The Wizards Aren’t Expected to Waste Time Pursuing Masai Ujiri

All the unsubstantiated scuttlebutt that’s fit to print

The Ringer’s 2019 NBA offseason live blog will keep tabs on the latest news, trades, scuttlebutt, premonitions, and everything else in between this summer. Check back for the latest from around the league.

Washington Wants NBA Champion Masai Ujiri

Friday, June 14, 12:04 p.m. PT

Haley O’Shaughnessy: The Wizards want to hire away Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Washington is reportedly prepared to offer Ujiri a deal worth $10 million per year, in addition to the opportunity for ownership equity and a “larger leadership role” in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the company that operates the Wizards and Capitals. Ujiri, who has been with Toronto since 2013, has two years left on his current contract.

It’s interesting to see the Wizards be so aggressive after years of quietly extending Ernie Grunfeld, but Ujiri (who police are pursuing a misdemeanor battery complaint against following an altercation with a police officer after the Finals) is a good target to go all in for. Ujiri built a roster that made Toronto a perennial postseason participant and then made the bold move to blow up that roster and trade for Kawhi Leonard when it became clear that the team needed a boost to become a true Finals contender. That gamble clearly paid off in the biggest way possible: The Raptors are NBA champions, and Leonard won Finals MVP. The Wizards would love even a sliver of that success; the franchise hasn’t been to the conference finals since 1979.

Washington has also interviewed Oklahoma City executive Troy Weaver, and Danny Ferry, who has previously held the general manager title in Atlanta and Cleveland.

For Toronto, keeping Ujiri could be the key to Leonard’s re-signing with the team. After all, Ujiri touched every element of this winning roster: from signing Fred VanVleet, the undrafted backup that hit five 3s in Game 6, to drafting Pascal Siakam, who emerged as an essential piece to Toronto’s postseason run. Ujiri may want to stick with the success he’s built, but if he’s hungry for a new challenge, saving the Wizards is the perfect task for the accomplished executive.

Is Kyle Kuzma Becoming the New Roddy Buckets?

Thursday, June 13, 3:12 p.m. PT

Justin Verrier: We’ve reached the Roddy Beaubois phase of the Anthony Davis discussions. Who is Roddy Beaubois, you might ask? That’s exactly the point.

Beaubois was a late-first-round draft pick in 2009 who, despite meager production, came to be hyped as the next great point guard of the Dallas Mavericks. With a supporting cast composed mostly of aging veterans, Dirk Nowitzki’s title window seemed to be closing around the turn of the decade. But the 20-something Frenchman came to represent the Mavs’ last best hope for a title; he even received a cool nickname, Roddy Buckets. By February 2010, owner Mark Cuban was calling the young guard “pretty much untouchable” in trade discussions. The Mavs would go on to win the title a season later without Roddy Buckets logging a single second in the NBA Finals. He was out of the league two years later.

It’s hard to imagine Kyle Kuzma incurring a similar fate, given the robust stat lines he’s put up through his first two seasons, but the Lakers’ trade machinations have forced him into the Beaubois role in the rumor mill. The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported on Wednesday that while the Lakers have made Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and the no. 4 overall draft pick available to the Pelicans in trade talks for Davis, his “sense” is that they have tried to keep Kuzma out of discussions. Stein then echoed the sentiment on Thursday:

Kuzma is a strange place to draw the line. Unlike most shooters playing off of LeBron James, Kuzma’s shooting efficiency declined in his sophomore season. Ingram and Ball are former no. 2 overall picks, which suggests higher ceilings than Kuzma (27th overall), and both are also younger, which suggests more untapped potential.

But Kuzma’s age (24 in July) may be a big reason why the Lakers want to keep him around. Last season made it clear that the clock is ticking on LeBron’s prime; the team won’t have the luxury of another bridge season to replenish whatever rotation players it trades away. A Davis-Kuzma frontcourt would also mean that James would be saved from the punishment of pounding with bigger players in the paint, something he’s been loath to do in the past. Maybe more important than anything, LeBron likes him—it’s Instagram official.

It’s hard to imagine that Kuzma—a fine player, but not a great one—will be the sticking point by the end of this. But the Lakers, perhaps better than any other franchise, should know that a deal can be killed by far greater trivialities.

Kyrie Is Expected to Join Roc Nation; Will He Head to the Nets Next?

Wednesday, June 12, 6:12 p.m. PT

Riley McAtee: We’ve heard for a while now that impending free agent Kyrie Irving is likely headed to the Nets. Brooklyn has reportedly been interested for weeks, even believing a pairing with D’Angelo Russell would work. And Kyrie has reportedly reciprocated that interest, with everyone from Stephen A. Smith to Adrian Wojnarowski telling us that the guard is serious about the team. Now it’s time to add one more tea leaf to the pile:

Any agency change for a free agent usually signals a move, and if Kyrie does join Roc Nation as Woj expects, it would feel prophetic. Roc Nation is the agency that Jay-Z founded in 2008. You may recognize Jay-Z’s name from when he once owned 0.15 percent of the Brooklyn Nets.

Jay-Z had to sell those shares in 2013 when Roc Nation began to represent NBA players, per league rules, but he was still instrumental in getting the Nets to move from New Jersey to his hometown of Brooklyn. And the connection between Roc Nation and the Nets remains: The president of Roc Nation, Michael Yormark, has a twin brother, Brett Yormark, who is the CEO of the Nets. Given the prior interest between Kyrie and Brooklyn, his switch to Roc Nation hardly seems like a coincidence.

Oh, and just to add one more tea leaf to this mountain: Kevin Durant’s agent, Rich Kleiman, is employed by Roc Nation. KD and Kleiman have broken off on their own in recent years, but Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Kyrie and Durant had talked about playing together on either the Nets or Knicks. Durant will likely miss the entire 2019-20 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon, but the possibility of a Durant-Irving pairing remains: Brooklyn would have to clear only a little more than $2 million in cap space to fit both of them on the roster this offseason.

The Celtics and Lakers Are Reportedly in a Race for Anthony Davis

Wednesday, June 12, 2:22 p.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Of course the Celtics would insert themselves into the story line of the summer. They’ve always been rumored to want to be involved in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, and now, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Co. at ESPN, they reportedly are.

There are a couple of key words here: “Engaged” suggests this could be the very beginning of trade talks, and “multi-team” means franchises other than the Celtics and Lakers could jump into the fray. However, the process may have to happen quickly; ESPN previously reported that Pelicans executive VP David Griffin wishes to have a deal done ahead of the June 20 draft, in order to procure meetings with prospects should they acquire high draft picks, like the Lakers’ no. 4 overall selection.

Acquiring Zion Williamson and another top-four rookie would give New Orleans the infusion of exciting young talent the franchise needs to jump off the NBA’s treadmill of mediocrity for the first time in years, and the Lakers are reportedly open to moving Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball as well, according to The New York Times’s Marc Stein. Davis’s trade request seemed like a disaster for the Pels; if Griffin can pull off a worthy offseason haul for his superstar, the return could give New Orleans a new beginning.

The Celtics, meanwhile, hope that snagging Davis could allow the franchise to retain Kyrie Irving, according to Woj:

As Woj indicates, Boston has been persistent despite agent Rich Paul’s warning that Davis will not sign an extension with any franchise before he reaches free agency in 2020. But Boston could mimic the move Toronto made last offseason with Kawhi Leonard and trade for Davis anyway; in case you hadn’t noticed, the Raptors’ decision is turning out quite well. An issue standing in Boston’s way is the timing: The Celtics can’t pair Davis and Kyrie until after July 1, because both players are currently on designated veteran exception contracts, and only one such contract is permitted per roster. That’s well after the aforementioned pre-draft timeline Griffin reportedly wants to stick to. But Boston has a knack for figuring out how to swing things its way. The Lakers … not so much.

