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NBA San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge

Raptors Have The Inside Track To Get LaMarcus Aldridge

Toronto had better be ready for what’s coming. For the first time anyone can remember, a current All-Star free agent wants to talk about joining the Raptors. LaMarcus Aldridge will be visiting with several NBA teams the moment free agency opens and Toronto unexpectedly could have the inside track, although he will be in demand as discussed by Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler.

Aldridge will start meeting with teams tonight in Los Angeles, with the Lakers expected to be the first team to pitch, followed by Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas. Toronto and New York are expected to get the final two meetings on Thursday.

While every team will be throwing their best influencers at Aldridge in the attempt to convince him to sign with them, the Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been doing some recruiting of their own and in no small measure, they are the reason Toronto has their foot in the door. The Raptors other advantage is they have the salary cap space to make a maximum offer without doing anything and that’s something the other ‘favorites’ simply can’t say.

Sources say that veteran point guard Kyle Lowry may have been in Aldridge’s ear a little to help secure the sit down. The Raptors dumped off the contract of Greivis Vásquez to ensure they had a full max salary slot to offer and are pitching the “one player” away concept. The fact that both Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan are said to be actively recruiting helps the Raptors since both are well respected by other NBA players.

Trail Blazers

If Aldridge wanted to re-sign with the Trail Blazers he would. His current team can offer the most money on the best terms and would instantly cave to any contract demand they’d be permitted to honor under the CBA, but Aldridge knows all that and he’s still looking elsewhere. It’s a very nice safety net that isn’t likely to be used.

Lakers and Knicks

The Lakers and the Knicks have lots of salary cap space, great markets and almost no team to speak of to join. Unless Aldridge is moving for lifestyle, neither of these markets is ready to add a big name player and promise much of anything beyond an improving future. If Aldridge wanted to help a team rebuild, he didn’t have to leave Portland.

Returning home to Texas must have its appeal for Aldridge. No state income tax, great climate, and familiar surroundings – it’s a option a free agent could only hope for, but…

Houston

Houston has $54.6 million in guaranteed salaries for next season plus a $2.7 million cap hold for Patrick Beverley and that only leaves about half as much cap room as the Rockets need to make a max offer. Home is nice, but that kind of a discount isn’t going to get the job done. The Rockets will have to jump through several flaming hoops to create enough space without downgrading their roster in order to sign Aldridge.

Dallas

Dallas has almost $35 million in salary cap space, but with only four players under contract, they have a lot of work to do before they’ll be able to convince anyone about what kind of team they’ll be able to field. Maybe Aldridge is willing to be that first piece in the door that helps attract some viable warm bodies to play with – he’ll have to be patient and take some risks if he wants to play in his hometown next season.

San Antonio

The Spurs have that cachet that only winning can bring. What they don’t have is salary cap space. With only $34 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, it looks like there is plenty of room to sign Aldridge, but look again. There’s a cap hold of $15 million for Tim Duncan. There are cap holds totaling $16 million for restricted free agents Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes and Kawhi Leonard. Not to mention the $22 million in cap holds for Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli. The Spurs might deem it worth it to jump thru the necessary hoops and lose most of their long list of free agents (except Duncan) in order to nab Aldridge? Might.

The most likely scenario that makes room for Aldridge is to immediately re-sign Duncan to a favorable deal, make that rumored trade of Tiago Splitter and his $8.5 million contract to Cleveland for Brandan Haywood’s non-guaranteed deal happen and risk losing just about every other free agent they control except Leonard and hopefully one more player. It would be worth it.

Phoenix

Phoenix appears to have room for Aldridge and there is no doubt they’d like to land the All-Star, but their apparent space is heavily encroached by the $8.9 million cap hold of Brandon Knight and it will take some nerve to walk away from him. The Suns can do this if they really want to.

Toronto

Toronto has about $24 million in salary cap space and other than this year’s draft picks, no cap holds they aren’t prepared to walk away from. Aldridge slides beautifully into the Raptors existing starting lineup of last season at power forward, taking the spot vacated by free agent Amir Johnson and that alone must have Aldridge’s attention:
1) Aldridge will not be expected to play center in Toronto.
2) The Raptors won 49 games last season missing their All-Star shooting guard DeRozan for 22 games and featuring the 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds of Johnson at power forward. Slide in the 23 points and 10 boards Aldridge knows he is good for and the Raptors will instantly gain a ton of respect in the weak East.

If Aldridge has become the least bit frustrated about having to fight through the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies and now the Warriors every year, a trip east to a winning Raptors organization should start looking pretty good indeed.

It will always be tough to argue against joining the Spurs, assuming the Spurs can get the job done quickly enough to make room for Aldridge, but if that room comes from sending Splitter to Cleveland, the Raptors could still come out of this situation smiling big time.

With Splitter in Cleveland, the Cavaliers will have to say good-bye to Tristan Thompson or say hello to another $40 million in luxury tax.

