Early Results Reduce Market For Chris Paul

If the Thunder are hoping to trade Chris Paul soon, the first month of the NBA season hasn’t done them any favors, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, who notes that the teams most likely to be interested have all gotten off to strong starts.

The Heat were the focus of trade rumors after Oklahoma City acquired Paul from the Rockets in July, but Miami sits at 10-3 after winning tonight. Offseason addition Jimmy Butler is the team’s assist leader at 7.2 per game as they are succeeding without a traditional point guard. The Heat have already made it clear that their interest in Paul is tied to a return of the draft picks they owe OKC, and they may be even more reluctant now to break up a winning combination.

The Lakers have also been mentioned as a possibility because of Paul’s friendship with LeBron James. However, they hold the NBA’s best record at 12-2 and James leads the league in assists at 11.1 per game as he has developed an instant chemistry with Anthony Davis.

The Timberwolves, who chased D’Angelo Russell in the offseason, are off to a better-than-expected 8-7 start, Tramel notes, while the Bucks, who have incentive to gamble for a title before Giannis Antetokounmpo can before a free agent in 2021, are 11-3 and are reluctant to become a taxpaying team.

Paul’s contract remains an impediment to any deal, as he is signed for $41.3MM next season with a $44.2MM player option for 2021/22. He has played well for OKC, averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 assists through 14 games, but the Thunder appear to need at least one prospective trade partner to stumble before any progress can be made on a deal.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 11/20/2019

Here are Wednesday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA G League:

  • The Wizards recalledAdmiral Schofield and Justin Robinson from their Capital City affiliate, according to a tweet from the team.
  • The Nuggets assigned Jarred Vanderbilt to Rio Grande Valley, the team tweeted. Denver doesn’t have a direct G League affiliate.
  • The Raptors sent Malcolm Miller to Raptors 905, tweets Blake Murphy of The Athletic. The assignment was optional, but Miller accepted it for the chance to get more playing time.
  • In leftover moves from Tuesday, the Sixers assigned Shake Milton to Delaware and the Rockets sent Gary Clark to Rio Grande Valley, according to the G League website.

And-Ones: Wiseman, One-And-Dones, Australia, Kings

Memphis center James Wiseman lost several games of his college career because of the aggressive stance that he and the university took with the NCAA, writes Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News. The potential top pick in next year’s draft has been suspended for an additional 11 games and won’t take the court until mid-January, although the university plans to file an appeal.

DeCourcy states that Wiseman likely could have been playing before Christmas if he hadn’t elected to challenge the NCAA’s authority in the case. When the original penalty was announced, Wiseman filed a lawsuit against the organization and obtained a restraining order that enabled him to play against UIC and Oregon. Memphis president David Rudd and athletic director Laird Veatch were both vocal in their support of Wiseman’s suit, with Veatch saying, “It is clear to me in my short time here that Memphians will stand up and fight, both for each other and for what is right, and I am proud to stand with them.”

Wiseman’s suspension will total 12 games — nine for the amount of money that Tigers coach Penny Hardaway gave his family for moving expenses and three more to cover the games he has played. In addition, Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated is reporting that the NCAA has threatened a major infractions case against Memphis.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated identifies five freshmen who have put themselves into consideration for one-and-done status with their early-season play. The players are Isaac Okoro of Auburn, Samuell Williamson of Louisville, Onyeka Okongwu of USC, Jahmi’us Ramsey of Texas Tech and Zeke Nnaji of Arizona. Woo adds that NBA executives still see the 2020 draft class as underwhelming.
  • The presence of potential lottery picks LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton has lifted Australia’s National Basketball League to a new level of popularity, relays Bill Shea of The Athletic. With its Next Stars program, the NBL is offering an alternative to the NCAA for young players.
  • Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN examines how former Kings chief revenue officer Jeff David was able to embezzle $13MM before being caught.

Celtics Notes: Rivers, Tatum, Brown, Irving

The Celtics are off to the best start in the East, and even Clippers coach Doc Rivers has noticed how much better the atmosphere surrounding the team has been, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Rivers, whose team hosts the Celtics tonight, attributes the difference to personnel changes.

