just to get off Adams’ or Paul’s contracts a year early would be a misuse of those resources.

In essence, while Presti and the Thunder may be prepared to retool their roster, there’s no need for a full teardown and there’s no rush to clear out the veterans as soon as possible. This rebuild can be a gradual one, and fully bottoming out shouldn’t be necessary.

2. Will Chris Paul be traded this offseason?

Paul is one of the NBA’s most interesting trade candidates this fall. He’s only a year removed from being attached to two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps in a deal for Russell Westbrook, but his value has increased since then for a few reasons.

For one, Paul had a terrific year in 2019/20, staying healthy all season and averaging 17.6 PPG, 6.7 APG, and 5.0 RPG with a .489 FG% in 70 games (31.5 MPG), earning his first All-Star nod since 2016. Teams with interest in acquiring CP3 will recognize that he’s still an injury risk, but the fact that he continues to play at such a high level is encouraging — his production is unlikely to fall off a cliff in 2020/21 as long as he stays relatively healthy.

Paul’s oversized contract is also one year closer to ending now. If a team acquires him and doesn’t get the sort of production it hoped for, his cap hits ($41.4MM in ’20/21, $44.2MM in ’21/22) will be onerous in the short term, but won’t ruin the club’s flexibility for years to come.

This year’s week free agent class also helps boost Paul’s appeal. There are two 2020 All-Stars who are free agents this offseason, but both of them – Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram – are highly likely to return to their current teams. Teams looking to add an All-Star caliber impact player may view a trade for Paul as their best bet to do so.

Paul’s fate will ultimately come down to what sort of offers Oklahoma City gets. The Thunder’s ability to extract a first-round pick in a package for CP3 – or willingness to include one themselves – will hinge on what the rest of the return looks like.

For instance, I don’t think there’s any way the Thunder will attach a future first-rounder to Paul if the Sixers want them to take on Tobias Harris‘ or Al Horford‘s long-term contract, or if the Bucks want them to take Eric Bledsoe and other salary filler. In those scenarios, OKC would likely ask its trade partner to include a first-rounder.

On the other hand, if the Thunder’s return includes a promising young player who could become a building block in Oklahoma City, the team would presumably be more willing to surrender a future first-rounder in addition to Paul. It’s more difficult to construct a hypothetical deal along these lines. If the Knicks were willing to include Mitchell Robinson in their offer, they could probably land Paul and draft assets. But I don’t think New York would do that.

Although Paul’s value is difficult to nail down, I don’t see the Thunder viewing him as a salary dump. If they’re going to move him this fall, they’ll want some combination of cap relief, a draft pick, and/or players who can contribute. If the Thunder don’t get any offers that fit that bill, they can afford to hang onto their veteran point guard for the time being, as they did a year ago.

3. Who will the Thunder hire as their head coach?

There haven’t been many updates out of Oklahoma City on the team’s head coaching search since Donovan’s departure more than a month ago. I imagine the Thunder began the process of seeking a replacement at some point since then, so the radio silence is likely by design rather than an indication of inactivity.

Even without any leaks, we can make a few assumptions about the Thunder’s search.

For instance, based on the divide between Donovan and the organization, it’s a good bet that the club will be seeking a coach who’s comfortable with the idea of overseeing a rebuild.

Additionally, given the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, I can’t see Oklahoma City paying big money to a head coach if the club doesn’t expect to be contending in the short term.

Those clues point to the Thunder targeting an up-and-coming candidate who may not have any previous head coaching experience. That lack of experience should keep his – or her – price tag in check. Still, the Thunder will want someone who has spent some time on NBA staffs so that they’re not hiring an entirely unknown commodity.

That profile fits with the few names we’ve heard linked to the job. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst initially identified Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool, Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin and Spurs assistant Will Hardy as contenders, while Shams Charania of The Athletic later confirmed OKC’s interest in Hardy and added Thunder assistant Brian Keefe to the list of candidates.

Griffin and Keefe each have more than a decade of experience as NBA assistants under their belts and have worked for at least three teams apiece during that time. Vanterpool began his coaching career as a CSKA Moscow assistant and has worked on the Blazers’ and Wolves’ staffs since returning stateside in 2012. Hardy has only worked for the Spurs, but has made an impressive rise through the ranks since joining the team’s video department in 2011 and is now one of Gregg Popovich‘s top lieutenants.

It’s possible the Thunder’s list of coaching candidates will continue to grow in the coming days or weeks. Based on what we know so far though, it sounds like the club will be targeting a veteran assistant who has proven his bona fides at the NBA level and is ready for a promotion.

Information from Basketball Insiders and ESPN was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NBA Offseason Preview Series

In advance of the NBA’s 2020 draft and free agent period, Hoops Rumors is previewing the coming offseason for all 30 teams, looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall.

Our Offseason Preview articles are linked below, sorted by conference and division. This list, which can be found under the “Hoops Rumors Features” menu on the right sidebar on our desktop site, or on the “Features” page in our mobile menu, will continue to be updated as we complete our previews for all 30 teams.


Eastern Conference

Atlantic

Central

Southeast


Western Conference

Northwest

Pacific

Southwest