The Cavs will likely owe the league well over $70 million in tax if Griffin re-signs his key free agents, so those rumors about using Brandan Haywood’s $10.5 million non-guaranteed deal to bring in yet another player for depth – at a luxury tax cost of about $4.75 per dollar or $47.5 million – seem to ring just a little hollow.

It’s one or the other but not both in Cleveland.

Similarly, the Spurs will be hard pressed to keep RFA Cory Joseph as they’ll have other more pressing needs on the wing, opening the door for the Raptors to swoop in and grab both of the young Canadian free agents they covet. That would represent a very good day in Toronto.

Nothing should surprise anyone when it comes to free agency, but on the eve of an epic movement involving more superstars than you could shake a stick at, the Raptors appear to have the inside track on landing one LaMarcus Aldridge and if that falls through, a first rate consolation prize of Thompson and Joseph.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Carroll Green Middleton

Five Defensive NBA Free Agents Every Team Should Target

Soon-to-be free agents Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan debuted on the NBA All-Defensive First Team this year joining Jimmy Butler on the Second Team as players that will be able to choose between signing max contracts this summer and torturing general managers by demanding a player option for next season when the NBA salary cap will take a major leap.

It will be very tough to pry any of these First or Second All-Defensive Team free agents away from their current teams by trying to offer them more money or better terms, their current GMs will ensure that tactic doesn’t work. However, there is a list of pending free agents that were also recognized for their defensive prowess that could be poachable by teams with salary cap space, deep pockets and a strong belief that defense wins championships. These players also received votes for the All-Defensive Teams

Danny Green - croppedDanny Green, San Antonio Spurs, UFA, 18 Second Team votes

Danny Green defines the ‘Three-and-D’ player in today’s NBA. Last year the 27-year-old wing averaged 11.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 steals and shot 41.8 percent from three-point range. Green has NBA championship experience and excelled in his NBA Finals appearances.

The Spurs will not want him to go, but Green is a player other teams should be able to steal with a big offer. He is as close to a sure thing as a team is likely to find after the big names are gone in free agency.

DeMarre Carroll - croppedDeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks, UFA, 1 First Team vote, 9 Second Team votes

The Hawks got DeMarre Carroll on the cheap two summers ago, but he won’t be cheap this July. The 28-year-old small forward averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shot 39.5 percent from three-point range last year, enjoying a breakout couple of seasons in Atlanta.

Carroll looks the part of a tough defender and he’s proven his long range ability in three of the past four seasons. Like Green, there are a lot of teams that could use Carroll’s skill set. Like Green, a big offer may prove to be too much for Atlanta to match. Besides, the Hawks have another key free agent to worry about in Paul Millsap.

Patrick Beverley - croppedPatrick Beverley, Houston Rockets, RFA, 1 First Team vote, 8 Second Team votes

Patrick Beverley was a second round pick of the Lakers in 2009 that played in Europe, was signed as a free agent by the Rockets and started his NBA career playing in the D-League. Things have changed.

Beverley has built a reputation as a tenacious defender. Last year the point guard averaged 10.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals and shot 35.6 percent from three-point range, but no one seems all that concerned about his offense.

The big concern with Beverley is he has only played 56 regular season games in each of the past two years and is currently sidelined by a wrist injury. However, expect most GMs to look past the injury history and straight at one of the best defensive point guards anywhere.

The Rockets lost RFA Chandler Parsons to a max deal last summer. Will history repeat itself?

Khris Middleton - croppedKris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks, RFA, 1 First Team vote, 7 Second Team votes

The free ride the Bucks have enjoyed with Kris Middleton is over. The big wing was only paid $915,000 last season as he put up 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals and shot 40.7 percent from three. However, Middleton is more than a ‘Three-and-D’ guy, this kid can fill it up from anywhere on the court.

Like other players on this list, Middleton gets stuck with the role player label, but the 23-year-old is an exceptionally good role player who has gotten markedly better each season and if the Bucks plan on paying him like a role player, another team will give him more.

Paul Millsap - croppedPaul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks, UFA, 8 Second Team votes

When Paul Millsap signed for less than $10 million per season with Atlanta two years ago there were questions about just how effective this undersized power forward could be away from the structure in Utah. Two All-Star appearances later and any concerns have been laid to rest.

The 30-year-old Millsap averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 1.8 steals and shot 35.6 percent from deep for the Eastern Conference leading Hawks last season. He hasn’t slowed down at all and with the salary cap on the rise, he’ll be looking to get paid this summer.

With two unrestricted free agent starters, the Hawks financial wherewithal is about to be tested.

Note:

Players were awarded two points for each First Team vote and one point for each Second Team vote. Voters (media) were asked to select two guards, two forwards and one center for each team, choosing players at the position they play regularly.