Boston Wants to Deal Some of Its Picks

Wednesday, June 12, 9:48 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Even Danny Ainge can have too many draft picks and assets. If the Celtics don’t make any trades leading up to the draft on June 20, they’ll leave the evening with four rookies. Boston currently holds the 14th, 20th, 22nd, and 51st overall picks. While the Cs are in a bit of an identity crisis—Kyrie Irving might not return, and Anthony Davis might not come—a handful of middling first-round picks and one deep in the second round aren’t likely to revolutionize the roster. The chances of there being a draft diamond in the rough that deep are slim; the chances of identifying that diamond are slimmer.

For obvious reasons, Boston is reportedly seeking a trade. “They don’t want to have three rookies on this team next season,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter Tuesday. Perhaps the picks could be packaged to try to move up in the draft, but Ainge is a historically aggressive GM with a roster that’s built to compete now.

Boston is one of the organizations, in addition to the Pacers and Jazz, that Woj linked as a potential trade partner for Mike Conley. A partnership with the Grizzlies makes sense—with Marc Gasol in Toronto and Conley on the wrong side of 30, Memphis is staring at a rebuild. It should welcome multiple picks. Boston, meanwhile, would solve a couple of issues in one trade: (1) Successfully flip a group of late picks as part of a larger package for a player in his prime, and (2) give itself a smooth transition to the post-Irving era.

The Lakers Feel Rushed to Get Anthony Davis, But Davis Doesn’t Feel the Same Time Limit

Tuesday, June 12, 9:48 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: New Orleans should want to trade Anthony Davis sooner rather than later. The draft is just eight days away, and there are potential picks to scout, as well as free-agency holes to target. But for Los Angeles, which is itching to be on the other end of that deal, there’s an even greater rush: It needs Davis to set the table for the team’s free agency.

”Right now they are not a front-runner, or even really a major consideration, among any of the elite free agents,” Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter Tuesday. The Lakers are at grave risk of wasting another year of LeBron James’s career. And if it’s not Davis coming this summer, it might not be anyone. L.A. certainly hasn’t been mentioned in the same free-agency conversations as the other teams that frequent this blog; the Nets, Knicks, and Clippers are three bustling open houses while the Lakers wait on the end of the block for anyone to show up.

Of course, landing Davis wouldn’t solve everything for the Lakers. Though they are reportedly on the superstar’s list of preferred landing places, he could still walk next offseason. On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated published a piece on Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, in which Paul said that no matter where Davis was dealt, he would not be signing an extension this summer.

“Where he’s going to land? I have no idea,” Paul said. “And it don’t matter. We’re going into free agency. Why does it matter to me where he goes? Earth: We’re going into free agency. He has a year, he has to play. But after that, I can’t say it no bigger: WE ARE GOING INTO FREE AGENCY. 2020: ANTHONY DAVIS WILL BE IN FREE AGENCY.”

Still, in the SI piece, Paul is very complimentary of both the Lakers and Knicks franchises. Even if LeBron weren’t in L.A., Rich asks, “Are the Lakers not a great destination for an arguably top-two player that went to Kentucky and won a national championship, signed with Nike? For a team that’s had centers from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq?”

Similarly, when Paul brings up New York, he talks about their tradition and market size. (The only difference with the Knicks is “they don’t have as many championships as the Lakers.”) Paul tries to sell the Lakers as an organization outside of the fact that his other client is there.

“LeBron’s 34 years old,” Paul said, “Anthony Davis is 26. So when LeBron’s done playing, the Anthony Davis trade is still rolling. What better place to do it than L.A.? If it was L.A.—I never said ‘L.A.’ But there’s no negative to that. Who gives a s— what you’re talking about, about me trying to help LeBron out? No, I’m not. I’m trying to help Anthony Davis. Now, if helping Anthony Davis helps LeBron in the long run? So be it. But my goal is Anthony Davis.”

Funny enough, the Lakers’ goal could also be described as “Anthony Davis.”

Anthony Davis Apparently Wants to Be a Knick or Laker

Monday, June 10, 4:11 p.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: I’ve always loved the optimism on display when a player without a no-trade clause gives his front office a list of preferred trade destinations, especially if the split is not amicable. While superstars generally have the leverage to prompt trades, they can’t often control where they’re dealt. However, reports do indicate that the Pelicans will honor Anthony Davis’s request to be dealt, and it may be to one of his top choices: the Lakers or the Knicks. Those are Davis’s two preferred destinations now, per The Athletic, though he hasn’t given New Orleans an updated list since his original one back in February that also included the Bucks and the Clippers.

Davis could be a free agent in 2020, so if a team that isn’t on his list trades for him, it would take on the enormous risk of losing AD after one season. That reportedly has not deterred Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, who is still “aggressive” in pursuing Davis and who believes in their roster “with or without Kyrie Irving.” Ainge has a good reputation for finessing trades—Scott Perry and Rob Pelinka, not so much.

The Pelicans Want Multiple Farms for Anthony Davis

Monday, June 10, 11:20 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: If you must part with Anthony Davis, you must think big. According to an ESPN report, the Pelicans are seeking a “combination of assets that include an All-Star player, a young player with All-Star potential and two first-round picks” in exchange for AD. Because of the weight of the ask, this smells like a multiteam deal, which ESPN reports GM David Griffin is open to pursuing. Finding one All-Star, a future All-Star, and two picks is a headache, but Griffin “prefers” that any trade involving picks is settled “days prior” to the draft on June 20. That would give New Orleans time to analyze its incoming picks, but it also shortens the timetable for other franchises to put together packages.

Another timing-related factor is this all going down as Kawhi Leonard leads the Raptors on a historic postseason run. He hasn’t even re-signed yet (and still may not), yet Adrian Wojnarowski writes that league sources find the success of Toronto’s one-year rental has “[emboldened] factions of Davis’ nonpreferred and smaller-market destinations to probe New Orleans on trades.” It’s the second straight year that a small market won out by pursuing a player who just wanted out of his current situation; Paul George re-signed with the Thunder last season, and Kawhi’s taking the Raptors further than they’ve gone before now. Davis is certainly the caliber of player who can turn a franchise around in a season, which is why Griffin has to squeeze his departure for all it’s worth.

Cris Carter Adds to the Kawhi-to-the-Knicks Rumor

Monday, June 10, 10:08 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: The Knicks are in the running for another free agent whose name starts with “K:” Kawhi Leonard. On First Things First, Cris Carter said that he believes “the Knicks have a shot to land Kawhi and [Kevin Durant],” calling it a “real possibility.” Of course, Carter has also said that Kawhi would never be traded to the Raptors, that he wanted to play with LeBron James, and that he would sign with the Clippers. Picturing Kawhi and KD together is fun, sure, but our imagination might be the only place they’ll play together.

Still, it’s fun to imagine. Kawhi’s been linked to multiple teams, such as the Clippers and Raptors, and the Knicks have been linked to multiple players, most prominently Durant and Kyrie Irving. Landing all three is out of the question monetarily; landing none of the three would be, after this much speculation, a huge failure. (Luckily, two other “K’s” expecting max contracts, Klay Thompson and Khris Middleton, are on the market as well.)