“Last year you had Gordon (Hayward) and Kyrie (Irving) both coming back from being out,” Rivers said. “Gordon hadn’t played the whole year before, and Kyrie hadn’t played in a while either, so they hadn’t really played together. And they just never could get their traction. The rest of it, I stay out of. I’ll let y’all deal with that.”

Rivers was referring to locker room differences that sabotaged a team that entered the season as a favorite to reach the NBA Finals. He noted that coach Brad Stevens seems much happier on the sidelines this year.

“It’s a great lesson for all of us. Chemistry is so important,” Rivers said. “Chemistry and youth, you know, they had both going at them. They were expecting guys in their second year to just take over, and sometimes that takes a little while. It’s just good to see them playing well now.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • The Celtics have been enjoying success with smaller lineups, but that might not work in the playoffs against Joel Embiid and the Sixers or other tall teams like the Bucks and Raptors, states Brian Windhorst of ESPN. A source tells Windhorst that Boston won’t offer its core players in any deal, including Marcus Smart and Hayward, who have been mentioned as trade possibilities before. Outside of their top five, the only players making more than $4MM are centers Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, which becomes challenging for matching salaries. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge addressed the possibility of adding another big man in an interview with Bulpett. “It’s always about who,” Ainge said. “It’s not, like, how tall they are. It’s not like you can just go find any 7-foot guy and put him out there and all of a sudden you’re going to be better. It depends on who that is and whether they’re better than Marcus Smart guarding the center. So I don’t worry so much about that. I mean, obviously we have stars at every other position and we really don’t have stars at our big positions. So everybody thinks that that’s what we need to do, but it all depends on who that is.”
  • Roster changes have allowed Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to expand their roles, giving the Celtics two big wings that most teams can’t match up with, observes Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer.
  • Celtics fans may not get a chance to welcome Irving back in his first scheduled game in Boston since leaving in free agency, tweets Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Irving missed his third straight game tonight with a shoulder impingement, and Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson refused to speculate if he will be healthy enough for next Wednesday.

Carmelo Anthony Talks About NBA Return

Carmelo Anthony‘s first NBA game in 12 months wasn’t remarkable, but being back on the court was satisfying enough for the future Hall of Famer. Anthony scored 10 points and made just four of 14 shots in a loss at New Orleans, but he showed he can still contribute to an NBA team after a year in exile.

Anthony’s long wait to return to the league ended last week when he got an offer to sign a non-guaranteed deal with Portland. It gave Anthony a shot at redemption after brief, disappointing stays with the Thunder and Rockets.

“The greatest feeling of all was to feel wanted by a group of guys who believe in me and my talent and what I can bring to the game,” Anthony said after Tuesday’s contest. “It wasn’t just the players. It was the coaching staff. They really showed a strong level of belief in me and what I can still do.” (Twitter link from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian).

Anthony’s return wasn’t just an important moment for him, notes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Many of his peers also wanted to be part of the experience. Pelicans guard Josh Hart took a picture as Anthony warmed up. Ex-players Nick Van Exel and Antonio Daniels captured it on video. Social media was filled with comments from players and celebrities welcoming Anthony back to the league.

“I think the expression is ‘game recognizes game,’” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of the attention.

Quick adds that many players are dismayed about the way Anthony’s career has fizzled in his later years. While other stars get farewell tours, Anthony was scapegoated for a bad situation in New York, seemed to be a poor fit in Oklahoma City, then was told to leave the team after 10 games in Houston. Some believe he was blackballed around the league, and they want him to enjoy a more gracious farewell from the game.

“I feel like it’s been an unfair shake towards him,” new teammate Rodney Hood said. “Everybody knows how talented he is. But you know how it is in this league; once there is a narrative about a guy, it sticks with you and follows you. The fact that he got waived was crazy to me, and that nobody picked him up earlier than now is crazy as well. I’ve always advocated for his return.”