Somehow Grizzlies free agent Marc Gasol only had 2 First Team votes and 14 Second Team votes, but just pencil him in for a max deal wherever he’d like to play next season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Joseph Monroe ThompsonSix Things The Toronto Raptors Should Do This Summer

This upcoming season was (soon-to-be former MLSE overseer) Tim Leiweke’s target for his basketball team to become relevant and reading into President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s year end comments, nothing has changed. The NBA All-Star Game is coming to Toronto in February and the Raptors want to be taken seriously – perhaps for the first time in franchise history.

 

 

 

Leonard Bulter Harris

It’s A Max Summer For NBA Restricted Free Agents

Throw out everything you think you know about the value of free agents this summer. The NBA salary cap is set to explode in 15 months and max contracts signed this summer will look like bargains compared to where things are headed in the very near future. To put things in context, a young player that would have been fairly valued anywhere north of $10 million per season on their first contract after their rookie deal a year or two ago can (and likely will successfully) argue that’s a max contract this summer. Those same young players who are actually worth a max deal today will have to sit down with their agent and discuss the merits of taking their qualifying offer and waiting until next summer – there’s just too much money on table next year not to discuss it.

It isn’t going to be much fun for NBA GMs with a budget or owners that can’t afford the NBA luxury tax costs for even just one season, but it should be a blast for the players, their agents and teams with resources and creative management. Let the mayhem begin.

Begging You To Please Sign A Max Deal Now
(Cause you’ll get a lot more next year)

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – $4.4m Q.O.
16.5 pts, 7.8 rbs, 2.3 stls

The quiet unassuming 2014 NBA Finals MVP is the present and the future of the Spurs.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls – $4.4m Q.O.
20 pts, 5.8 rbs, 1.8 stls

The Bulls leading scorer and 2015 All-Star has blossomed into one of the league’s best two way players just in time for a big payday this summer.

Pay’em or Lose’em

Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns – $4.8m Q.O.
17 pts, 5.2 asts, 1.4 stls

The Suns went all in to get Knight and they certainly are not going to let him escape this summer.

Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons – $4.4m Q.O.
(Detroit only) 17.6 pts 9.2 asts

Stan Van Gundy might hope to play the Brandan Jennings card to talk Jackson back from a max deal, but it isn’t going to work. Jackson showed he could run a team and put up huge numbers with a suspect supporting cast. Just pay the man.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – $2.7m Q.O.
11.7 pts, 8.2 rbs, 1.6 stls

The 2012 second round draft pick has earned a reputation as an undersized stretch four who competes at both ends of the court. His shooting percentages and his stats belie his effectiveness. It will be an easy decision for the Warriors to just pay him.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – Q.O. $4.4
17.1 pts 6.3 rbs

Harris put up great numbers on a bad team, but there is no disputing his size and potential at the small forward spot. If the Magic don’t pay him someone else will.

Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder – Q.O. $7.5m
(OKC only) 18.7 pts, 11 rbs

No one is likely happier about being traded than Enes Kanter. Freed from Utah, Kanter exploded onto the scene in OKC and elevated his game from promising young big man to can’t let get away prospect. Everyone suspected this kid’s offensive potential, but now we know.

A Max Deal Might Steal

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks – Q.O. $2.7m
13.4 pts, 4.4 rbs, 1.5 stls

Toiling away in obscurity can’t hide the fact this 23-year-old forward has been a very effective player in Milwaukee. Middleton has shot over 40 percent from three-point range in each of the past two seasons and shoots right around 50 percent from two point range. In fact, he’s a good shooter at any distance. If this was a couple of years ago, there would be no hesitation at giving this kid a 4-year $40 million deal, so he’s definitely worth a lot more this summer. Maybe Middleton doesn’t get the full max, but the famously cheap Bucks are going to have to dig deep if they want to keep him.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers – Q.O. $6.8m
8.5 pts 8 rbs

Thompson was a double-double guy as a starter and he turned down a $52 million extension in October so we know where he and his agent believe the market is this summer and he might be right. Thompson is already among the best offensive rebounders in the game and the 24-year-old could be the missing piece on a lot of teams. A near max deal this summer could look pretty reasonable a year from now.

Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets – Q.O. $2.7m
10.1 pts, 4.2 rbs, 3.4 asts

Patrick Beverly is a point guard better known for his disruptive defense than his subpar offense and decent three-point shot and that makes him harder to value in a league that often puts scoring above all when it comes to contracts. However, he is another young player who could have commanded a $10 million salary prior to next year’s massive jump in the Salary Cap, so paying him a lot more than he would have been worth in the past might not be such a bad idea. Young players that can defend their position and hit the long ball are a valuable commodity.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

BKN_Blatche_Andray

Raptors Waiting Patiently In Free Agency

Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri gave everyone reasons to expect Toronto to show a lot of patience in free agency. His “we are not going to make any crazy quick fix decisions here” statement rings truer every day.