DeMar DeRozan Might Be on the Move Again This Summer

Monday, June 10, 10:08 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: DeRozan shouldn’t call San Antonio home just yet. On Friday, ESPN’s Bobby Marks told The Russillo Show that the Spurs guard could be shopped this summer to make room for free agent target Bojan Bogdanovic, who he had learned San Antonio was interested in from three different people. To acquire Bogdanovic, though, a contract like DeRozan’s has to be moved. “I can see DeRozan being on the market come the first week of July. Almost like a free agent but being under contract,” Marks said. DeRozan is slated to make $27 million this season, with a player option in 2020-21 worth the same.

June hasn’t been great to DeRozan, whose former franchise is one win away from a title. And San Antonio’s offloading the former All-Star would be particularly unfortunate for him: The Spurs are one of the few teams in the league that encourage DeRozan’s old-school midrange game. One year ago, when Toronto dealt him, one of the consolations on DeRozan’s end was working with Gregg Popovich and a historically successful program. Stylistically, DeRozan won’t find a better fit. And even if he’s traded, that won’t end DeRozan’s search for a new home—he’s still in the market for a contract extension.

The Knicks Think They’re in Play for Kawhi

Friday, June 7, 11:22 a.m. PT

Chris Ryan: Well, well, well. After a week of Kyrie-to-Brooklyn stories, varying from the pedestrian (Kyrie seen smiling on the Upper East Side!), to the possibly apocryphal (Kyrie seen partying at the 40/40 Club with various Nets!), to the actually pretty interesting (Kyrie seen eyeballing all that cap space Brooklyn just created by trading Allen Crabbe and a pair of first-rounders to Atlanta), we finally get some Manhattan gossip. Clinking the champagne glass like the drunk bridesmaid about to make an unscheduled speech at the wedding, the Knicks just want you to know they also have some news: They think they have a shot at Kawhi Leonard.

According to Marc Berman over at the New York Post, the Knicks totally don’t care that Kyrie is Brooklyn-bound, in fact they think it’s funny. They’ve moved on to bigger, better, quieter things, like the rent-a-franchise-player Leonard, who becomes a free agent this summer. Berman writes: “According to NBA sources, Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry expect to get a meeting with Raptors star Kawhi Leonard and at least have a puncher’s chance despite all the Kevin Durant hoopla.”

Berman goes on to say that there’s a feeling that Durant does not want to come to the Knicks solo (color me shocked), and with the Irving-Brooklyn rumors swirling, the big brains at the Garden are looking at all their options. There are some real gems in this Post piece, including the line, “Leonard’s even-keel demeanor may suit the New York market,” and a suggestion that playing for the Knicks would be some kind of homecoming for Leonard, since his uncle, Dennis “Uncle Dennis” Robertson, is from North Jersey. No way, a guy once drove on the Garden State Parkway? HE WAS BORN TO BE A KNICK!

This feels like a Knicks leak to counter the Brooklyn Rising narrative that’s been forming this week. For the past few months, there was a feeling that New York’s return to the NBA’s VIP section was a done deal. They’d get Zion in the draft, KD and Kyrie in free agency, dump their assets for role players, and book their tickets to the Finals before the 2019-20 season even started. Instead they’ll be picking third in the draft, their prime free-agent target is wearing a protective boot, and their other crush seems destined to play in another borough. So what do they do? Let it be known that they think they can at least get in the same room with a guy absolutely no one thinks will actually sign with them. Good work, guys.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Is Untouchable

Friday, June 7, 9:52 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Unlike their fellow Los Angeles franchise, the Clippers are not willing to part with all of their young players for Anthony Davis. On Thursday’s Sedano Show, ESPN’s Bobby Marks said that he heard the team will not put Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the table in trade talks. That somewhat explains why the Clippers, who were on Davis’s original list of preferred destinations in February, haven’t been mentioned much since. Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off a solid rookie debut, in which he started 73 games and averaged 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists with an effective field goal percentage of .512. He has shown enough already to convince Clippers fans that there’s a bright future ahead. Still, making SGA untouchable almost certainly takes L.A. out of the race for Davis. They must feel awfully optimistic about another superstar coming in free agency.

TRADE: The Nets Grab Taurean Prince—and Room for Two Max Spots

Thursday, June 6, 2:47 p.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: It can be hard to give context on Twitter. For example, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that Brooklyn shipped Allen Crabbe and a pair of picks for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-rounder needs context. On the surface, that’s a large haul to send for Prince, though the small forward is certainly a solid player. But the big takeaway came in a second Woj bomb: The Nets can now clear up to $68 million in cap space this summer if they don’t re-sign D’Angelo Russell. That’s room for [checks notes] two (30-percent level) max contracts. Seven minutes later, Woj tweeted another bomb, saying that Kyrie Irving is “serious about the Nets,” and that the Nets are “serious about beating the Knicks — and rest of league — to the biggest free agents.”

The Nets may have even bigger plans for that second max spot: Kevin Durant, who, in addition to being the biggest free agent of them all, happens to have also been in New York rumors this season, explicitly connected to Irving. The Nets would have to clear another bit of space to make room to add KD along with Irving, but the broad strokes of this plan are there. Throughout the season, Irving, Durant, and the Knicks were linked as a potential marriage in free agency. Now, they’re still being connected with New York, just not quite how the Knicks had hoped.

The Pelicans Might Do Business With the Lakers

Thursday, June 6, 10:28 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Remember that Lakers trade package the Pelicans rejected before the trade deadline? Los Angeles was reportedly prepared to ship its entire long-term future—Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, plus draft picks—to New Orleans in exchange for Anthony Davis and a chance to compete in the present. New Orleans spiked the deal (according to ESPN, the Pelicans never intended to seriously engage, and just wanted to “sabotage” the Lakers a little), and if Dell Demps were still the Pelicans GM, the franchise would likely still be embargoing any business with the Lakers.

The Pelicans fired Demps after the season, and David Griffin is running New Orleans now. And he holds no such grudge. According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Griffin and a good deal of his front office personnel are in support of running back the Lakers’ original offer. “I spoke to several people within the Pelicans’ organization in the past several months that have a really high opinion of Brandon Ingram, and beyond just Brandon Ingram, have a really high opinion of the trade package that was on the table that was ultimately rejected,” McMenamin said May 29 on the The Sedano Show.

Plus, Griffin spoke well of Ingram earlier this season on a television appearance. A short excerpt: “He’s 21 years old. It defies the imagination.”

This shift is likely the result of another development as well: Zion Williamson. No player in that Lakers package would’ve been able to replace Davis straight up as “the guy,” the new superstar who would save the franchise. But now that the Pelicans won the lottery, they can draft Zion, who is projected to be the best prospect since Davis. Now the Pelicans can see the package (which does hold a ton of potential on its own) in a new light. It’s not a Davis replacement, it’s a supplement to the Davis replacement.

That offer might no longer exist. Before the season’s trade deadline, the Lakers were pressed for time, and with a potential playoff appearance on the line, were desperate. And the Lakers have undergone their own front office shakeup. Surely they still have interest in Davis, but are they still willing to part with Ingram? Or with their first-round pick, which turned out to be no. 4 overall? Fortunately for Griffin and the Pels, the Lakers are still pressed for time, and will be for LeBron’s entire stay with the team.