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni insists Anthony doesn’t deserve to be blamed for what happened in Houston. He said last year’s team, which stumbled out of the gate, wasn’t “structurally ready” to play and had problems that extended far beyond Anthony.

“It wasn’t his fault,” D’Antoni said. “It was everybody. We just got off to a slow start and wanted to go a little different route. He did everything we asked, and he was good when he was here. I hope it works (in Portland). He’s a leader. There was nothing at all, not even a hint of him not doing what we asked or trying, or all of that. It just, for us, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t a good fit at that time.”

Anthony got a few calls from interested teams after the Rockets cut ties with him last November, but no one ever came close to an offer, according to Quick. He eventually told agent Leon Rose not to contact him unless a deal was near completion.

Anthony remained on the Rockets’ roster, although inactive, for two months. In a move to clear cap room, Houston sent him to the Bulls in January, along with enough cash to cover his salary. Ten days later, Chicago placed him on waivers.

Blazers star Damian Lillard, who tried to recruit Anthony to Portland in the summer of 2017, was shocked that he spent a whole year out of the NBA.

“It wasn’t like Melo did something crazy to get kicked out of the league,” Lillard said. “A player of his caliber, without a reputation for doing wild stuff, and there’s not a real reason for him not to get an opportunity? It was weird. And I think that’s why so many people are in support of him, because they respect him, they are a fan of him, and they know he can still play.”

Trail Blazers Waive Pau Gasol

6:12pm: The move is official, the Trail Blazers announced on Twitter.

3:50pm: The Trail Blazers have released veteran big man Pau Gasol, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Gasol himself announced the news on Instagram, suggesting he’ll now be able to “focus all my energy on my rehabilitation.”

As Wojnarowski notes, Gasol underwent surgery on his left foot in the spring and has remained sidelined this fall as he attempts to rehab that injury. According to Woj, Gasol and the Blazers are working on a potential coaching role for the 39-year-old as he remains in Portland for rehab purposes.

Hopefully Gasol can get back to 100%, since it would be unfortunate to see him forced into retirement for health reasons. At age 39, the odds may be against a comeback, but even if he doesn’t play in another NBA game, he has a Hall of Fame résumé, including four All-NBA nods, two championships, and three Olympic medals.

Portland is now back down to 14 players after signing Carmelo Anthony as its 15th man on Tuesday. The Blazers may keep that final roster spot open for now in order to avoid tacking more money onto their projected tax bill. However, the opening could come in handy if the team wants to add more frontcourt depth as Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins continue to recover from injuries of their own.

Interestingly, while Gasol was believed to be on a guaranteed minimum-salary contract, Wojnarowski says the Blazers “had protections” on that one-year deal. ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets that the agreement included an Exhibit 3 clause for a “prior injury exclusion.” That clause protected the Blazers in the event that Gasol’s left ankle and foot continued to cause problems, though it’s unclear exactly how much the team will save.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

James Wiseman Suspended 11 More Games

NBA teams will get about half a season to watch James Wiseman in college before deciding if he’s worthy of the No. 1 pick. The NCAA has announced that the Memphis center will be suspended for 11 additional games, making him eligible to return for a Jan. 12 contest at South Florida.

Memphis plans to appeal the suspension, tweets Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports.

The punishment, which brings his suspension to 12 total games, was imposed “based on recruiting inducements his family received before he enrolled at Memphis and for competing in three games while he was ineligible,” the NCAA stated in its release.

Wiseman will also be required to make an $11,500 donation “to a charity of his choice,” tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. That’s the amount that Wiseman’s family received in moving expenses from Tigers coach Penny Hardaway to relocate to Memphis in 2017.

Jonathan Givony of Draft Express notes that Wiseman will still have 16 regular season games, plus the AAC Tournament and probably the NCAA Tournament to show scouts what he can do (Twitter link). Givony listed Wiseman as the top pick in ESPN’s mock draft earlier this month.