A man of his word, Ujiri quickly locked up the Raptors unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry on a 4-year $48 million deal, restricted free agent Patrick Patterson with a 3-year $18 million offer and is waiting on restricted free agent Greivis Vasquez to decide between taking his qualifying offer or the substantial longer term deal Ujiri has offered. Vasquez, however, has made his intentions to return very clear.

The one Raptors free agent that Ujiri didn’t talk much about was Nando De Colo and De Colo is off to Europe on a better deal than he could have reasonably expected to land in the NBA.

This week the team is in Las Vegas getting ready for Summer League and Ujiri has a couple of prospects on his own Summer League squad he is looking at for next year.

This is likely second round draft pick DeAndre Daniels only chance to show the Raptors that they should keep him in Toronto. Ujiri had Daniels pegged as needing a year in the D-League or Europe after the draft and it will not be easy to change his mind.

The 6’10 John Shurna averaged 11.7 points and 37.9 percent from deep for Joventut in Spain last season. The 24-year-old Shurna might be the big small forward/combo forward Ujiri has been looking for or just a budget replacement for what Steve Novak brought on occasion last year. He is definitely a guy to watch.

Every team scouts the Summer League for prospects and Ujiri will be watching opposing players as closely as his own. That is enough of a reason not to rush filling those last couple of roster spots.

Before the Las Vegas Summer League even starts, however, Ujiri has been tied to veteran center Andray Blatche and European and NBA veteran forward Yakhouba Diawara.

Both or neither of these players could fill a role on the Raptors next season. It’s really a question of fit at this point.

Toronto could use a veteran like a slightly younger and healthier John Salmons to backup Terrence Ross and a taller shot blocking version of Chuck Hayes to fill in behind Jonas Valanciunas at center. However, Ujiri will have to be patient to find what he wants. He’ll only be offering a limited backup role and Ujiri needs to know if the player he brings in will accept it. Ross and Valanciunas are not about to lose their starting positions or minutes next season.

It’s not just Toronto that is moving cautiously through the free agent waiting period. The entire process has become the ‘LeBron & Melo Show’ as so many potential transactions hang on where these two stars choose to play next season. It’s hard to find out which veteran free agents that are within one’s budget and could help your team are really available until some of these big names find a home. Having patience and laying the groundwork for future deals is almost the only option at this point.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Phoenix Suns Media Day

Can The Raptors Land The Suns P.J. Tucker?

With LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony holding the entire NBA free agent process hostage, movement on mid-tier players like the Suns 29-year-old restricted free agent (RFA) P.J. Tucker are solidly in stall mode, a situation that creates rampant speculation. However, Tucker could be the ideal fit in Toronto as the Raptors are looking for a big defensive wing and there are plenty of reasons why this one-time Raptor could be very much in play shortly.

The big reason RFAs have trouble getting market value offers from teams other than their own is their team – the Suns in this case – will almost always put the word out that they will match and keep their player. In other words, it’s pointless.

The only sure way to get the job done is to approach the RFA’s team and try to work out a deal that meets the needs of both the player and the team and often times, this just isn’t possible.

The Suns, however, despite having a lot of salary cap space to play with find themselves in an interesting position. With a record of 48-34 last season, this team looks poised to burst back into relevance in the Western Conference and they have set their sights on some big name free agents and have their own RFA Eric Bledsoe demanding a maximum contract for next season. Under these circumstances, it just might be possible to pry Tucker loose.

The Raptors, like several other potential suitors, could try to land Tucker with their mid-level exception – a move that almost surely forces the Suns to match in order to retain Tucker if for no other reason than to use him as a trade chip later. This typical situation usually ensures Tucker doesn’t see much action from teams other than his own.

Tucker put up stats last year that rival what the Raptors Patrick Patterson did, however, the 29-year-old Tucker doesn’t have the same upside or expected longevity. This could be Tucker’s last hurrah in the NBA and he doesn’t exactly have a long history in the league. The veteran C.J. Miles deal with the Pacers at $4.5 million per season is probably closer to market value rather than Patterson’s $6 million per season.

Toronto has another option other than using their MLE, however. The Raptors hold a $4.6 million trade exception (TPE) from the Rudy Gay trade last December and could put together a 3-year $14.5 million contract that would work under a sign and trade with the Suns. Toronto can include future draft picks with the TPE that do not impact on the Suns flexibility to go after other free agents and Bledsoe and just maybe that’s enough under the circumstances.

There isn’t likely to be a lot of movement on players in Tucker’s circumstances until some of the big names come off the board and teams like the Suns have a better idea of what could actually happen this summer. Tucker to the Raptors is in the range of possible, but unknown and unknowable until the air clears.

The bigger question just might be how Tucker would feel about backing up Terrence Ross in Toronto?

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Gortat and Lowry

Best And Worst NBA Free Agent Deals At The Halfway Point

So it’s been slow. NBA teams and free agents have been reluctant to agree to new deals until guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony make their decisions known. However, that doesn’t mean nothing has been going on besides courtship and rampant speculation. Some stuff has actually gotten done at the halfway point between free agency opening up and when teams and players can put pen to paper later next week.

