NBA Players Weigh In On 2018 Free Agency

With a big offeason looming once the 2017/18 NBA regular season comes to an end, several ESPN writers spoke to NBA players to get their predictions on where they expect some of this summer’s top free agents to land. In total, 48 players weighed in. Here are some highlights from the results of ESPN’s survey:

  • LeBron James is considered likely to return to the Cavaliers, with 59% of the respondents picking Cleveland as his free agency destination, while 22% chose the Lakers. “He won’t leave after all the moves they made last week,” one Eastern Conference forward said of LeBron, referring to the Cavs’ trade-deadline deals. Asked where James should sign, even more respondents (66%) voted for Cleveland.
  • If James does decide he wants to join the Lakers, the LaVar Ball show won’t be a deterrent, according to 89% of the players surveyed. “If LeBron comes to L.A., then it’s the LeBron show. Not the Ball show,” said one Eastern Conference center.
  • Most of the survey respondents (80%) believe DeMarcus Cousins will re-sign with the Pelicans.
  • Only 33% of the players surveyed expect Paul George to be in the Thunder‘s opening-night lineup for 2018/19.
  • The respondents are slightly in favor (59%) of maximum salary contracts existing in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. “LeBron, Steph and KD, all those guys bring a lot more than what they’re getting paid,” said one Western Conference guard. “But being a lower-tier salary guy myself, if you pay those guys even more, the lower guys on the totem pole don’t really get anything.”
  • Asked which teams make the best pitches to free agents, players chose the Celtics (27%), Heat (15%), Lakers (12%), and Warriors (9%), with nine other clubs receiving votes. One Eastern Conference guard on Boston: “If you bring Tom Brady? That’s pretty damn cool.”

Noah, Hornacek Altercation Turned Physical?

FEBRUARY 19: There are conflicting reports on the exact details of the altercation, with sources telling Marc Berman of The New York Post that Hornacek never pushed Noah. Berman reports that the two men did engage in a shouting match, adding that Noah had to be restrained.

FEBRUARY 17: Knicks center Joakim Noah got into a physical altercation with coach Jeff Hornacek that led to his leave of absence, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News.

Their long-running disagreement over playing time became heated at a practice following a January 23 game against the Warriors in which Noah logged just five minutes. They had to be separated after Hornacek shoved Noah, Bondy reports.

Noah is currently on a leave of absence, which Knicks officials describe as mutual. The team tried to trade him before the February 8 deadline, but there were no takers because of his hefty contract, which still has two more seasons and nearly $38MM remaining.

Trying to reach a buyout agreement is another option, but it’s one the Knicks have been opposed to. If Noah does become a free agent, the Timberwolves are an obvious potential destination with Noah’s former coach Tom Thibodeau running the team.

Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, a teammate of Noah for five seasons in Chicago, spoke to the veteran center recently and said he just wants an opportunity to play.

“He wants to help win. He’s a great dude,” Butler said. “I talked to him a little bit, not a lot. All in all, I want him to be happy. Because you can’t go to work every day, being with the same people every day, if you’re not happy. That’s not good for anybody.”

Roster Moves Required This Week For Four Teams

As we noted last week when we identified the clubs with open roster spots, NBA rules generally prohibit teams from carrying fewer than 14 players on their 15-man squads (not counting two-way players). However, teams are permitted to dip to 13 – or even 12 – in special circumstances, as long as they get back up to 14 within two weeks.

At this month’s trade deadline, four teams ended up with multiple open roster spots and are currently carrying 13 players on their NBA rosters. The Cavaliers have 13 players after their plethora of deadline deals; the Wizards went down to 13 after sending Sheldon Mac to Atlanta; and the Trail Blazers are carrying 13 after trading Noah Vonleh to Chicago. The Hawks, meanwhile, waived Mac and Marco Belinelli after the trade deadline passed to get to 13.

As a result of those roster moves, Cleveland, Washington, and Portland have until this Thursday – two weeks after the trade deadline – to get back up to 14 players by signing a player to a 10-day contract or a rest-of-season deal. Atlanta has until Friday to do the same.