Wiseman was ruled ineligible on November 8, but was granted an “emergency temporary restraining order” and played that night against UIC. He has appeared in three games, averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per night.

Paul George Talks 2017 Trade Request, Teaming Up With Kawhi

After sitting out the Clippers‘ last three games due to a left knee contusion, Kawhi Leonard will suit up tonight against Boston, marking the first time that Leonard and Paul George will play together for the franchise, per Ohm Youngmisuk and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

For George, it will be the culmination of what has been a years-long desire to team up with Leonard, as he tells Youngmisuk in a separate ESPN article. According to George, when he requested a trade out of Indiana in 2017, the Lakers were widely believed to be his desired landing spot, but he also had interest in being sent to the Spurs, who still had Kawhi on their roster at the time.

“I wanted to be traded to San Antonio,” George told Youngmisuk. “We wanted to go to San Antonio first, and we didn’t make that happen.”

A source confirms to ESPN that the Spurs and Pacers talked at the time, but San Antonio lacked the assets necessary to make a move for George. The Lakers ultimately passed too, since they were reluctant to surrender too many assets for a player they thought they might be able to sign in free agency, writes Youngmisuk. George was eventually dealt to Oklahoma City, but still hoped to team up with Leonard at some point down the road.

“Since that moment, we were trying to pair up with one another,” George said. “We were trying to make it work. [After being traded to the Thunder] I had obligations that I wanted to come back to Oklahoma and give it another shot. … And then I felt that I needed to move on, I needed to go in another direction and I needed to at that point do what I wanted to do my whole career.”

About four or five days before news broke this summer that the Clippers had reached deals to acquire George and sign Leonard, Kawhi reached out to PG13 to see if the time was finally right to try to play together. Although it took another trade request from George, the two star forwards did ultimately end up on the same roster in Los Angeles. Now, they’ll take the court together as teammates for the first time.

“Just seems like it was destined,” George said over the summer. “We were supposed to play together.”

2020 NBA Free Agent Power Rankings 1.0

Always viewed as a weaker class than the 2019 or 2021 groups, the 2020 free agent class has taken a considerable hit in recent months, as many of next year’s most intriguing potential free agents have agreed to contract extensions, taking them off the market for the next several years.

Since the 2019/20 league year began, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry, and Eric Gordon are among the veterans who have taken themselves out of the 2020 free agent class by signing extensions. Meanwhile, almost every high-ceiling player eligible for restricted free agency in ’20 inked an early rookie scale extension. That group includes Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Domantas Sabonis, and Dejounte Murray, among others.

The upshot? An already-thin 2020 free agent list has thinned out even further. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still several intriguing names among the players who are expected to be available next offseason.

Below, we’ve taken our first crack at ranking the top potential free agents for 2020. While this is our first extended look at 2020’s best free agents, it won’t be our last. Extensions, injuries, breakout years, trades, and poor performances figure to affect these rankings over the course of the 2019/20 season, so we’ll eventually be revisiting the list to make updates and changes.

Our list reflects each player’s current expected value on the 2020 free agent market, rather than how we think they’ll perform on the court for the 2019/20 season. For instance, older players like Marc Gasol and Paul Millsap have strong short-term value, but didn’t crack our top 20 because they’ll be 35 next summer and are unlikely to sign huge, long-term deals. In other words, age and long-term value is important.

Here’s the first installment of our 2020 free agent power rankings:

  1. Anthony Davis, F/C, Lakers (player option): A three-time member of the All-NBA First Team, Davis is certainly worthy of the No. 1 spot on a free agent list, regardless of whether the class is weak or strong. However, he’ll be the only superstar on the market in 2020 and there are no indications at this point that he won’t simply re-sign with the Lakers. If that changes, it’ll make the ’20 offseason a whole lot more interesting.
  2. Brandon Ingram, F, Pelicans (RFA): One of the only top 2016 draft picks who didn’t sign an extension this year, Ingram is showing that he deserved one, with 25.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, and a .522/.444/.741 shooting line through 10 games. As long as he remains healthy, he’ll be a strong candidate for a maximum-salary contract.
  3. Andre Drummond, C, Pistons (player option): Although he has earned a couple All-Star nods over the years, Drummond has generally hovered below the NBA’s top tier of centers. He’s making a case early this season that he deserves a spot in that group, with a career-high 19.6 PPG and a league-leading 17.0 RPG. He has even taken great strides to address his free throw deficiencies, with a career-best 69.4% mark so far in 2019/20.
  4. DeMar DeRozan, G/F, Spurs (player option): DeRozan could end up exercising his $27.7MM player option for 2020/21, but he’s still just 30 years old and this summer might be his best chance for one last big payday. Despite the Spurs’ early struggles and his increasing aversion to three-point shots (he’s 7-for-49 since arriving in San Antonio), DeRozan is scoring as efficiently as ever, with a career-high .518 FG% through 14 games.
  5. Gordon Hayward, F, Celtics (player option): Hayward, who is sidelined with a broken left hand, will need to finish strong this season to hold onto this spot or potentially move higher. But before that injury, he looked like his old self, averaging 18.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 4.1 APG on .555/.433/.842 shooting in his first eight games. Like DeRozan, Hayward is no lock to turn down his player option, since it’s a big figure ($34.2MM) and few teams will have cap room to pursue him.
  6. Danilo Gallinari, F, Thunder: Gallinari is showing this season that his career year with the Clippers in 2018/19 wasn’t a fluke, as most of his per-minute rates are in the same ballpark as last season. Assuming he can play in at least 65 or 70 games this season and maintain those numbers, he’ll be highly sought after by teams in need of a stretch four.
  7. Fred VanVleet, G, Raptors: After his coming-out party in last season’s NBA Finals, VanVleet has carried that success over to the regular season, with 17.2 PPG and 7.6 APG through 13 games. He’s just 25 years old, and after starting alongside Kyle Lowry earlier this season, he has been proving since Lowry injured his thumb that he can handle the starting point guard job as well.
  8. Mike Conley, G, Jazz (early termination option): Is it an overreaction to Conley’s slow start to place VanVleet ahead of him? Maybe. Still, as Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer points out, Conley’s downward statistical trends, injury history, and diminishing athleticism are causes for concern. If Conley bounces back, he’ll rise on this list. If he doesn’t, he may end up opting into the final year of his current contract and collecting his $34.5MM ETO salary.
  9. Bogdan Bogdanovic, G/F, Kings (RFA): After a slow start to the season, Bogdanovic has been scorching hot over his last six games, with 21.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, and 2.3 SPG, plus a .530/.565/.933 shooting line. He won’t keep up that pace, but the 27-year-old is showing he’s a versatile option who can play multiple positions, score, and set up his teammates.
  10. Otto Porter, F, Bulls (player option): Porter is no superstar, but he has been one of the NBA’s more reliable three-and-D forwards in recent years, with a .427 3PT% since the start of the 2016/17 campaign. Harrison Barnes is a good point of comparison for Porter — last summer, at age 27, Barnes turned down a $25MM+ player option to sign a four-year, $85MM deal. Porter, 27 in June, could look to make a similar move with his $28.5MM player option in 2020 if he has a good year.
  11. Montrezl Harrell, C, Clippers: Viewed at the time as a throw-in in the 2017 blockbuster that sent Chris Paul to Houston, Harrell has evolved into one of the Clippers’ most important players and a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The 25-year-old is establishing new career highs in PPG (18.9), RPG (7.4), and APG (2.6) so far while making at least 60% of his field goal attempts for a fifth straight season.
  12. Serge Ibaka, F/C, Raptors: It may feel as if Ibaka has been around forever, but he’ll only be 30 years old when he reaches unrestricted free agency next offseason. And even though he has been relegated to a bench role in Toronto, his per-minute numbers suggest he’s still capable of being a starter and a solid rim protector.
  13. Evan Fournier, G/F, Magic (player option): Fournier is probably miscast as the primary perimeter scorer for a Magic team that lacks offensive creators. Still, his on/off-court numbers this season reflect his value to Orlando’s offense. The club has a 109.6 offensive rating when he plays, compared to a dismal 91.9 mark when he sits. Fournier will have to pass on a $17.2MM player option to reach the open market, which isn’t necessarily a lock.
  14. Derrick Favors, C, Pelicans: While Favors had long been a solid contributor alongside Rudy Gobert in Utah, the trade that sent him to New Orleans cleared a path for him to show that he’s a starting center in his own right. Injuries have slowed him in the season’s first month, but Favors’ performance in the Pelicans’ upset win over the Clippers last Thursday showed what he can do — he posted his third consecutive double-double that night, with 20 points and 20 rebounds, including nine offensive boards.
  15. Marcus Morris, F, Knicks: There could be several recently-signed Knicks returning to the free agent market next summer, but Morris is the only with a straight one-year contract, making him a lock to reach the open market. He’s showing in the early going this year that he can handle a larger scoring role (18.6 PPG, .455 3PT%), though any contending team that signs him will probably want him to be more of a role player.
  16. Jerami Grant, F, Nuggets (player option): Grant is capable of placing higher on this list, but the 25-year-old has struggled to adjust to his new home in Denver this season, with just 9.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and a .300 3PT%. At his best, Grant is a versatile three-and-D weapon who can play multiple positions. So far though, the Nuggets have a +13.7 net rating when he’s off the court and an ugly -7.2 mark when he plays.
  17. Tristan Thompson, C, Cavaliers: Thompson likely wouldn’t have cracked my top-20 list during the preseason, but he has been impressive in his first 13 games. The 28-year-old big man is doing his usual thing on defense and on the boards (10.1 RPG), and new head coach John Beilein has empowered him to do more on offense too — Thompson is averaging career highs in PPG (14.5), APG (2.2), and FGA (11.6).
  18. Joe Harris, G/F, Nets: The Nets are off to a slow start, but it’s not because of Harris, who has once again been one of the NBA’s most dangerous long-distance shooters. He’s knocking down 43.2% of a career-high 5.7 three-point attempts per game this season.
  19. Dillon Brooks, F, Grizzlies (RFA): An up-and-coming three-and-D wing, Brooks is back in the Grizzlies’ starting lineup this season, and the team has played significantly better when he’s on the floor. Memphis has a -1.3 net rating in Brooks’ 381 minutes; in 296 minutes without him, that rating plummets to -17.0. He’ll also be just 24 years old next July, so a team that likes him should have no qualms about investing long-term.
  20. Malik Beasley, G, Nuggets (RFA): Like his teammate Grant, Beasley would be higher on this list if not for his slow start. I expected Beasley to play a major role for Denver this season, but he has been a victim of an overcrowded rotation as of late, totaling just 19 minutes – with two DNPs – in the team’s last five games. On the plus side, he’s still making 40% of his three-pointers.

Disagree strongly with any of our rankings? Feel like we omitted any players that should be in the top 20? Weigh in below in the comments section to let us know!

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Marvin Bagley III Out At Least Four More Games

While Marvin Bagley III will travel with the Kings on their upcoming four-game East Coast road trip, he won’t play in any of those four games, the club announced today (via Twitter).

According to the Kings, Bagley was re-evaluated today, and while he continues to make progress in his recovery from a broken right thumb, he’s still at least a week away from returning. He’ll be re-evaluated after the Kings return to Sacramento following a road trip that will take the team to Brooklyn, Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Based on the Kings’ announcement, Bagley’s earliest possible return date would be Saturday, November 30, when Sacramento hosts the Nuggets.

In the meantime, Sacramento will continue to roll out a starting lineup that features Richaun Holmes and Nemanja Bjelica in the frontcourt. As we noted in our roundup of Kings notes earlier this afternoon, that duo has been effective for the club lately, helping key a stretch of six wins in eight games. The Kings, who have been without Bagley since opening night and are missing De’Aaron Fox as well, are just one game back of the No. 8 seed in the West.