So aside from all the fun the boys at ESPN have been enjoying scouring for the latest tidbit, the best deals in free agency have actually been pretty important.

The Best Deals

1A) Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards, 5 years, $62 million

The best unrestricted free agent big man available – unless you’re in love with the stretch four game Chris Bosh could give your team – pretended briefly to look at the market, but quickly came to terms with his own club. Gorat had a huge impact on the Wizards and if he had pushed, they would have coughed up more, both sides wanted to get this deal done, so it happened quick.

Toronto would say that getting Kyle Lowry was bigger deal and it was, in Toronto. Gortat is 30-years-old, so they may have a point.

1B) Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors, 4 years, $48 million

The best point guard in free agency briefly took calls from other teams before settling on a return to the Raptors where he was happy and believed in the plan of GM Masai Ujiri. There were nervous moments in Toronto as the team has a long history of losing their best players to free agency or worse, trade demands, however, there was never really anything to worry about, both sides wanted to do this deal.

Lowry just turned 28 this spring and this deal should lock him up through the best years of his career. Pro Bball Report had predicted, “better pencil in Lowry at $12 million per season” back in March.

2. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks, 3 years, $30 million

Nowitzki just turned 36, but he averaged over 20 points per game last season and is still one of the premier scoring big men in the NBA. Usually a three-year contract for a player at this age would get a second look, but odds are Dirk will still be scoring enough points to more than justify his paycheck when this deal ends.

Deals That Make Sense

1. Spencer Hawes, Los Angeles Clippers, 4 years, $23 million

A 26-year-old center that can shoot and stretch the floor is just what the Clippers big man rotation was missing. Hawes should look even better playing beside better talent, a value signing at a position of need.

2. Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors, 3 years, $16 million

Livingston proved he could still run a team last year with the Nets and earned a MLE type contract for next season.

3. Darren Collision, Sacramento Kings, 3 years, $16 million

The Kings needed a veteran guard for their young team. The deal makes sense. Hopefully the organization doesn’t screw this one up.

4. Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors, 3 years, $18 million

Pro Bball Report predicted Patterson would be back at $6 million per season over 4 years in March, so this deal makes a lot of sense to us. The forward had an outstanding season coming off the bench for Head Coach Dwane Casey.

Deals That May Have Been Generous

1. Jodie Meeks, Detroit Pistons, 3 years, $19 million

Meeks had a great season with the Lakers and the Pistons need someone that can shoot, but does this team always have to overpay for every free agent they sign? Who were they bidding against exactly?

2. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, 4 years, $32 million

Bradley is a nice two-way player when he isn’t hurt and missing over 20 games a season. Lots of teams would take him, but would they take him at $8 million per season? Bradley will have to grow into this contract. If everything goes well, this could turn out to be a fair deal, or not.

3. Ben Gordon, Orlando Magic, 2 years, $9 million

The 31-year-old shooting guard was waived by the Bobcats in March and it’s hard to believe there was anyone else bidding for him.  The good news is the second year isn’t guaranteed.

Meh! (Can we still say that?)

1. C.J. Miles, Indiana Pacers, 4 years, $18 million

After 9 years in the NBA of being basically the same guy, the Pacers should know what they just acquired.

2. Chris Kaman, Portland Trail Blazers, 2 years, $10 million

After a couple of years of questionably poor treatment, it would be nice to see Kaman on a team that wanted and needed him.

3. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs, 3 years, $12 million

So Mills is hurt and his return date is questionable. When do the Spurs ever get stuff wrong?

4. Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks, 3 years, $12 million

No one is going to tell the Hawks they did anything wrong here. The Thunder are probably happy he got a new deal.

Come on LeBron and Melo agree to something already so teams can move on and start getting stuff done.

Contract terms and amounts from CBS Sports. (note: all contract numbers are still estimates at this point as no deals have been signed)

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Masai Ujiri

Raptors Are Almost Done With Free Agency – Sort Of

There are those who are still hopeful that Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri can still land a new impact player in free agency. A potential All-Star like Luol Deng or Lance Stephenson could move the excitement needle for next season in Toronto from high to extreme. However, there are some practical realities Ujiri has to deal with and the Raptors GM started the off season with a, “We are not going to make any crazy quick fix decisions here.” After a look at the numbers, the crazy quick fix was never really an option anyway.