While we don’t know with certainty which players will be signed by these four teams later this week, there have been some clues. Veteran big man Kendrick Perkins published a tweet on February 8 suggesting that he was joining the Cavs, but quickly deleted it — Cleveland may be ready to finalize an agreement with Perkins later this week.

The Wizards, meanwhile, have been linked to several free agent point guards with John Wall sidelined and Tim Frazier banged up too. Ty Lawson, Derrick Rose, and Ramon Sessions are among the players said to have drawn some interest from Washington, so perhaps the club will pull the trigger on a deal with one of those vets this week.

Temporarily carrying 13 players has had a noticeable financial impact for the Cavs, Wizards, and Blazers, as cap expert Albert Nahmad observes (via Twitter). Cleveland has saved $35K per day since the trade deadline in potential luxury-tax payments for that 14th roster spot, while Washington has saved $12K per day in taxes. As for the Blazers, the savings they’ve created by carrying 13 players will allow them to sign a 14th player, then eventually sign a 15th player – if they so choose – without going over the tax line.

Tiago Splitter Announces Retirement

Veteran NBA big man Tiago Splitter has decided to retire, he announced in an interview with SporTV (hat tip to HoopsHype).

Splitter, 33, has been slowed by injuries over the last two years, having been particularly bothered by hip issues. He underwent surgery on his right hip approximately two years ago, but says he was recently told by doctors that in order to continue playing, he’d need to undergo a procedure on his other hip as well.

“I am going to stop playing. It’s a decision I’ve made these past few months,” Splitter said (English translation via SporTV). “It’s not something I want, but the hip injury I’ve been having is more troublesome than we thought. It’s a difficult time because you stop doing something you’ve done a lifetime. I remember being on a basketball court as long as I remember my person. I talked to my family, my wife, everyone, and really, it’s time to hang up the sneakers.”

As recently as October, we heard that Splitter was holding out hope of an NBA return, though even at that point he admitted he was still being bothered by his health problems. The Brazilian center last suited up for the Sixers in 2016/17, appearing in eight games for the team.

Having spent seven years in the NBA, Splitter appeared in 355 regular season contests, averaging 7.9 PPG and 5.0 RPG. Although he played in Atlanta and Philadelphia, the bulk of Splitter’s NBA career came in San Antonio, where he appeared in 65 postseason games for the Spurs and won a championship in 2014.

While Splitter told SporTV that he’s not sure exactly what his next step will be, he has previously expressed an interest in coaching, and reportedly received an invitation from Gregg Popovich to work with the Spurs. Splitter, who hopes to remain involved in basketball, has also done some television work, appearing on TV Globo during the 2016 Olympics.

Atlantic Notes: Noah, Embiid, Nets Sale

Joakim Noah is currently away from the Knicks, but he made his first public appearance in weeks during the All-Star break. The former Defensive Player of the Year was spotted at a party hosted by NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein. Marc Berman of the New York Post spoke to Goldstein about Noah’s rare appearance.

“I’ve known [Noah] a long time, I spoke to him last night,” Goldstein said to Berman. “I asked him if he was going to be all right, that I’m a little worried about you. He said don’t worry about him, everything’s going to be fine.”

We noted on Saturday that a confrontation in late January between Noah and head coach Jeff Hornacek allegedly turned physical. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Hornacek shoved Noah and the two men had to be separated, though Berman’s sources dispute that Hornacek pushed Noah. The veteran center has not been back with the team since then as the Knicks have tried him and the remainder of his near-$38MM salary for the next two seasons.

Check out additional Atlantic Division notes down below:

  • This All-Star weekend has been just the latest chapter in Joel Embiid‘s improbable journey from third overall pick to oft-injured big man to NBA All-Star. Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post writes that Embiid contemplated retirement on several occasions as injuries mounted and doubt about his future grew. “At some points, I wanted to quit,” the Sixers‘ center said. “There were surgeries after surgeries, and I didn’t really believe in myself. I didn’t feel good about my body.”  After a productive weekend in the Skills Challenge and All-Star game, Embiid’s once doubtful future is the most certain it has been.
  • The deal between Mikhail Prokhorov and Joe Tsai for a 49% stake in the Nets will reportedly be finalized in the coming weeks, sources tell Net Income at NetsDaily. Per the reported details, Tsai will initially gain control of 49% of the Nets with an option to take full control in 2022.

Southwest Notes: Smith, Davis, Harrison, Martin

Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. impressed with his performance in the Dunk Contest, finishing third behind winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. While the exposure from being in the event was great for the youngster, Smith understands that it’s not a guarantee that he will be a future All-Star, Eddie Sefko of Dallas Morning News writes.

“There’s a lot of guys who do the dunk contest that will never be in the All-Star Game,” Smith said. “But then again, I was in the Rising Stars. It’s all about timing. I’ll pace myself and whenever my time comes, I’ll be in there.”

Smith, 20, has been solid for the Mavericks this season, averaging 14.8 PPG and 4.9 APG. He has been mentioned in Rookie of the Year discussions alongside Ben Simmons and Mitchell.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Anthony Davis‘ evolution from All-Star game reserve to All-Star Game MVP to perennial All-Star has solidified him among the NBA’s elite, Scott Kushner of The Journal Times writes. Davis has taken the appropriate steps to increase his worth, including a developed three-point shot and intense rebounding. The regular season progression has been special but Kushner questions Davis maintaining that effectiveness in the postseason.
  • Sunday’s All-Star game was supposed to be a celebratory moment for Davis and DeMarcus Cousins as they were the two Pelicans selected to the event. However, a season-ending torn Achilles heel sidelined Cousins for the rest of 2017/18 and cast doubt on whether or not the impending free agent will ever team with Davis again, Kushner writes in a separate story.
  • Jarell Martin and Andrew Harrison were not expected to be major factors for the Grizzlies this season, having been candidates to be released in training camp. Even though the team is out of contention, both players have been solid, Chris Herrington of The Commercial Appeal writes.

Southeast Notes: Wall, Winslow, Heat Roster

Injured Wizards point guard John Wall is off his crutches and walking without a noticeable limp. However, the star point guard, who was pulled from the All-Star Game due to knee surgery, is reluctant to put a timetable on his return, Candace Buckner of The Washington Post writes.

“I really don’t know because I’m just doing everything the doctors are telling me,” Wall said. “I haven’t really tried to get back on the court yet so, just doing the little things. And I haven’t started running yet. So whenever I get to that point I can kind of start grasping stuff and understanding what level I’m at but right now it’s between six to eight weeks. It might be longer but I don’t know. I haven’t got to that point.”

Wall also addressed his recent public spat with teammate Marcin Gortat. A tweet from Gortat after a Wizards game referred to their performance as a great “team” win. Wall took his own shot at Gortat later on but he said both men have spoken and any personal issues will not be brought to the court.

There are more notes from the Southeast Division below:

  • In his latest installment of Ask Ira, Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel addressed the possibility of Justise Winslow losing playing time once Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder return from injury. While Winslow is a talented player, his role on the Heat will likely diminish now that Dwyane Wade has returned and other players are healthy, Winderman writes.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald spoke to a veteran NBA scout who said that the Heat must blow up their roster this offseason. “Let’s put it this way,” the scout said. Goran Dragic is their best player, but if you had a really good team that would contend for a championship, you would want him to be your fourth-best player, maybe [third if you had two superstars]. Jackson goes up and down the roster, with the veteran scout assessing each player’s value for next season.

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, Horford, Nets Picks

It’s been established that once regular season games resume, the Knicks plan on using recently acquired Emmanuel Mudiay, rookie Frank Ntilikina, and Trey Burke more extensively. Former NBA point and guard and TNT analyst Kenny Smith believes the Knicks can play both Ntilikina and Mudiay at the same time and let them compete for playing time, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes.

“I think they feel Mudiay or Frank can move over and play together,” Smith said. “Who’s going to be the starter? You got to fight for that. At times, because of the size of both of them physically [both 6-foot-5], they can play together. When you have a guy like [Kristaps] Porzingis, who is a scorer, and they can facilitate for him to score the basketball, and [Enes] Kanter can score the basketball, those two [point guards] can actually play together.”

With the Knicks planning of using the aforementioned trio of guards, veteran Jarrett Jack is expected to lose playing time and may even be a buyout candidate. The organization had made it clear that Ntilikina is being groomed to be the future point guard, but the team is reluctant to make him the full-time starter. Mudiay, a former lottery pick, gives the Knicks both another option and competition.

Check out other Atlantic Division notes:

  • Al Horford made his third All-Star team, and first with the Celtics, in 2018 and he did so without the usual eye-popping statistics of an All-Star, Chris Mannix of The Vertical writes. Instead, Horford earned his spot by being a complete player who can make an impact on both sides of the ball.
  • Net Income of NetsDaily has a roundup of all the possible targets for the Nets in the upcoming draft.

Central Notes: Nance, Dinwiddie, Bulls

Less than two weeks after he was shipped to the Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr. was back in Los Angeles for the Dunk Contest. Nance spent his first two-and-a-half seasons with the Lakers and admitted to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register that the trade still has not set in.

“It’s something that’s still kind of shocking,” Nance said. “But at the same time I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new teammates.”

Nance, 25, was the runner-up in Saturday’s dunk contest as Jazz rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell took home the trophy. After the All-Star break is complete, Nance is looking forward to being in a postseason race for the first time in his career.

“I like to think of myself as a very winning player,” Nance said. “Whether we were building gradually in L.A. or not, I was trying to win every single game. It just feels right. Now that we can, we’re in it, we have a chance to win every single game.”

Check out other Central Division news and notes down below:

  • Spencer Dinwiddie showed off his all-around basketball talents as he captured the Skills Challenge trophy on Saturday night, defeating Bulls’ rookie Lauri MarkkanenPeter J. Wallner of MLive.com recalls that Dinwiddie was once a member of the Pistons and now has the opportunity to shine as a member of the Nets.
  • The Bulls do not have any representatives in the All-Star game but the team’s young talent was showcased throughout the weekend, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Kris Dunn had an impressive performance in the Rising Stars Challenge, Markkanen was the runner-up in the Skills Challenge, and Zach LaVine impressed with his analysis during the Dunk Contest — he even teased performing in it for a third time.

Pacific Notes: George, James, Jackson, Warriors

It has been evident for the past few years that there is mutual interest between the Lakers and hometown All-Star Paul George. The Pacers and Lakers discussed George in a trade this past offseason and L.A. was even fined for openly discussing its interest in the All-Star forward.

This is just the latest chapter in the Lakers coveting not just top free agents but native free agents, Bill Oram of the Orange County Register writes.

Just two summers ago, DeMar DeRozan – a Compton product – was linked to the Lakers before he re-signed with the Raptors. Two summers from now, Klay Thompson, a Los Angeles native, is expected to hit free agency and the Lakers will almost certainly be in the mix. Kevin Lovewho played at UCLA, was expected to be a Lakers target in 2015 before the Cavaliers acquired him a year earlier. There is a noticeable pattern with the Lakers: pursue big names and if they happen to be from the area, pursue them even harder.

“I think that’s just the media,” George said about his impending free agency. “They see a headline and immediately they jump to conclusions. It’s funny but at the end of the day I know where my decision lands, or what my decision is, and that’s all that matters.”

Check out other Pacific Division news below:

  • Tonight’s All-Star Game takes place in Los Angeles and the Lakers‘ free agency targets — in addition to George — have been a major talking point, Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports writes. The Lakers cleared considerable cap space by trading away Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. at the deadline with eyes toward George and possibly LeBron James. Russell Westbrook, a California native himself, already shot down the notion of George wanting to jump ship over the summer. “That’s out! Paul ain’t going nowhere,” Westbrook told reporters as Lakers fans chanted for George. “It’s over for that.” As for James, his decision is still up in the air.
  • Josh Jackson‘s defense has always been strong but his recent surge on offense could make him a major threat for the Suns, Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype writes. Since January, Jackson has averaged 16.1 PPG for the Suns.
  • Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports examines the Warriors‘ success and how it has become a part of the team’s identity in both wins and losses.
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