Kyrie Irving Is Happy to Be in the Big Apple

Wednesday, June 5, 2:20 p.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Spotted on the Upper East Side: Kyrie Irving, and he’s happy as hell. He also happens to be in the city just one day after Stephen A. Smith reported that Irving was interested in signing with Brooklyn this summer. Irving was “wearing his biggest smile of the past year,” says real estate investor Sam Eshaghoff, who tweeted a picture of our cheery Irving. Look at those pearly whites. He’s glowing, honey:

And let’s not look past the bag and shoes, and what they could possibly mean. “What could be in the bag?” you ask. Could it be basketball-adjacent? Probably. He’s a basketball player. Do you know who plays basketball in New York? The Knicks. The Nets. The Liberty, too, but I’m not sure Irving could hang. (Though think of the pick-and-roll with Tina Charles.) Those shoes, too—well, guys, they’re basketball shoes. Stay unbothered, Kyrie.

D’Angelo Russell Might Wear a Jersey With Color on It Next Season

Wednesday, June 5, 10:03 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: The Nets are finally in a position to compete again. After a dark, reckless, and unforgiving trade condemned the franchise for years, Brooklyn just had its first winning season since 2014. So the Nets will be calculated about their spending this summer. The front office could pass on giving restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell the lucrative contract he wants in lieu of chasing someone with more acclaim, like Kyrie Irving. After Russell’s breakout season, however, he’ll be fine. He’s already garnered interest outside Brooklyn: Sources told The Athletic that Utah, Orlando, Minnesota, and Indiana are all monitoring the 23-year-old.

All four teams could use a change at point guard. The Wolves’ Jeff Teague experiment has run its course (especially considering that the man who signed Teague, Tom Thibodeau, has been fired); the Jazz have indicated to Ricky Rubio that he won’t be a “top priority” this summer; the Pacers want more star power next to Victor Oladipo (no offense to Darren Collison or Cory Joseph, both of whom are free agents anyway); the Magic would prefer to employ a former lottery pick who has actually materialized (last season’s depth chart: D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams, and Markelle Fultz).

Russell, a candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player Award, can be an upgrade for any of those teams. They are all in different stages of roster development, so if Russell were to leave Brooklyn, he could be joining a still-rebuilding team or one that’s already shaped. With each, he’d be teaming up with a young star (Oladipo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell, and, uh, Mo Bamba) with whom he could ride out his prime.

The Kemba Walker Hostage Crisis Has Become Critical

Tuesday, June 4, 1:13 p.m. PT

Verrier: Most seem to agree that Kemba Walker’s best chance at relevance in the years to come is to escape from Charlotte. The Hornets have made the playoffs just twice since drafting Walker in 2011. With a combined $85 million owed next season to the likes of Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Cody Zeller, and other players who haven’t been good in at least three years, and $43 million owed to Batum and Zeller the season after that, it’s doubtful that the team will be competing for anything other than a playoff spot in the foreseeable future. Walker himself has improved in leaps and stepbacks over the years, but his situation with Charlotte has progressively looked more like a hostage crisis. He is well aware of that perception too. “When I go on my Instagram, I see, ‘Kemba leave! Kemba get out of Charlotte!’” Walker recently told The Athletic—which went to Tokyo to track him down, I guess?

The problem is that Walker doesn’t agree with his sympathists. “People don’t understand,” he told The Athletic, “when they say you need to go ‘here’ and win, that winning is not guaranteed anywhere.” And as fun as it is to envision Walker’s spotting up off Kawhi Leonard drives in Los Angeles or hitting game-winners at Madison Square Garden again to bring his career full circle, he says his focus in unrestricted free agency will be the Hornets. “Oh no question, Charlotte’s definitely my first priority,” he said. “That’s where I’ve been for eight years and that’s all I know. Not many people get a chance to play for one NBA team throughout their career.”

Oh, no. Walker has Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe it’s finally hit him how much more money he’s in line to earn after making third team All-NBA and becoming eligible for a supermax contract—$31 million more on a deal with Charlotte, and an $80 million difference between staying on a supermax and signing with a new team. The Athletic reported in a different story Tuesday that there’s “doubt around the NBA” that the Hornets will cough up the $221 million Walker is now able to make over five years, but it sure sounds like he’s ready to sign if they do.

That makes a certain kind of sense for Walker. His second contract proved to be a huge bargain for the team (four years, $48 million—a.k.a., nearly as much as he can make each year on a supermax), so he’s owed some back taxes. He’s also 29 years old, and if you saw Chris Paul this postseason, you know how quickly things can end for a small guard. But while we don’t begrudge Walker for getting his money, he may be digging his own grave by signing such a deal.

Walker likely has only a few prime years left, which means the Hornets would be wise to try to assemble a contender around him as soon as possible. Only, that can’t happen next season, and perhaps not even the season after that, given the current state of their cap sheets. Which leaves them with two equally problematic choices: They could wait out their bad deals and look to reboot in 2021-22—but at that point Walker will be in his 11th season and likely already on the decline; or they could try to dump salary now at the expense of future assets—but that would almost certainly mortgage the final years of Walker’s contract for what would likely be only moderate gains in the immediate.

A supermax contract would be a great deal for Walker’s bank account, but it almost certainly would be a terrible deal for his basketball future. Somebody send help, immediately.

The Pelicans Are Fielding Calls for Anthony Davis

Tuesday, June 4, 10:43 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: When you know, you know, and Anthony Davis has known since at least January: He wants to get the hell out of New Orleans. A Wednesday sitdown with new Pelicans GM David Griffin did little to sway Davis to stay; the superstar’s stance is “highly unlikely to change,” according to The Athletic. So now Griffin knows, too. He’s begun to pick up calls from other franchises, willing to engage or at least be “open to hearing people out.” It’s probably easier to accept defeat on the Davis front with the first overall pick in tow.

Could LeBron Ask to Leave the Lakers?

Tuesday, June 4, 10:43 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: When LeBron James signed a four-year deal (really three years and a player option) with the Lakers last summer, it was his longest commitment to a team since the Heatles. It was a vote of confidence: LeBron was in L.A., and he was in L.A. for the long run. One season, a fumbled trade deadline, and a missed playoffs later, LeBron might be reconsidering. Per Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, “If [the Lakers] whiff on free agency, and if they whiff on a trade … they’ve got big trouble with LeBron. … I mean, the LeBron era could be over before it starts here.”

“LeBron’s going to say either, ‘I’m out of here’ or ‘Get me out of here,’ or the Lakers better just might as well just get him out of here,” Plaschke concluded. If the Lakers front office fails to improve the roster this summer, the consequences could be bigger than just more embarrassment. The 2018-19 season was a (very sad) sneak peek at LeBron’s post-prime. He doesn’t have time to wait for L.A. to get it together—especially since, as of now, fixing the Lakers seems like a job that could take longer than the next couple of years.

Kawhi Is a Toronto Property Owner

Monday, June 3, 3:40 p.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: According to Toronto-area radio host Michael Landsberg, Kawhi Leonard has bought a property in Toronto. (Because I’m sure he has free time these days between Finals games to tour real estate.) I don’t know when Kawhi purchased the home—per an earlier report, he’s been considering staying with the franchise even before this playoff run—and I don’t know that it matters, either. I don’t even know if it’s a home! “Property” may mean a bowling alley. Kawhi is a fun guy, after all.

All the tea leaves above suggest that Kawhi is open to returning to the Raptors for at least 2019-2020, if not beyond—a wild turnaround from a couple weeks ago, when the consensus agreed he was a lock to join the Clippers. TrueHoop’s David Thorpe, who originally reported that Kawhi might re-sign, believes that Kawhi will sign a one-to-two-year extension, though the superstar (and SoCal native) “could always change his mind.” I wonder what the Toronto market’s like for flipping houses?

The Jazz Are Looking for a New Point Guard

Monday, June 3, 10:42 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: The Jazz aren’t out on Ricky Rubio, an unrestricted free agent this summer, but they aren’t completely in on him, either. On Sunday, Rubio relayed to Spain’s Catalunya Radio what Utah officials had told him (translated from Catalan): “Utah has already made me know I’m not a priority for them.”

It’s good of the front office to inform Rubio of its intentions ahead of time, though the eight-year veteran could have seen the writing on the wall far ahead of time. He had been in trade rumors last season, and Utah needs scoring around Donovan Mitchell. In two seasons with the Jazz (and his entire career before that), Rubio has never been able to develop even league-average shooting to pair with his superb passing. He could return, but in a backup role making far less than the $14.8 million he did in 2018-19, and the 28-year-old has implied that he’s not interested in coming off the bench at this stage of his career.

It won’t be easy for the Jazz to upgrade in free agency. In fact, retooling midseason would’ve been more practical, hence those trade rumors: Dealing Rubio’s then-expiring contract for an upgrade (Mike Conley, for example) would’ve saved the front office some of the difficult recruiting ahead of them. Bringing star players to small markets can be more difficult, especially to Utah. Think of Jazz centerpieces in recent history: Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap. All were brought in on draft night.

Now, without Rubio as trade bait, the Jazz will have to look to free agency to find the guard they need. Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker seem automatically out of reach. A more realistic approach is to give a max contract to a player who might not get it elsewhere—D’Angelo Russell, perhaps, who is friends with Mitchell.

Don’t Say Bye to Toronto Kawhi Just Yet

Friday, May 31, 1:02 p.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Kawhi Leonard has seemed good as gone from Toronto since, well, the moment he was traded there. Nearly everyone—sources, pundits, fans, Vegas—assumed he would return home to SoCal this summer to sign with the Clippers (who were fined $50,000 on Friday after Doc Rivers publicly commented on Kawhi earlier this week—hope it was worth it!). This historic postseason run has altered that perception. Toronto is three wins away from a title. So it makes sense that the Raptors have some newfound hope for keeping their superstar.

But according to TrueHoop, it’s been likely since long before the Raptors took Game 1 that Kawhi will remain in Toronto. “Even before the Finals began,” wrote David Thorpe, a longtime friend of Raptors president Masai Ujiri, “we at TrueHoop heard from plugged-in sources associated with players and the league—but not the team—that Kawhi would return to Toronto, at least on a short-term deal.”

It’s usually safe (and frankly super disappointing) for players and teams to deflect free agency questions by answering that they aren’t “thinking about free agency right now” because they’re “so focused on winning.” Toronto fans must have that same type of focus after the team won Game 1, and this Kawhi report just seems like another thing to smile about.

Chris Paul Isn’t Going to Phoenix, But It’s Fun to Think About

Friday, May 31, 11:17 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Chris Paul–to–Phoenix isn’t a rumor—not really. It was a suggestion, made by at least one Arizona publication and at least one national ESPN personality. There’s a bit of merit to the idea; the Suns need a point guard. Have needed one, for some time now. But as Twitter and blogs and radio speculated about the suggestion—because what else do Suns fans have to do?—the thought of trading for a 34-year-old injury-prone point guard who has a $44 million player option in 2021-22 was deemed so horrific and so Phoenix-like that it might actually turn into a deal the Suns make, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that Phoenix and Houston are talking. As one Suns fan delicately put it, “Hard pass. Don’t want a 900-year old PG with a huge contract.” So it’s settled, then! A trade that was never even proposed is over and done with, ended by people with no say in the matter. Good work, you guys.

Is Nikola Vucevic Who the Kings Need?

Friday, May 31, 11:17 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: If Sacramento can swipe Nikola Vucevic from Orlando in free agency, the front office will fix a couple of issues in one transaction. To say Vuc is coming off a career year doesn’t quite capture the 180 he’s taken. Once thought of as the last stain from a disappointing Magic era, this season he averaged 20.8 points on 51.8 percent shooting to go with 12 rebounds, spread the floor by shooting 36.4 percent from 3, represented the franchise in the All-Star Game (Orlando’s first All-Star since Dwight), and ushered Orlando to its first playoff berth in six seasons. (For Sac, it’s been over double that time since its last postseason, now a 13-year drought.)

Vuc would help the Kings’ effort on the glass (he averaged more defensive boards alone, 9.2, than any King did total rebounds), and though he’s far from an ideal rim protector, an area where the Kings really, really need help, Vucevic did finish the season with 30 more blocks than Marvin Bagley III, who led Sacramento with 59. But most importantly, signing Vucevic would allow the Kings to let go of a relationship that just isn’t working out. Enjoy restricted free agency, Willie Cauley-Stein.

The Rockets Say They’re Committed to Their “Key People.” What Does That Mean?

Friday, May 31, 11:17 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: I can’t grow a beard. No, you don’t have to say you’re sorry—it’s fine. Really. I’ve never even tried. But if I could, and if I were also an NBA general manager about to rock the free agency boat like it’s never been rocked before, I’d want the beard to look a little something like this:

On Thursday, one day after publication of reports that the Rockets were making all players available in trade talks, owner Tilman Fertitta and GM Daryl Morey cleared the air, full suit and full beard. “We’re not changing to change,” Fertitta said. “We love our starting five.”

Morey hedged on that statement: “Our starting five this year I would put up there with anyone. … If there’s a trade out there that helps, we’ll do that. We’re going to keep all of our key people.” Key people is purposefully vague. It could mean a number of groups. The backcourt, for example. Or the core—James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela. The starters, maybe, as Fertitta suggested. Or, hey, “key people” could mean anyone with a notable beard, in which case Harden and Morey stay. And Nene stays (?).

Wednesday’s report that the team is looking to make moves put a spotlight on Houston. This could all be a smoke screen to disguise the fact that Paul will soon be a Laker. Which is another place that hasn’t exactly played it straight with its “key guys” …

The Clippers Aren’t Hiding Their Thirst for Kawhi

Thursday, May 30, 8:27 a.m. PT

O’Shaughnessy: Some people like a 36-week-old picture on Instagram to show their thirst; the Clippers think that’s just adorable. Child’s play. You want real thirst? Try buying the rights to someone’s nickname. On Wednesday, Marc Stein reported that L.A. is “quietly” looking into the “feasibility of purchasing the portion of the rights to [Kawhi] Leonard’s “Klaw” logo that is still owned by Nike.” (Kawhi is now sponsored by New Balance.) The Clips would use the old Klaw logo to spice up their pitch in free agency meetings. That’s four-days-in-the-desert thirst. Swallowed-a-pint-of-salt thirst. We-want-to-show-up-the-Lakers-so-badly thirst. You have to respect Steve Ballmer for the creativity. Thank goodness he was married long before the invention of IG.

And the thirst doesn’t end with a logo. Doc Rivers is out of the front office now, sure, but he’s still recruiting. On Tuesday, the Clippers coach went on SportsCenter and compared Kawhi’s game to Michael Jordan’s. “He is the most like Jordan that we’ve seen,” Rivers said. “Not that he is Jordan or anything like that, but he’s the most like him. Big hands, post game, can finish, great leaper, great defender, in-between game, if you beat him to the spot, he bumps you off, and then you add his 3-point shooting.” Smooth, comparing the person you’re hoping to sign to one of the best to ever do it. Have I told you that you all look like Chris Hemsworth today?

Anthony Davis Met With David Griffin

Wednesday, May 29, 4:51 p.m. PT

Verrier: The Pelicans superstar met with the new Pelicans executive vice president in Los Angeles on Wednesday. It was reportedly “over breakfast.” It was also “respectful” and “productive,” according to reports. They also sat down, though that was unconfirmed at the time of publication. Otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be much of an update here—The Athletic reported that “it’s highly unlikely Davis’ stance changes on a trade,” though ESPN’s report didn’t draw any conclusions from the meeting. What was said in the sit-down will likely shape the future for both the superstar and the franchise, and perhaps even the league. But, for now, we know only that they talked during breakfast hours. I hear peaches are in season, so perhaps the scone selection is the olive branch these warring factions need to find common ground.

A Way-Too-Deep Reading of the Latest Anthony Davis Tea Leaves

Tuesday, May 28, 1:49 p.m. PT

Verrier: While Chris Broussard searched through accordion folders for receipts of his friendship with Kevin Durant, the longtime insider managed to procure two notable updates in the chase for Anthony Davis, both of which flew under the radar last week:

1. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry “likes” the Lakers’ young players: There are three ways to process this first kernel of information.

  • The cynic who knows too much about how the rumor chicken nuggets get made might suggest that it is in the Pelicans’ best interest to keep alive the perception that the Lakers are serious bidders for Davis, to leverage the crestfallen franchise against others. Last week Pelicans owner Gayle Benson publicly pushed back on the idea that she would trade Davis to the Lakers only over her dead body, despite the hard feelings that emerged between the two teams around the trade deadline. Gentry’s reportedly hinting that he likes the Lakers’ young players just days after Benson’s comments smacks of the kind of long con that Al Swearengen would run at the Gem Saloon. It’s one thing to believe Lonzo Ball is a fit next to Jrue Holiday; talking up Kyle Kuzma’s defense, however, is the sort of tell even a novice card player can spot.
  • It is also important to note that the Lakers’ offerings are further along in their development than, say, R.J. Barrett or another lottery pick from this year’s draft. While it seems like Gentry’s job is safe under new management in New Orleans, he is still a head coach, and thus less inclined to be willing to wait for results than the front office, which needs to view any decision with a long lens.
  • And yet, while Gentry is officially tasked with only cooking the dinner, and not shopping for the groceries, his roots run deep in this organization. He goes back a long way with David Griffin, having worked alongside the Pelicans’ new executive vice president for years in Phoenix, and almost working for him in Cleveland. And he also has a close relationship with ownership. Gayle Benson took over as controlling owner from her late husband just ahead of the 2018 playoffs and traveled to Portland to take in the Pelicans’ first-round games against the Trail Blazers. During that time she was often spotted chatting up her head coach. When the Davis trade talks devolved into a circus, Gentry went out of his way to publicly defend Benson’s investment in the team. His opinion carries weight. I guess we’ll see how much in the weeks to come.

2. Brooklyn is going “hard” after Davis: We’ve found our 2010 Heat of the Davis derby. While we hand-wring over which legacy franchise has the best trade package for New Orleans, the Nets have quietly emerged as a dark-horse bidder because of what they can offer the superstar at the center of it all: the ability to play with who he wants, on his own terms. The Celtics, with their two young stud wings and a grab bag of draft picks, may be best positioned to satisfy the Pelicans’ needs in a deal, but as Davis’s father made clear in February, Davis probably won’t want to stay in Boston past next season. And if Davis can’t get to Los Angeles, one of his other primary motivations, according to multiple reports, is playing alongside his friend Kyrie Irving.

A Davis-Irving combination could still happen in Boston, though it may take a Terry Rozier–level sacrifice from Irving to mend the many holes in the Celtics’ fences. Or the duo can shift its focus about 200 miles west and accomplish the same goal without any of the baggage of this past year. Brooklyn would first need to convince Irving, a New Jersey native and former Nets fan, that it is the New York borough best suited for his future. But if it does, it could easily put together a trade package intriguing enough to pique the Pellies’ interest: D’Angelo Russell (via a sign-and-trade), Jarrett Allen, and draft picks (though just the idea of the Nets trading draft picks the first year they gain control over their own is enough to make any NBA fan a bit queasy).

That Nets offer probably isn’t as good as the Celtics’ best package—especially since Russell will likely command a max salary from Day 1—but Davis still has a trump card in the pocket of the pants that someone else picked out for him: publicly declaring that he will re-sign with only one team. Trying to muscle your way to one team didn’t work for Kawhi Leonard (though he seems to be doing OK right now); but if Irving indeed bolts to Brooklyn, would the Celtics really want to mortgage their future if Davis makes it crystal clear that he won’t re-sign? The Lakers’ window is now, given LeBron James’s age, so any tough talk from Davis’s camp about waiting a year just to sign with L.A. is flimsy. But Irving is 27; Davis, 26, could easily play out next season wherever he ends up and still team up with Kyrie with plenty of prime years in front of them both. Patience can be a virtue; the Nets should know that better than any franchise in the NBA.

Ty Lue Is the Hottest Free Agent on the Market

Tuesday, May 28, 11:49 a.m. PT

Ryan: A few weeks back, former Cavs coach Ty Lue looked set to take the reins for the Lakers, but negotiations collapsed, reportedly over the number of years the Lakers were comfortable offering the Finals-winning play-caller. Lue wanted five, but L.A. hoped to sync his tenure up with LeBron James’s deal (three more years). Given the current state of the Lakers, it looks like Lue dodged a bullet. And while there may not be any plum head-coaching gigs open at the moment, he’s become the hottest target in an increasingly frenzied market: top-notch assistant coach.

We’ve already seen Jason Kidd take a job on Frank Vogel’s staff with the Lakers, after Kidd interviewed for the job Vogel eventually landed. That will certainly go well. Shams Charania reported in The Athletic that Lue is being targeted by both Houston and New Orleans to become an assistant coach on their respective benches. Charania stated that Lue is still holding out hope for a head-coaching job, but regardless of his hopes and dreams, Ty is basically Billy Ray Valentine holding onto orange juice futures here. People want what he’s selling.

The Rockets certainly have a need, since they let four of Mike D’Antoni’s assistants go last week. The question is: Whose idea is this? Is it D’Antoni’s? Is it team president Daryl Morey’s? Or does this come from team owner Tilman Fertitta? And what would Lue’s presence mean for the gently-hinted-at Rockets power struggle, and the short- and long-term job security of D’Antoni?

The New Orleans link makes sense. Lue worked with new Pelicans president David Griffin in Cleveland, and they had a bit of success, which you may have heard about. He was also on the Clippers bench with Gentry, working on Doc Rivers’s staff. I’m a little less cynical about the New Orleans opportunity, but let’s be grown-ups: Lue’s being hired as an assistant in either city would probably make him the presumed heir of either head-coaching gig, were Gentry or D’Antoni let go. Teasing it out a bit, you can start to think about what that would mean to players like James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, and most notably Anthony Davis in New Orleans.

Is Kyrie Irving Brooklyn-Bound?