1. Kyle Lowry $12m (est. pending)
2. DeMar DeRozan $9.5m
3. Terrence Ross $2.8m
4. Amir Johnson $7m (expiring)
5. Jonas Valanciunas $3.7m
6. Landry Fields $6.3m (expiring)
7. Steve Novak $3.4m
8. Tyler Hansbrough $3.3m (expiring)
9. Chuck Hayes $6m (expiring)
10. Lou Williams $5.5m (expiring)

Approximate Total $59.5m
Holds:
First Round Draft Picks $2.7m – subtotal +$62m

RFA Greivis Vasquez $5.4m (Q.O. $3.2m)
RFA Patrick Patterson $7.8m (Q.O. $4.3)
RFA Nando De Colo $1.9m (Q.O. $1.8m)

(Salary figures from Basketball Insiders Toronto Raptors salary page)

Note: if the Raptors sign their two unsigned first round draft picks (anticipated) and re-sign all three RFAs, their roster is full at 15.

The Raptors do have their mid-level exception (MLE) estimated $5.3 million, bi-annual exception (BAE) $2.1 million and various trade exceptions (TPE) – the biggest from the Rudy Gay trade for $4.6 million.

Except for their own RFAs, the Raptors are limited in free agency to their exceptions unless they pull off a sign and trade. Since Ujiri isn’t doing “crazy” – it looks like free agency beyond what happens with Vasquez, Patterson and De Colo is almost over.

How the team got here isn’t much of a mystery.

Ujiri wanted to add a couple of young guys he could develop – mission accomplished. The 18-year-old first round draft pick Bruno Caboclo defines young guy to be developed. Then he traded for the Hawks 2013 unsigned first round draft pick Lucas Nogueira for his second player in need of development. For a team hoping to make a splash in next year’s playoffs, Ujiri doesn’t need anyone else on his roster at this stage in their career.

To get Nogueira, Ujiri traded John Salmons to the Hawks and received veteran guard Lou Williams in return, a solid move that gives the Raptors some needed scoring punch off the bench and firms up what could be a very nice two point guard option with depth to survive short term injury situations very comfortably. Salmons $7 million deal for next season had a $1 million buyout and he wasn’t going to be on the Raptors roster next season in any case. Williams’ expiring contract is for $5.5 million, so Ujiri used up all the potential salary cap space that could have been created by buying out Salmons with this move.

Ujiri’s top priority in free agency was to re-sign Lowry. That deal was done early and at the anticipated price. There never was going to be much salary cap space after this move and everyone knew it as was laid out earlier in No Salary cap Space for You Toronto Raptors.

Ujiri identified Patterson and Vasquez as his next targets in free agency after the season ended and the Raptors Are Going After Vasquez And Patterson Next as part of Ujiri’s stated plan to build on continuity.

De Colo is a bigger question mark. If Ujiri wants to add a veteran wing through free agency – say Vince Carter for example – he will have to rescind De Colo’s qualifying offer to free up a roster spot or eat (waive) one of his guaranteed contracts. De Colo is even standing in the way of simply adding second round draft pick DeAndre Daniels unless Ujiri can pull off a two-for-one trade. This is quite possibly the real reason the Raptors Plan On Sending DeAndre Daniels To The D-League.

Waiving a guaranteed contract will not be very high on Ujiri’s wish list as any move like that probably pushes the Raptors payroll (further?) into Luxury Tax territory.

The Raptors have five players on expiring contracts totaling about $28 million, so Ujiri does have a lot of flexibility to do deals or possibly create salary cap space for next season. Under this scenario, rumors about potential transactions involving the Raptors aren’t about to go away anytime soon even if Ujiri insists he isn’t about to do anything crazy and his team is capped out. That’s why Ujiri is only “sort of” done with free agency.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Stephenson and Parsons

Raptors Plan B – What If Kyle Lowry Says No

Kyle Lowry has expressed his love for the Raptors management, coaches and teammates. He had the best season of his career in Toronto. The light has finally come on hot and strong for this point guard, just in time to earn himself a ton of very viable options throughout the NBA.

The Raptors will go all-in to get Lowry to re-sign. He will not be going elsewhere for the money, but that is no guarantee he’ll be back, so what is President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s “Plan B”?

It has become obvious, Plan B was always to draft Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis, but that option is off the table. However, Ujiri wouldn’t go into any situation without alternatives and there are some pretty good ones staring straight at him. If push comes to shove, Greivis Vasquez and the recently acquired Lou Williams will give the Raptors a solid one-two punch at point guard – not at the level of Lowry and Vasquez, but effective. However, as Ujiri has mentioned several times, the Raptors want a big small forward and they’ll need a good one if they lose Lowry’s talent.

Plan B – Option 1

The Raptors don’t want to sign and trade Lowry to Houston, but if Lowry wants to go there and is leaving anyway, the Rockets have pieces Ujiri should want.

PG Patrick Beverley is still under his rookie deal and has taken the kind of strides over his initial two seasons that everyone has noticed. He is exactly the type of player that gets Ujiri’s attention – young, exciting and developing quickly.

SF Chandler Parsons is going to get paid and if the Rockets spend their money on Lowry, this is the target Ujiri is going to want back in return. The Raptors want to add a big small forward and they love shooters. Stealing Parsons would take the sting out of losing Lowry big time.

