Tag Archives: Kawhi Leonard

What now? DraftNasty looks at the NBA free agency landscape after the draft

With the NBA Draft in the rear view mirror and the free agency period set to start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, DraftNasty's Troy Jefferson breaks down some of the compelling storylines and offers his best fits for the scenarios.

Where do the star players of the NBA Finals go next?

Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all free agents. Durant was the marquee name of the free agency period before he tore his achilles in the NBA Finals. However, the two-time Finals MVP is still a highly sought-after name and will receive a max contract from whoever signs him.  Kawhi Leonard was able to shift the balance of power away from the Western Conference  to the East when he joined the Raptors and won a championship this past season.  Klay Thompson is a five-time NBA All-Star and just barely missed out on the NBA supermax deal because he was not named to an All-NBA Roster.  To make matters worse, he tore his ACL in the NBA Finals and it remains to be seen how much time he will miss next season.  Each of these players are probably future Hall of Famers and will make whoever they sign with considerably better. Leonard and Thompson are both LA natives but I expect Thompson to stay in northern California.  Thompson plays his best when running off screens and setting picks for backcourt mate, Steph Curry, and their synergy is hard to replicate. Thompson was drafted by the Warriors and his skill-set is perfect for the Warriors free- flowing offensive attack.  Leonard could either return to the Raptors, which would put Toronto back in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference, or he could return home to play in Los Angeles.  Both the Lakers and Clippers could offer him a max deal, so it will come down to a matter of preference for Leonard.  Doc Rivers has shown before that he can maximize star talent and the Raptors proved they could put a team together around Leonard.  I think the Raptors or the Clippers are the likely landing spots for Leonard. Durant could miss all of next year but he, too, has plenty of suitors. He could return to the Warriors or leave the Western Conference like Leonard did last year and join a weaker Eastern Conference. The Knicks and Nets have been linked to Durant. The Knicks would probably be a playoff team with a fully healthy Durant but does a guy who spent the last three seasons competing in the NBA Finals want to play the waiting game with a young core?  The Nets made drastic strides last season as a playoff team, but they still need a star. If they are able to sign Kyrie Irving and pair him with Durant, this would probably make them the team to beat in the East. 

Troy's predictions

Kawhi Leonard- L.A. Clippers

Kevin Durant- Brooklyn Nets

Klay Thompson- Golden State Warriors 

Does Brooklyn re-sign Russell or sign Kyrie?

As mentioned above, Kyrie Irving -a New Jersey native- has been linked to the Brooklyn Nets.  The Celtics enjoyed some success with Irving but could not make it to the NBA Finals and it seems their time together is over.  Brooklyn has the cap space for two max deals and have a need at point guard. They have a point guard in D'Angelo Russell, who made the All Star team this past season and could re-sign him.  Irving has had the better career to date though. I think Brooklyn would be better served signing Irving and trying to use that second max slot to sign another star player like Durant. However, Brooklyn could be in the same position as the Celtics if they strike out and can only bring in Irving, who would be the lead star.  In his past stints, Irving's teams have not flourished when he played the role as the "lead dog", see his early career in Cleveland and the last two years in Boston.

Troy's predictions

Kyrie Irving- Brooklyn Nets 

How do the Lakers fill out their roster?

The Lakers traded away three players including last year's first round draft pick, Mo Wagner, to the Wizards in order to free up enough space to sign another player to a max deal.  Right now, the Lakers are comprised of LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis as well as a few unproven youngsters.  General manager Rob Pelinka and the Los Angles Lakers could sign a player like Kawhi Leonard to a max contract and then fill out the roster with players on the veteran minimum or sign a  second tier star like Tobias Harris and then spread out the money to others that would make more than the veterans minimum. I actually think the best case scenario is for the Lakers to look to their past, they have a need at point guard and could bring back Russell. Russell saw his game rise to the next level last season and showed his ability to break down defenses and get to the rim. Signing Russell would allow James to play less at point guard and give the Lakers someone who could push the pace in transition. The Lakers ranked fourth in transition points per game last season and with what figures to be a roster of newcomers in 2019, Los Angeles needs as many easy buckets as they can muster. With the money they save by not using their max contract slot, the Lakers could also target free agents like J.J. Redick or Trevor Ariza, both sharpshooters and the type of players that have enjoyed success with James in the past. 

Troy's predictions

D'Angelo Russell as well as a few second tier free agents- Los Angeles Lakers

What does Dallas do with their cap space?

Dallas acquired former New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis in the middle of this past season and saw Luka Doncic take home the rookie of the year award. The duo will serve as the centerpieces for the Mavericks going forward in the post Dirk Nowitzki era and they have enough money to bring in a max player this offseason. The Mavericks have a clear need at point guard and I look for them to try luring a guy like Kemba Walker. First order of business will be resigning Porzingis, who is a restricted free agent. I don't see Porzingis leaving the Mavericks at all. However, I don't see Walker signing with Dallas because it isn't a great fit to have Doncic/Walker and Porzingis all on the floor together, there would be a natural overlap in the need for each player to have the ball. I do expect however for Dallas to target a true center because we've heard at times that Porzingis doesn't like playing the 5. Orlando's Nikola Vucevic is the name I expect to see sign with the Mavericks. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Mavericks target a defensive minded point guard like Patrick Beverly as well. 

Troy's predictions 

Nikola Vucevic and a starting point guard - Dallas Mavericks 

Who will play alongside of Harden in Houston in 2019-2020?

The Rockets have been on the door step of the NBA Finals the past few seasons but this is a crucial offseason for them. Houston could stick with their same roster from last season and try and take advantage of the Western Conference, which is in flux. The Lakers have star power but will need time to gel and the Warriors have stars but Durant is a free agent and so is Thompson and even if they keep both, they won't be ready by the start of next year. There are benefits in opting for continuity if you're the Rockets. However, the opposite argument could be made, Houston couldn't beat the banged up Warriors this season so why would anything change next season? If the Rockets want to bring in another max contract player like Jimmy Butler, they would probably have to trade center Clint Capela and Eric Gordon, to make the financials work. Butler would bring toughness and a defensive presence to the Rockets however I can't see him coexisting with Harden and Chris Paul, all three need the ball in their hands to be successful. Paul and Harden already have times where they look like they're taking plays off when the other is dribbling, Butler would only complicate matters. The best case scenario for brining in Butler would be getting rid of Paul and acquiring a spot up shooting point guard in the mold of former Heat point guard, Mario Chalmers. 

Troy's prediction

The Houston Rockets should keep the team as presently constructed

Where will Kemba end up?

If Durant, Thompson and Leonard are in the "first tier" of free agents, Walker is not far behind. The former UCONN point guard is a one man offensive weapon that has only missed six games over the past four seasons. Whoever signs Walker is getting someone that can score (averaged 25.6 points per game last season), lead and possesses rare durability. I think the Celtics, who will probably lose Irving to free agency are the team to watch. Unlike the Mavericks. Walker fits in a lot better from a scheme standpoint with the Celtics, who possess a plethora of wings like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Romeo Langford, who can not only mask his defensive decencies but don't need to handle the ball every possession. 

Troy's predictions

Kemba Walker- Boston Celtics 

2018 NBA Draft Team Needs: Southwest Division

Memphis Grizzlies

Team needs:

Combo guard

Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers are up for free agency. Evans led the team in points per game and Chalmers averaged 20 minutes per night. The Grizzlies could look to add another guard to complement Mike Conley if one of their free agent guards walks. Evans may command a big contract, which will probably price him out of Memphis. The Grizzlies will probably use the fourth overall pick on a big man but if they decide to use their 32nd pick on a combo guard, Duke’s Trevon Duval is a potential option.  Duval is raw but has good size for his position (6’3”), athleticism and the handle to get where he wants while setting others up.

Forward

This year’s draft is filled with premier big men and Memphis should be in the sweepstakes for a post presence. Marc Gasol has one more year left on his contract and then a player option in 2019.   It wouldn’t be surprising if he decided to leave for a contender a year from now.  Another Blue Devil who could attract the Grizzlies attention is Marvin Bagley Jr.  The Duke power forward is tall, runs the floor well, rebounds and puts the ball in the basket. 

Bagley Jr. has all the tools offensively but the one thing that could shy teams away from is his defense.  Coupled with the right lineups, however, Memphis could hide some of his deficiencies.

Cap space: -10 million, 110 million

Free agents: Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers

Houston Rockets

Team needs:

Forward

The Rockets have numerous free agents but since they were so close to an NBA Finals appearance, look for them to return its core and make another championship run next season. Houston could use some more depth along the frontcourt after showing a lack of depth and resorting to seven-man rotations against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.  The Rockets have the 46th pick in the draft, but there’s no guarantee someone picked that low will even make the roster.  Maryland’s Justin Jackson could be intriguing.  Standing 6’7” with a 7’2” wingspan, Jackson has size and positional versatility. More importantly, his  three-point shooting (43 percent his freshman season) is a characteristic that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey covets.

Cap space: -19 million, 119 million

Free agents: Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, Clint Capela, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

New Orleans Pelicans

Team needs:

Guard

Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark logged heavy minutes for the Pelicans during their playoff run. Rondo has jumped from team to team over the past few years and if he does the same this free agency period, New Orleans will be in the market for another guard. New Orleans has the 51st pick overall but if they decide to test the free agency market, Elfrid Payton could be a younger option. Payton came into his own offensively last year in Phoenix and would be a younger and cheaper option than Rondo.

Backup big man

In 48 appearances for the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017-18, DeMarcus Cousins (No. 15 pictured in the 2016 NBA All-Star game) averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 blocked shots per game.

New Orleans won a playoff series without DeMarcus Cousins but that doesn't necessarily mean they are better without him. Even with Cousins, New Orleans could use a backup big man. The Pelicans signed journeyman Emeka Okafor after Cousins got hurt, but he will be 36 years old by the start of next season. If New Orleans decides to use their 51st overall pick on a big man, USC's Chimezi Metu could develop alongside Cheick Diallo to possibly provide a low post duo in the future.

Cap space: -19 million, 119 million

Free agents: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford

San Antonio Spurs

Team needs:

Wing

San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard averaged just over 23 minutes, 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2 steals in nine games for the team in 2017-18.

Above all else, the Spurs will have to figure out if they will have Kawhi Leonard on the roster after he missed most of this season with a quadriceps injury.  Leonard covers so much ground for the Spurs and to lose him would be a major setback for San Antonio. If Leonard stays or leaves, look for San Antonio to still target another athletic wing, who can long minutes at both the shooting guard and small forward position since Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes will hit free agency.  Boise State's Chandler Hutchison is a name to watch for at the Spurs' 18th pick.  Hutchison doesn't shoot the three as well as the Spurs wings that have come before him, but each season he has improved his three-point shot.  Hutchison (6'7") also has good height and can play within the Spurs offense at either the shooting guard or small forward position.

Cap space: -17 million, 117 million

Free agents: Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes

Dallas Mavericks

Team needs:

Wing

The Dallas Mavericks signed Harrison Barnes to a max deal but don't have much behind him.  Doug McDermott averaged seven points and two rebounds in 20 minutes per game last season. Dallas could use another wing player that could play off the ball and defend both shooting guards and small forwards. The Mavericks could go with a big man with their fifth overall pick, but if Luka Doncic from Slovenia is available expect Dallas to take a long look at him. Doncic has a polished game for a 19-year old and has the ability to create for himself or play off the ball.

Big man

Doncic could very well be drafted in the top three picks, which means Dallas could fill another one of their needs with pick number 5.  Nerlens Noel is a free agent and Dirk Nowitzki will be 40 years old by the start of next season. The Mavericks could use an athletic big ma  who has the ability to play both the forward and center positions.  Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. is raw but has all the physical tools, can block shots as good as anyone in the draft and showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot threes during his one season in East Lansing.

Cap space: -1 million, 100 million

Free agents: Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Seth Curry, Salah Mejri, Yogi Ferrell

*The 2018-2019 NBA salary cap sits at $101 million and the luxury tax sits at $123 million.

Player stats are courtesy of ESPN.com.

Financial outlook is courtesy of Spotrac.com.

--- By: Troy Jefferson, DraftNasty Staff reports, Follow him @troy_jefferson on twitter.

Tuesday Throwback Report: Party Crasher in San Diego

There are a multitude of names that come to mind when one contemplates the prospects of elite NCAA basketball teams each season. Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse are just a few that break through the conscious initially. But San Diego State?

Laughably, one could have been locked away from all things hoops related for nearly a decade and still log that the likes of the Blue Devils and company would have a formidable presence in the midseason rankings. It’s simply that predictable sometimes.

But there are wrinkles. Just as easy as one might be on point in expecting the Jayhawks to be in early contention, one might also blunder and find that the Tar Heels are nothing more than average this season.  And in spite of this type of blunder being less likely, there have been times when North Carolina has found itself mending its wounds.

But San Diego State?

Amazingly, the Aztecs provide a wrinkle that is as much surprising as it is refreshing.  As it stands, San Diego State sits at the head table with top-ranked Duke and the usual suspects such as Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and the Orangemen, who round out the top-five in the AP poll.

Head coach Steve Fisher’s Aztecs are a polished 17-0 and remain as one of only five teams in Division I with an undefeated mark. This in itself is not surprising.   It started three seasons ago when the Aztecs finished with a 20-13 mark and landed an NIT berth. A year later, San Diego State improved to a 26-10 record, advancing to the NIT semifinals.

The development didn’t hit a snag last season when the Aztecs ran off an impressive 25-9 record and emerged in the NCAA Tournament, where it fell short in the first round to Tennessee. Despite the early exit, San Diego State proved that it had promise, pushing the Volunteers in that contest before narrowly losing 62-59.

So no, that the Aztecs have torn through the season thus far is not startling.  That they are being given credit for doing so this early is a different story. Typically, a team like the Aztecs wouldn’t even be on the radar until March - two, three games into the Big Dance. Butler, for example, wasn’t even ranked at this point in the season a year ago. They, of course, went on to play for the national title against Duke.

And no, the rankings aren’t usually built with the San Diego States, the Butlers, the Davidsons, or George Masons in mind. But here the Aztecs are, boasting a higher ranking than powerhouses such as Connecticut (10th), Kentucky (13th), Louisville (18th) and Georgetown (22th). And here they are, 17 games into the season, demonstrating more staying power than elite programs like Michigan State, North Carolina, and Florida, who after opening the season ranked second, eighth, and ninth respectively in the nation, are now out of the top-25 altogether.

The picture cannot be painted that San Diego State came into the year as a dismissed program. After all, they were ranked a modest but respectable 25th in the country in the preseason AP poll. But Fisher’s squad wasn’t comfortable with modest and quickly launched a stone at the pollsters when it toppled then 11th-ranked Gonzaga 79-76 on November 16th.

Critics who devalue San Diego State’s schedule strength thus far should factor in that the Aztecs also knocked off Pac-10 stalwart California handily, 77-57, on December 8th, less than two weeks after the Bears had beaten then 20th-ranked Temple.  And those who condemn the Aztecs for competing in the Mountain West Conference should consider that Brigham Young also hails from that conference.

And the Cougars are as well off to a fast start, sitting at 16-1 with a No. 11 AP ranking. This not only bodes well for the Conference, having two highly ranked clubs, but it also means that the attention of the college basketball world should be captured when San Diego State and Brigham Young face off on January 26th and February 26th. What’s equally intriguing is that the highly touted Aztecs defense will get an opportunity to slow down NBA prospect Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 24.9 points per game.

“This league is very good,” Fisher noted in a press conference this week. “We said last year of those teams that went in that it might have been the best ever. I think the depth is genuine; the disparity between 1 and 9 has shrunk significantly.”

Before matching wits with the Cougars, San Diego State will have their perfect record tested in the Mountain West. One such obstacle, for example, will come Wednesday, when the Aztecs takes on a potent 13-3 UNLV team.  Nevertheless, Fisher is as much excited about his team’s possibilities as he is its current place.

“We are pleased obviously with the undefeated mark, but I am happy that we appear to be getting better physically,” he stated.

One sign of this improvement is the recent Mountain West Player of the Week honor that was bestowed upon star forward Malcolm Thomas. It’s the third of such honors this season for the senior who earned the award after averaging 17.5 points per game, 12 rebounds, and two blocks, in wins over Utah and TCU. For the season, the 6’9’’ San Diego native is pumping in 12.3 points per contest, complimented by 7.6 rebounds. As well, Thomas is shooting a precise 59 percent from the field.

“It’s good to receive an award like that,” Thomas said Monday in the Aztecs weekly press conference. “But I have to give credit to my teammates. They give me the confidence to score, rebound, block shots, or do whatever I need to do to win. I really feed off their energy and that is why I get player of the week.”

The energy Thomas speaks of comes from what has thus far been a balanced act. Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard leads the team in scoring and rebounding, pouring in 15.9 points per game and pulling in 9.6 rebounds. And senior guard D.J. Gay chips in with 11.8 points per contest.

Gay, for one, credits several factors for his team’s play so far.

“I think it has a lot to do with our condition, our athleticism, our ability to turn it up on the defensive end,” the senior professed. “We start to press and create havoc for the other teams and that’s just taking it to another level. Our ability to do that is the reason we are having the success we’re having now.”

And thanks to an anomaly in the national rankings, the basketball community at large is able to witness this striking success in January, rather than postponing credit until March. By then, the Aztecs are being asked to be great twice, as March Madness is a separate season in itself.

Assuredly, the Aztecs haven’t been overly dominant this year, but they’ve been consistent and resilient. Their unblemished mark could be broken Wednesday against the Running Rebels or sometime between now and their meeting against Brigham Young. And even then, it won’t change the fact that the Aztecs have been one of college basketball’s best teams this season.

What this team will or will not do in the NCAA Tournament is irrelevant. Most certainly, a team’s failure in the Big Dance does not undo what perhaps was gained during the regular season. Some will be quick to hold San Diego State to this standard, discrediting this run if Fisher’s crew folds early in the NCAA tourney, forgetting that at this point in the season a year ago Texas was ranked No.1 with a 15-0 mark. Kentucky was ranked second, also with an undefeated record (14-0).

As most recall, neither the Longhorns nor Wildcats played for the national title. In fact, none of the top five at that point even made the Final Four. Duke, the eventual champion, was ranked eighth. It is apparent that the rankings are not a forecast of who will win the national title; what they do provide is a glance at who is playing well. And without question, San Diego State fits the bill.

Gay, who Fisher calls his most important player, admits to recognizing this accomplishment, even while still trying to build upon it.

“We do take each game one at a time, but sometimes you have to realize the situation that we are in and be able to enjoy it,” he acknowledged. “To sit down and reflect on what is going on now and know that we are in a situation a lot of people would dream of being in, you have to be appreciative of that. We take time to think about it but we know that we still have a lot of work that needs to be done.”

-          Patrick Green, DraftNasty.com staff writer, has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He is the author of two novels, Josie’s Missing Syllabus and Son Down; and while both works deal with topics beyond the athletic landscape, each exposes a social scope involving sports as an underlying theme. Green has covered high school, college, amateur, and professional football during his career, having written for newspapers in Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, South Carolina. To learn more about Patrick Green, visit www.greeninkpub.com.  

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