Saturday, May 25, 3:06 p.m. PT

Ryan: The Kyrie rose ceremony is starting, and it’s not even June. SNY and the New York Post are reporting some mutual appreciation between the free-agent-to-be Celtics point guard and the Brooklyn Nets. There’s even chatter that the Nets view Irving as a D’Angelo Russell backcourt partner, rather than a Russell replacement (DAR is a restricted free agent this summer). Um, let me be among the first to say, please, let’s make this happen. For the content, for the perimeter defense, and for so many more reasons, this would just be an incredible union.

We Told You to Keep an Eye on Houston!

Saturday, May 25, 3:06 p.m. PT

Ryan: This will be a long summer in Houston, and we’re not exactly sure what the team will look like when it’s over. A couple of days ago, we mentioned that Sham Charania had reported in The Athletic that there was more to the Rockets’ season than met the eye: grumbings about coach Mike D’Antoni’s Harden-heavy system, notably from Harden himself, at least according to Steph Curry; a Harden–Chris Paul confrontation during Game 6 of the Western Conference semis; and a decided lack of exit interviews following the conclusion of Houston’s season. Now some shoes are starting to drop.

Over the past week, the Rockets have said goodbye to four of D’Antoni’s top lieutenants—Jeff Bzdelik (the team’s defensive coordinator, who was wooed out of retirement last year), Roy Rogers, Mitch Vanya, and player development coach Irv Roland. The latter had worked with Harden since his arrival in Houston, and has been close with the franchise player since Harden’s days at Arizona State. He was Harden’s guy. Harden makes a run at back-to-back MVPs and you get rid of his guy? OK. And by the way, Roland also worked closely with other Rockets like Paul and P.J. Tucker.

Added to all this assistant coach drama is some interesting stuff on the head coach as well. On Friday, Houston sports radio host Landry Locker reported that the decision to pick up D’Antoni’s option last summer was owner Tilman Fertitta’s, not general manager Daryl Morey’s. In the past, Morey has praised D’Antoni and said he’d love for him to stay on for as long as he’d like, and D’Antoni has stated he’d like to coach for three more years. But this is certainly a strange turn of events. When asked about the recent coaching overhaul, D’Antoni said, “You’d have to ask Daryl Morey about the reasoning and all that behind it, but there are some great coaches out there.”

So you’ve got coaching turnover. You’ve got the departure of a figure very close to Harden. And you’ve got an emerging … maybe schism is a strong word, but give me a better one to describe what’s happening among Fertitta, Morey, and D’Antoni. Will D’Antoni coach his last year as a lame duck? Who will pick his staff? What say will the star player have? Institutional volatility has a habit of spreading. Clearly, there’s a feeling within the Rockets that there need to be some changes. The question is, what does that mean for this roster, and specifically the Harden-Paul-Gordon-Tucker-Capela core that has fallen to the Warriors in consecutive seasons?

Hail to the Recruiter/Tamperer-in-Chief, LeBron James

Friday, May 24, 10:59 a.m. PT

Ryan: It is I, an aggregator run amok, and I’m here to tell you what ESPN’s Brian Windhorst told Michael Wilbon on Thursday’s Pardon the Interruption: LeBron has the good leads, the Glengarry leads, and he is selling his fellow players on a dream of purple-and-gold supremacy. According to Windhorst, James has already begun recruiting soon-to-be free agents Kawhi Leonard (currently doing a Michael Jordan imitation in Drake’s snow globe) and Jimmy Butler (currently wearing a lot of Paris Saint-Germain gear on a flying casino).

There is another. Rumors continue to swirl that a Kyrie-LeBron reunion could be in the offing. Obviously, that relationship soured in Cleveland, but with two years in the Massachusetts wilderness comes perspective, and there are now actual rumblings, from Windhorst and others, that Irving might be down to get the band back together.

The fact that LeBron liked this Photoshop of Kyrie in a Lakers jersey will do nothing to temper those rumors. What moratorium?

The Ripple Effects of Klay Thompson’s All-NBA Snub

Friday, May 24, 10:59 a.m. PT

Verrier: Thompson found out that he didn’t make All-NBA mid-interview with a pack of reporters. In addition to, as the kids say, The Disrespect of being beaten out for a third-team guard spot by a 29 percent 3-point shooter and the no. 1 option on a 39-win team, Thompson is now ineligible for the extra ~$30 million that comes with a supermax contract. Naturally, he was a bit upset:

Thompson’s “Ringsss” defense is a bit tired, but the timing of the All-NBA announcement certainly strengthens his point: The Warriors just ripped through the Trail Blazers, led by second-team All-NBA selection Damian Lillard, in four games without Kevin Durant; the game before that series, Thompson stepped into the void left by Durant’s injury and Steph Curry’s ice-cold first half to eliminate the Rockets in Houston. And while, yes, this is a regular-season distinction, and, yes, Thompson’s was off (by his standards) from deep in the first few months of the season, the spell cast by gaudy raw numbers and surprise breakthroughs has less of an effect in the current context.

Take a look at Thompson’s final regular-season stat line (21.5 points per game on 55.3 eFG%, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals) with fresh eyes—it doesn’t look all that different from the ones he put up in 2014-15 (21.7 PPG on 55.5 eFG%, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals) and 2015-16 (22.1 PPG on 56.9 eFG%, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals), when he made back-to-back third teams.

But how this will affect Thompson’s next contract is the part that has implications beyond debates at the barstools. Without the benefit of the supermax, the Warriors’ money advantage over other suitors hoping to raid the champs’ roster has been significantly reduced. Golden State can offer Thompson a contract with one more year than all 29 other teams, which, at age 29, he will likely want; but the difference in annual value is negligible—about $3 million. And as we’ve seen recently, a max-level player comfortable with his long-term earning potential will prioritize where he wants to play and with whom over how long his contact is guaranteed.

If Thompson has ever wondered what life would be like as a first option, a third straight All-NBA snub both reminded him of the sacrifices he’s making in individual accolades by being third on the call sheet in Golden State and removed a major financial barrier toward that possible future. Maybe this recent run as the OG Warriors will convince Klay how special the original title core was and is, and he’ll want to prove it can be that again over a full season. Or maybe it’s enough proof of what he and Steph and Draymond Green can do that he’ll instead turn his attention to a new challenge, perhaps as the bridge from LeBron to the next era on the Lakers, the team for which his father played his final four-plus seasons.

Keep an Eye on Houston

Thursday, May 23, 3:13 p.m. PT

Ryan: With all eyes on the Eastern Conference finals and Golden State’s medical updates about Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, this Shams Charania report on the state of the Rockets in The Athletic flew a little under the radar today. But it’s certainly worth a look, if only because stories like this are usually just the beginning of something, not the end.

On one hand, Houston admirably righted the ship after a rough patch in the beginning of the season, went charging into the playoffs, nearly swept the Jazz, and put up a hell of a fight against Golden State, only to be felled by a new-old-look Warriors without KD in part of Game 5 and all of Game 6. Team president Daryl Morey publicly said he’d like head coach Mike D’Antoni to be the Rockets’ coach “for as long as he wants to be here,” and owner Tilman Fertitta said all the right things about paying luxury money for luxury jewelry. You feel a “but” coming? There’s a “but” coming.

BUT, according to Charania, it was not all daily affirmations and back rubs in H-Town: “There was something of a clash of styles brewing throughout the Rockets season, with members of the team—most notably [Chris] Paul—having spirited discussions with Mike D’Antoni about the offense and pushing for more movement.” Things came to a head during the Rockets’ Game 6 collapse against the Warriors, when Paul and James Harden had a “verbal exchange” over playing style. Charania also noted that the Rockets did not conduct public exit interviews. You feel a “huh” coming, don’t you? There’s a “huh” coming.

So you’re telling me Mike D’Antoni—who seemed like a made man a couple of weeks ago—was fending off questions about his offensive system this season? The system that made Harden a god? And those questions were being asked by the aging and expensive and head-strong Paul? The same Paul who is on the books next season for $38.5 million? Who is supposed to be the yin to Harden’s yang?

Combine the (albeit mild) amount of reported unrest with Morey’s propensity for making surprising moves to keep Houston’s championship window open, and you got yourself a very interesting situation. Paul’s contract would appear unmovable, given his lack of stability and production, but weirder things have happened.

Dan Gilbert Weighs in on Kyrie Irving’s Future

Thursday, May 23, 10:14 a.m. PT

Ryan: Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert introduced his club’s new head coach, former University of Michigan tactician John Beilein, on Wednesday. Gilbert mused about age, time and mortality (“Age is just a number. My father always said that. I believe it. He lived to be 91”), astronomy and LeBron James (“It’s a win-now at all costs. … It all revolves around the sun, which is him”), and his thoughts about Kyrie Irving’s future: “I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston.” Gilbert, who described the end of Kyrie’s Cleveland tenure as a “melting snowball,” said the Cavs “killed it” in the Irving-to-Boston swap, which brought back Isaiah Thomas (no longer in Cleveland), Jae Crowder (no longer in Cleveland), and the pick that would become point guard Collin Sexton (we shall see). So take his prediction with a grain of salt. That being said, who better to predict a Kyrie departure than the man who traded him in the first place?

Where in the World Is Kevin Durant?

Thursday, May 23, 10:14 a.m. PT

Ryan: Perhaps nothing encapsulates how distracting and entertaining the Off-Court NBA is like the last few weeks of Durant’s life. He went to Golden State in 2016 and promptly won two straight NBA titles, with two Finals MVP awards to go along with his rings. And we shrugged. Or we wondered, Well, isn’t that what he’s supposed to do? And we blamed him for ruining basketball and making the league a competitive moot point. And then, finally, with his free agency in sight this summer, he emerged not only as the best player on the Warriors and a player finally, truly beloved by the Golden State fan base, but as the best basketball player on earthobviously. And then he popped his calf, and then the Warriors, seemingly overnight, went from Empire to Rebel Alliance, beating Houston in six and sweeping the Blazers, punching their tickets to a fifth straight NBA Finals.

And here we are: Durant is hitting the social media version of Joe Dumars with a phone to each ear. He is feuding with Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard about his offseason plans (Broussard says that Durant is already recruiting players to join him at Madison Square Garden) and about whether or not a DM is a text, and basically the nature of reality. He groused at Steph Curry’s brother on Instagram. Durant’s teammates are being asked whether they’re better without him (they’re not, but they’re more fun to watch). The drumbeat of his summer free agency has already reached John Bonham volume, and it’s not even June. Warriors owner Joe Lacob swears they will make every effort to re-sign Durant, as well as his fellow free agent Klay Thompson. Talking heads ranging from The New York Times’ Marc Stein to former Durant teammate Kendrick Perkins are floating the idea that KD could migrate south to the Los Angeles Clippers, and Durant’s manager, Rich Kleiman, did a panel talk this week and claimed nothing has been decided and even he, totally impartial in this entire thing, doesn’t know what Durant plans to do next season.

With reports coming this week that Durant’s calf injury is more serious than initially believed, it’s possible—and it feels really weird to write this—that we’ve seen Durant play his last game in a Warriors uniform. For the past few months, we’ve been playing out all these different permutations of his future. Would he stay if the Dubs won another championship? Would a loss to Houston or an Eastern Conference team make him feel like Golden State had unfinished business? Nobody could have imagined such a specific and odd set of circumstances: a historic hot streak extinguished by an injury; the team finding its charm again in his absence; and a rumor mill fueled by exactly the kind of under-the-breath online comments that Durant can’t stop himself from making. What a strange couple of years it’s been for one of the best players of all time.

From Magic’s Lips to Kyrie’s Ears

Thursday, May 23, 10:14 a.m. PT

Verrier: At first blush, Magic Johnson’s recent First Take interview seemed like nothing more than the ramblings of a disgruntled former employee. His comments—which included that he felt betrayed (his word) by general manager Rob Pelinka—were further evidence of a long-stewing culture issue inside the Lakers’ organization, yet in the big picture, Johnson’s abrupt evacuation from the franchise and hurt feelings since are nothing more than office politics gone wrong—right down to the inciting incident being, reportedly, a CC’d email.

But as unseemly as the mudslinging was, Johnson’s tell-all may have also been a message directed at a few loyal viewers. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Kyrie Irving “watches First Take all the time.” And as Windhorst also notes, it’s unlikely that any star free agent, including the very-online Durant, missed what Johnson had to say about his beloved franchise. It’s not a stretch, then, to suggest that Johnson’s goal was to send a warning to Irving, Durant, or any other superstar on this summer’s market with aspirations of becoming the Lakers’ savior; to recap, Johnson said that Pelinka, the man now in charge of the front office, backstabbed him. And yet Johnson also shifted to Lakers fanboy midinterview and said that the Lakers’ two top targets in free agency should be Irving and Kawhi Leonard. As the person once in charge of the Lakers’ offseason plans, it’s possible he just revealed the organization’s game plan. On the other hand, maybe he just said some shit? Because Magic also says a lot of shit.

Or maybe the interview didn’t have as much importance as the press conference that the Lakers held at their practice facility later that day. More specifically, who was in attendance at that press conference. While Pelinka and new head coach Frank Vogel fielded questions about Magic and the many, many challenges they’ll encounter over the next year, LeBron James milled around in the back of the room, chatting up Lakers staffers. Per Windhorst, that’s significant—James rarely shows at offseason media events. And as Irving said, very publicly, this past season, he and James have mended their once-tattered relationship. Playing second fiddle again to LeBron during his age-35, -36, and maybe -37 seasons doesn’t seem as appealing as running with, say, a 26-year-old Anthony Davis, but considering Irving’s commitment to the galaxy-brain perspective thus far, it also wouldn’t be all that surprising.

Welcome to the Offseason, Courtesy of Jimmy Butler’s Instagram

Thursday, May 23, 10:14 PT

Verrier: Butler sent out an Instagram Story on Tuesday. It showed up in The Ringer’s NBA Slack like so:

I have since had at least six conversations with colleagues about what tagging the photo #MFFL—Mavs Fan for Life—could mean for Butler, who is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Sixers and test this year’s free-agent market. Butler is from Texas, and was filmed baking snickerdoodles from his home, presumably in Texas, the day after this Instagram image was taken, but is he a Mavs fan? And if he is, was the writing on the wall the whole time? What does that mean for the 76ers, who, in addition to Butler, must wrestle with the free agency of Tobias Harris, a player for whom suitors are reportedly already lining up? And what about teams like the Lakers and Nets, both of whom need a player of Butler’s caliber to take the next step?

And then I went to write this blurb and realized that the #MFFL hashtag was from someone else’s tweet, not from Butler himself.

Welcome to the NBA offseason. It is going to be a very long summer.

Posted in NBA

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