Plan B – Option 2

The Raptors will not have a lot of salary cap room to play with in free agency even if Lowry signs elsewhere after taking into account all their cap holds and exceptions. Barring some Ujiri magic, their best free agent option will probably be to use their mid-level exception to go after talent.

In the risk – return category for a GM that isn’t afraid to take chances, Evan Turner is sitting out there and he is a talent. Bad coaching and a terrible situation in Philadelphia have trashed this former number two overall draft pick’s reputation, but everyone has seen flashes of what this kid can do and when properly motivated and paying attention, he has been brilliant in stretches.

On the cheap end of free agency, Turner could become the small forward he was supposed to be under good coaching.

Plan B – Option 3

From way out in left field, Ujiri should be approaching the Pacers. Indiana needs a starting point guard and George Hill could easily slide over to the off guard slot. The slightly wacko Lance Stephenson is a small forward who distributes the ball and is a triple-double waiting to happen. The dollars and the opportunity should work for both players.

There wouldn’t be a bigger story in the NBA this summer if Ujiri pulled off this sign and trade

Plan B – Option 4

It’s a long summer and deals will happen. Maybe Ujiri could swing a sign and trade deal for free agent Luol Deng with draft picks and expiring contracts, but as enticing as Deng would be to fill the talent gap of losing Lowry, those kinds of deals are tough to consummate.

There will be trade opportunities over the next couple of weeks as other teams try to create space for the deals they’ve made or want to make and Ujiri has shown himself to be very adept at taking advantage of these situations. However, unpredictable scenarios like this will not comfort a distraught fan base.

Basically standing pat and developing the young talent Ujiri has already acquired could be where the Raptors end up if viable deals are simply not out there. No deal is better than a bad deal and Lowry mulling over his options in free agency isn’t where anyone connected with the Raptors wanted to be right now.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Free Agent Frenzy Primer – Go For LeBron James

Put everything else aside, there is only one player available that can take a weak team to the playoffs or make a good team a contender and that is LeBron James. It’s been widely reported that James wants max money this time. He took a discount to play in Miami, but it has to burn that an aging Kobe is making $5 million per year more than him and there is nothing he can do about it.

There are two classes of free agents, unrestricted and restricted. Acquiring an unrestricted free agent (UFA) can be tough enough, but restricted free agents (RFA) come with a first right of refusal from their old team and are either ignored in free agency or see their prices bid significantly beyond market value. RFA tend to be young with upside and often get the most buzz (except this year), but they are also the least likely to change teams and shouldn’t be ranked in the same grouping as UFAs.

Top Unrestricted Free Agents

1. LeBron James, HEAT – best player in free agency by far

2. Carmelo Anthony, Knicks – often maligned, best scorer available

3. Kyle Lowry, Raptors – best point guard available

4. Lance Stephenson, Pacers – most upside

5. Marcin Gortat, Wizards – effective big man with a mean streak

6. Chris Bosh, HEAT – has become one of the best stretch big men

7. Luol Deng, Cavaliers – an impact team player who can take a team up a level

8. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks – still a 20 ppg scorer at 36

9. Dwayne Wade, HEAT – one of the best when healthy, missed 28 games last year

10. Pau Gasol, Lakers – still an elite center when healthy, but at 33, health is a concern

11. Trevor Ariza, Wizards – young(ish) 10 year veteran coming off a career year

12. Paul Pierce, Nets – still has that mystique at 36

Top Restricted Free Agents

1. Greg Monroe, Pistons – possibly the next great big man with some decent coaching

2. Chandler Parsons, Rockets – the rare proven prospect from a winning program

3. Eric Bledsoe, Suns – one of those very intriguing young point guards

4. Gordon Hayward, Jazz – All-Star potential?

5. Greivis Vasquez, Raptors – led the NBA in assists a year ago

6. Avery Bradley, Celtics – a proven effective defensive guard who found his 3-point stroke

7. P.J. Tucker, Suns – tough, strong, a bit beneath the radar

8. Isaiah Thomas, Kings – huge year on a bad team

9. Patrick Patterson, Raptors – became an impact player off the bench in Toronto

10. Ryan Kelly, Lakers – 6’11 Duke senior had a good rookie season and is available

Some Players to Watch

1. Patty Mills, Spurs – who wouldn’t want to pick up this 25-year-old guard?

2. Spencer Hawes, Cavaliers – a center we need to see on a good team with a good coach

3. Nick Young, Lakers – the side-show alone is worth watching

4. Mario Chalmers, HEAT – what is four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals worth?

5. Shaun Livingston, Nets – proved he can still play, time to get paid

6. Vince Carter, Mavericks – farewell tour with Raptors or look to join a contender?

7. Shawn Marion, Mavericks – 36-years-old and still going strong

8. Evan Turner, Pacers – were the stats in Philadelphia a mirage?

9. Darren Collision, Clippers – someone must need a good backup point guard?

10. Channing Frye, Suns – Opts out after 1-year back from heart problems

This is a very good free agent class with a significant number of players beyond those listed here that could help a team fill out their rotation. Once some of the big names come off the board, the free agent frenzy should get pretty intense.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Best NBA Free Agents Left You Could Use

It’s August and most teams have filled out their rosters, but there are still NBA free agents teams could use to fill that 14th or 15th spot. There is no such thing as too much depth in an 82 game regular season.

There are a lot of guys who are still hoping to land an NBA job. Here’s our list by position of the best of the rest, a project player who should land on the end of someone’s bench and some honorable mentions.

Point Guard

Daniel Gibson, Age 27, 7 years NBA experience

Daniel Gibson is a combo guard that can spread the floor and put up points. A proven playoff performer in his early years with Cleveland, he would make a nice addition as insurance on the end of someone’s bench.

Gibson got in trouble at a nightclub in New Orleans a month ago and his pending legal troubles will likely keep him on the market until they are resolved. These types of things don’t often stop a team from picking up veteran insurance for too long, however.

Rodrigue Beaubois, Age 24, 4 years NBA experience

Rodrigue Beaubois had surgery on his hand in March and Dallas finally gave up on this intriguing young prospect after four injury riddled seasons. Beaubois has talent and potential and on a veteran’s minimum contract as a third guard, the potential return is well worth the risk this young guard really is just too fragile for the NBA game.

Honorable mentions: Bobby Brown, Scott Machado, Ben Hansbrough

Shooting Guard

Ronnie Brewer, Age 28, 7 years NBA experience

Why Ronnie Brewer hasn’t been picked up as really solid insurance on the wing by an NBA team already is something of a mystery. A proven defensive specialist, Brewer can help someone get past a key injury this season.

Xavier Henry, Age 22, 3 years NBA experience

Xavier Henry’s career has been marred by injuries and the rebuilding Pelicans didn’t pick up his option year making him an unrestricted free agent. Henry is still young and had a strong summer league. It’s worth giving this kid another shot as a project on the back end of a roster.

Honorable mention: Richard Hamilton, DeShawn Stevenson

Small Forward

Luke Walton, Age 33, 10 years NBA experience

When Luke Walton starts getting consideration as the best of what’s left at small forward, the pickings are slim indeed. Walton was a very positive influence on the Cavaliers last season. His veteran presence and high basketball I.Q. helped stabilize a very young Cleveland offense. His future contributions on the court will be limited by health and declining skills, but he can play a limited role and mentor young players. Someone should talk him out of retiring.

James Johnson, Age 26, 4 years NBA experience

James Johnson has talent. All of his issues reside between his own two ears. A small forward who wants to play power forward and a potential defensive specialist who thinks he should be an offensive star, if he could get his act together, this kid would start on any number of NBA teams. It’s a shame Johnson is still looking for an NBA contract, but maybe the school of hard knocks on the tail end of someone’s bench could put this talented prospect back on the right track.

Honorable mention: Josh Childress, Luke Babbitt

Power Forward

Ivan Johnson, Age 29, 2 years NBA experience

Ivan Johnson might have a past, but he could save your team’s future if their starting power forward was out of action for a month. In the meantime, Johnson plays tough and mean, the perfect practice player on a team hoping for a deep postseason run. Johnson proved he could be effective off the bench with Atlanta. There is no age or declining skills issue here. What you have seen is what you will get.

Tyrus Thomas, Age 26, 7 years NBA experience

Tyrus Thomas defines the NBA reclamation project. The 4th overall draft pick in 2006 never lived up to expectations and after the past two injury-riddled seasons, the Bobcats amnestied him. Thomas doesn’t need the money, but a player with this much natural ability should be back in the league for another round.

Honorable mention: Antawn Jamison, Louis Amundson

Center

Nikola Pekovic, Age 27, 3 years NBA experience

The only reason Nikola Pekovic hasn’t signed with Minnesota is money. Pekovic wants more and why shouldn’t he? Roy Hibbert got max money as a beast-mode defensive center and Pekovic can be just as imposing. There are some durability issues with the giant from Montenegro and the Timberwolves 4-year $48 million offer seems reasonable, but the CBA permits a maximum starting salary of $13.7 million for a player with Pekovic’s experience. Maybe a sign and trade deal is still possible?

Cole Aldrich, Age 24, 3 years NBA experience

Being drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder has become a bad thing in recent years. The Thunder are too young and too deep to afford rookies much of a chance at playing anywhere except Tulsa. Cole Aldrich never had a chance and he still deserves one. The 11th overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft showed a bit of what he could do with the Kings in 15 games last season. He would make an ideal prospect on a team looking for a third center.

Honorable mention: Hamed Haddadi

These are not all of the NBA free agents left on the market. If there is someone you like better, let us know in the comments section.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors