NBA Draft Rumors Tracker: Analysis, Predictions for Top Prospects, Trade Targets

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2019

NBA Draft Rumors Tracker: Analysis, Predictions for Top Prospects, Trade Targets

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Rumors are the NBA's universal language ahead of the draft. Teams are beginning to confront tough long-term questions, top prospects have finished most of their workouts and information is overabundant.

    Though Anthony Davis' availability no longer looms over the predraft frenzy, the fallout from his move to the Los Angeles Lakers absolutely does. Chief among the questions still left to answer: Will the New Orleans Pelicans keep or trade the No. 4 pick?

    Plenty of other issues also remain unsolved. A few squads have multiple first-rounders and seem primed to move up. Few seem to have a hold on how the draft will play out after the top three prospects are off the board. A trade or two no one saw coming always gets struck on or before Thursday night.

    Keeping up with the hustle and bustle is a grind. Don't worry. We've you got you covered. This space exists with the sole purpose of keeping you up to date with the latest, greatest, dopest chatter.

So Much for Surprise

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The New York Times' Marc Stein has now tipped us off on the first five picks of the draft.

    25 minutes from now …

    1. Zion Williamson (New Orleans)
    2. Ja Morant (Memphis)
    3. RJ Barrett (New York)
    4. De'Andre Hunter (Atlanta)

    5. Darius Garland (Cleveland)
    6. (Minnesota)

    If you want any semblance of surprise during the NBA draft these days, stay off the ol' Twitter machine.

    We've known about Zion, Ja and Barrett for a while now. The curveballs here are Hunter and Garland. And a slide like this for Jarrett Culver couldn't have been expected by many.

The Trades Will Not Stop

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The deals are coming in fast and furious now.

    "Minnesota has traded No. 11 and Dario Saric to Phoenix for the No. 6 pick in the draft, league source tells ESPN," Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. "Minnesota president Gersson Rosas tried to get to No. 4, No. 5 and finally moved up to No. 6."

    There should be plenty of minutes available to Saric at the 4 alongside Deandre Ayton. And they still figure to have significant cap space after unloading T.J. Warren earlier in the day.

    For the Timberwolves, one has to wonder if they have their eyes on one of the non-Ja Morant guards who are likely to go in the top 10: Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland and Coby White.

The Pelicans Are on Fire

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    Nuccio DiNuzzo/Associated Press

    As soon as the New Orleans Pelicans acquired the No. 4 pick as part of the Anthony Davis trade, there was some speculation that it might be rerouted for more assets.

    Few could have predicted No. 4 would net the Pelicans this much.

    "Atlanta has acquired New Orleans No. 4 pick in the draft for No. 8 and 17 and 35, league sources tell ESPN," Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. "Pelicans are sending Solomon Hill, No. 57 pick and a future second-round pick."

    Not only did New Orleans turn three picks into one, but it also unloaded maybe the worst deal on its books.

    This is unreal.

    As it stands now, the aggregate return for Anthony Davis is staggering. Andrew Lopez of the Times-Picayune laid it out:

    Anthony Davis has turned into:

    - Lonzo Ball
    - Brandon Ingram
    - Josh Hart
    - No. 8 pick in 19
    - No. 17 pick in 19
    - No. 35 pick in 19
    - L.A.' 21 pick if top 8
    - L.A.' 22 pick if not
    - L.A. swap in 23
    - L.A.' 1st in either 24 or 25

    And got rid of Solomon Hill's contract. 

    The old cliche that the team sending the superstar always loses the trade may be in danger here.

T.J. Warren Is Headed to the Pacers

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    David Berding/Getty Images

    Maybe the Phoenix Suns have a pretty good idea that a big-name free agent is headed their way, because they just sent a 25-year-old who averaged 18 points and shot well over 40 percent from three to the Indiana Pacers as a salary dump. And he was on a pretty reasonable contract.

    "Indiana has traded for Phoenix’s TJ Warren, league source tells ESPN," Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. "Suns will send the No. 32 pick to Pacers too, source tells ESPN. Pacers are taking Warren into salary cap space."

    He went on to explain that the Pacers sent cash to Phoenix, who wanted to get out of the three years and $35 million left on his contract.

    This move in itself would've helped the Pacers, but they're probably not done.

    "As @BobbyMarks42 says, Pacers will still have $31M in cap space after absorbing Warren into the roster," Woj added. "One significant Indiana target in free agent, per sources: point guard Ricky Rubio."

The Picks Are In?

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    For the last few years, the race to tipping picks on Twitter has gotten quite a bit of attention. And in 2019, Marc Stein gave us the top three the night before.

    About an hour-and-a-half before the draft, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium confirmed the report.

    Top three picks in 2019 NBA draft are set, per sources:

    1. Zion Williamson, Pelicans
    2. Ja Morant, Grizzlies
    3. RJ Barrett, Knicks

    Pelicans hold cards at No. 4.

    Again, no real surprise here. Zion's been locked in since before the lottery. And confidence in Morant and Barrett going to the Grizzlies and Knicks, respectively, has been pretty strong too.

    As Charania notes, it looks like the unpredictability won't kick in till we get to No. 4.

The End of the Frank Ntilikina Era?

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    After just two seasons with the New York Knicks, it appears the team is ready to trade point guard Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft.

    "Would bet on the Knicks moving Frank tonight, even if it is for a 2nd-rounder," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman tweeted. "Likely start calling teams from #31 on down, in order."

    Ntilikina accumulated a whopping minus-1.8 win shares over the course of his first two NBA campaigns. That ranks 4,297th out of 4,308 for most win shares in a player's first two seasons.

    He's still just 20 years old, though. And at 6'6", he has good size for a point or combo guard. At the very least, he's shown some defensive chops.

    For a team that may be in the midst of a rebuild, if a second-rounder is all it'd take, he's probably worth a shot.

The Knicks Are Active

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The New York Knicks have an interesting summer in front of them.

    With a pathway to two max slots' worth of cap space, per RealGM, the mega-market team figures to throw its hat in the ring for big-name free agents.

    But it appears they may not wait till July 1 to be aggressive.

    "The New York Knicks are interested in buying another second-round pick, league sources told [The Athletic NBA]," Michael Scotto tweeted. "Currently, New York has the No. 3 and 55 picks in the draft."

    This could be as simple as the Knicks liking some under-the-radar prospect a bit more than others and wanting an opportunity to draft him.

    Or, they could be angling for as much inexpensive talent as possible if they think they're going to spend all that cap space on just two players.

Bol Bol Sliding?

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Like his father, Manute, Bol Bol possesses a unique combination of shot-blocking and outside-shooting ability.

    Among the 148 college players since 2009-10 who posted a block percentage at least as high as Bol's in 2018-19 (12.4), only four hit more threes. Those four all played at least 525 minutes. Bol played 268.

    And yet, the Oregon big man appears to be sliding down some boards on draft day. At least one team may be poised to stop the slide.

    "Have heard the noise about Bol slipping, but also from multiple teams who believe he doesn't get past Celtics at 20/22," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman tweeted.

    With Al Horford seemingly gone, Boston could pivot into a more traditional rebuild around young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If he can stay healthy and improve his movement around the perimeter, perhaps Bol is a big man who might make sense next to those two long-term.

A Creative "Sign-and-Trade" for Kevin Durant?

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    When the NBA made incumbent teams the only ones who could give free agents a fifth year on a new contract, it was supposed to incentivize players to stay put.

    The Warriors may be about to squash that incentive.

    "One of the things that is being discussed right now is that the Golden State Warriors would offer Kevin Durant a five-year contract, $57 million extra than he could get with signing elsewhere," ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up (h/t DefPen's Chris Montano). "Let him rehab and then work with him to be traded."

    This would essentially be a wink-wink sign-and-trade, dragged out over the course of a year.

    But it would be a mighty expensive option for the Warriors. If they re-sign both Durant and Klay Thompson to max deals this summer, the combined cost of their roster and their luxury-tax bill would be around $379.7 million, per ESPN's Bobby Marks.

T.J. Warren on the Mavericks' Radar?

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    After averaging 18.0 points with a 58.0 true shooting percentage, Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren has found himself on the trading block ahead of Thursday's draft.

    "The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams who have expressed interest in obtaining Phoenix's T.J. Warren via trade, per SNY sources," Ian Begley tweeted. "Opposing teams remain under the belief that Phoenix is open to moving Warren and Josh Jackson, as The Athletic reported."

    With Harrison Barnes traded this past season, Dallas and Luka Doncic could use a reliable second scorer to raise the ceiling of an offense that finished 20th in points per 100 possessions.

    And while neither Warren nor Doncic are defensive studs, they have the size and athleticism to be interchangeable at that end, pushing the Mavericks closer to a modern, position-less alignment.

Jahlil Okafor Back with the Pelicans

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Four years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor with the No. 3 pick of the 2015 draft. As a rookie, he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 30.0 minutes for the Sixers. It's been a rocky ride since then.

    Now, Okafor ranks 42nd in his draft class in value over replacement player. A total of 44 players from the class have logged NBA minutes.

    Okafor did show flashes with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018-19, though. And those seem to have been enough to give him another season there.

    "Pelicans are picking up Jahlil Okafor's team option for the 2019-2020 season, league sources tell ESPN," Malika Andrews reported. "The New Orleans staff is impressed by the way Okafor has reworked his body and the improvements he's made on the defensive end of the floor."

    Last season, Okafor posted career highs in box plus/minus, true shooting percentage and rebounding percentage. That box plus/minus even approached replacement level for the first time. He was at minus-2.3, just shy of the minus-2.0 considered to be replacement level.

Robert Covington on the Move?

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The idea of the New Orleans Pelicans rerouting the No. 4 pick it received from the Los Angeles Lakers has been floating around since the Anthony Davis trade was reported.

    Thursday morning, we got an idea of how a package centered around No. 4 might look.

    "New Orleans boss David Griffin trying to get another first-rounder and also a player on a good contract for the No. 4 pick," Stadium's Jeff Goodman reported. "Told there have been discussions between Pels No. 4 pick and Minnesota involving No. 11 and Robert Covington."

    Covington would solidify an already intriguing bunch of forwards.

    Russell Westbrook, Kyle Anderson, Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, Thabo Sefolosha and Andre Roberson are the only non-bigs who top Covington's defensive box plus/minus over the last three seasons. And the definition of non-big may need some stretching to keep Green and Antetokounmpo on that list.

    Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Covington and even Lonzo Ball could switch all over the floor, giving New Orleans some serious versatility, including an ability to play Zion as a small-ball 5.

Coby White Moving Up

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Tar Heel point guard Coby White has steadily worked his way up draft boards over the course of the last year, but a private draft-day workout for the New York Knicks still raised some eyebrows.

    "UNC guard Coby White—perhaps the fastest-rising prospect on the board—had a private workout with the Knicks at team's facility today, league sources tell ESPN," Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. "Knicks have been locked on RJ Barrett at No. 3, but summoned White after Darius Garland's workout yesterday."

    As noted by Woj, RJ Barrett still feels like the safe bet here, but White drawing interest in the top five is noteworthy. For most of the predraft process, it seemed like Garland or Jarrett Culver would be the first guard taken after Ja Morant, but White may have closed the gap.

    That's likely based mostly on what he's done since the season ended, but White has a heck of a resume from this season as well. Zion Williamson was the only ACC freshman who posted a higher box plus/minus.

Warriors Looking for a Gem in the 2nd Round

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    In 2017, the Golden State Warriors paid the Chicago Bulls $3.5 million for a second-round pick and the chance to draft Jordan Bell.

    The ensuing season, Bell ranked sixth among rookies in value over replacement player despite finishing 32nd in minutes played.

    Do the Warriors have their eyes on another potential steal early in the second round?

    Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday morning that Golden State has acquired the No. 41 pick from Atlanta for $1.3 million and a 2024 second-rounder. He added: "Atlanta moved No. 44 to Miami yesterday. Hawks have Nos. 8, 10, 17 and 35 tonight. Golden State has Nos. 28, 41 and 58."

    Regardless of what happens with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in free agency, Golden State will have little cap flexibility for the 2019-20 season. Acquiring picks is a smart way to add cheap talent.

Celtics Scrambling for Cap Space

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    What a short, strange trip it's been.

    Three years after signing Al Horford, and two years after trading for Kyrie Irving, both appear intent on leaving the Boston Celtics this summer.

    With their two best players apparently off to greener pastures (not greener jerseys), the Celtics suddenly appear interested in creating enough cap space to sign an impact player.

    "Boston has offered center Aron Baynes—$5.4M expiring contract—into salary-cap space elsewhere, league sources tell ESPN," Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. "Without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford on the books, moving Baynes without taking back salary could get the Celtics to $23M in space."

    The "cheapest" max contracts are worth 25 percent of the projected $109 million cap for 2019-20. That works out to $27.3 million.

    Even if someone takes on Baynes' contract for nothing, Boston will be a little short of the max. But there could be some interesting second- or third-tier free agents who might want to play with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as they inch toward their primes.

    If the center market remains relatively cool, would Nikola Vucevic take a long-term deal worth around $20 million a year? Or might those old Clint Capela rumors resurface? Boston can absorb his contract into its cap space more comfortably if Baynes is jettisoned.

Conley Trade a Win-Win for Utah, Memphis

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    Karen Pulfer Focht/Associated Press

    Mike Conley is now a member of the Jazz.

    Memphis agreed to trade its star floor general to Utah for Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, the No. 23 pick and a future first-rounder with lottery protection in 2020 and 2021 and lighter protection thereafter, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    This is an acceptable opportunity cost for the Jazz. They needed another shot creator to pair with Donovan Mitchell, and Conley has never received enough credit for his vision or off-the-bounce scoring. Utah's defense placed first in points allowed per 100 possessions last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, and will get better with him. 

    Please pump the brakes on thinking this is a steal, though. The Jazz are giving up real assets. Allen turned in a rookie-year dud, but Utah is effectively coughing up three first-round prospects. 

    Ditto for Crowder's inclusion. His shooting waxed and waned, but some of the Jazz's best lineups featured him at power forward. They outscored opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions when he played up front with Rudy Gobert this past year. Crowder's versatility mattered, and Utah needs to replace it in free agency.

    Finding an adequate alternative isn't a given. The Jazz forfeited $12.5 million of flexibility in this deal. 

    That is, unequivocally, fine. Cap space doesn't mean the same in Utah as it does elsewhere. The Jazz are getting a star and still have the $4.7 million room exception to flesh out the supporting cast. They might be able to nab a lower-end combo forward with that money.

    Someone like Marcus Morris will be too expensive, but a reunion with DeMarre Carroll is right up their alley. They can always bring back Thabo Sefolosha on the cheap, and buying low on declining stock should be in play (Wilson Chandler!). Georges Niang-at-the-4 can become more of a thing as well. 

    Utah is now a stronger force in the West and didn't swindle Memphis. Both can be true. Conley will turn 32 in October and is owed $67 million over the next two seasons. The Jazz should make this deal 10 out of 10 times, but it is only highway robbery insofar as you believe they were non-entities in free agency, late first-round picks are worthless and they don't still need shooters. (They do.)

    Let us now pour one out for the last remnants the Grit 'n' Grind era. Conley outlasted all of his fellow forefathers and, like Marc Gasol, gets to join a contender. Good for him.

    Good for the Grizzlies too. They did well here. Allen, two firsts and cap relief is a nice haul for an aging, expensive point guard. Memphis can shave another $4.1 million off its payroll by waiving Korver ($3.4 million guaranteed) and will be miles away from the tax even if it re-signs Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright (restricted).

    Crowder's expiring contract could be an interesting trade-deadline asset. Worst-case scenario: He comes off the books next summer, when the Grizzlies are projected have oodles of cap space. 

    Picking up extra firsts is huge. Memphis owes next year's first-rounder to the Celtics (with top-six protection), and the Grizzlies remain a net-minus in the second-rounder department. They've gained a few swings at cost-controlled fliers, including Allen, and this trade will look infinitely better if they hit on one.

Utah Still Looking for Help in the Draft?

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Utah may have traded its 2019 first-round pick as part of the deal that netted Mike Conley, but that doesn't mean the team isn't looking for help in Thursday's draft.

    "Jazz could be looking to buy higher into the second round," Tony Jones of The Athletic tweeted.

    Right now, Utah is slated to pick at No. 53. And that's a spot that boasts Kadeem Allen, Nando de Colo and Furkan Aldemir as the high-water marks for player efficiency rating, per DraftExpress.

    Now, that doesn't mean Utah can't break the trend and find a gem that late. But when the rest of the league has had 52 tries before you get your first, the odds of landing an NBA player are extremely slim.

    If the Jazz can move closer to the beginning of the second round, they'll increase their chances.

    They also lost Jae Crowder in the Conley trade, so a combo forward is suddenly a big need. And in the latest mock draft by ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony, Grant Williams slips all the way to No. 31. It's tough to imagine a fall that far, let alone one that would put him in the 40s or 50s. But that's the type of player Utah should be targeting.

    The Jazz's small-ball lineups with the combo forward alongside Gobert were their best over the last two seasons. Maybe Georges Niang or Joe Ingles can fill that role now. But increasing their options on that front is probably wise.

Marc Stein Starting the Party Early?

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    Shortly after midnight ET, the New York Times' Marc Stein reminded us all what day it was: "It's draft day, BTW"

    He then went on to reveal how he expects the first three picks of the 2019 NBA draft to go:

    1. Zion Williamson (New Orleans)
    2. Ja Morant (Memphis)

    3. RJ Barrett (New York)

    This aligns with most projections. Perhaps Stein is just hoping to beat ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski to the punch (or tweet button, as it were).

    "The Post has learned, ESPN and the NBA are 'zeroing in' on allowing Woj & company to tweet out the picks before they are announced," Andrew Marchand of the New York Post wrote earlier Wednesday. "Last year, Woj broke the pre-plan agreement after Marc Stein started tipping picks."

    This offseason has been so wild that we even have reports on reporters.

Tony Snell on the Move

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Milwaukee Bucks are looking to shed a little salary ahead of free agency, when they'll have Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon to re-sign.

    "Milwaukee is trading Tony Snell to Detroit, league source tells ESPN," Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted before following with: "Pistons are sending Jon Leuer to Bucks. Bucks are sending 30th pick on Thursday in deal too."

    This is purely a money-saving move for the Bucks, hence the inclusion of the first-round pick for the Detroit Pistons. Leuer is set to make around $1.9 million less than Snell this season, and his contract comes off the books after 2019-20.

    Milwaukee isn't completely out on the idea of adding a rookie this season, though.

    "By jettisoning Snell to Detroit, the Bucks don't have any picks in Thursday's draft—for now," Gery Woelfel wrote. "I've been told they're trying to acquire a second-round pick likely in the early 30s."

    As for the Pistons, they add both another pick and a wing who can provide a little spacing to a team that desperately needs it.

    "Detroit essentially paying $14M—mostly in the form of Snell's $12.2M player option for 2020-21 season—for the 30th pick," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe tweeted. "Leuer's deal expires after 2019-2020 season."

Pump the Brakes on Kyrie Irving and the Nets

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Not so fast.

    The Kyrie Irving-to-the-Brooklyn-Nets union seemed like a foregone conclusion for the last few days, but rumblings emerged Wednesday suggesting the Nets might pass.

    "The Post has confirmed Brooklyn might have qualms about signing the enigmatic Irving if he isn't bringing the injured [Kevin] Durant with him," Brian Lewis of the New York Post wrote.

    After seeing the effect Kyrie just had over the young-ish roster in Boston over the last two seasons, it's hard to blame the Nets if they're feeling any trepidation.

    They just made the playoffs with one of the league's more intriguing young cores. The average age of D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen is under 25.

    While Irving is an obvious talent upgrade, he alone probably doesn't make them title contenders. Is a modest bump up in the Eastern Conference standings worth the potential off-court risk?

Timberwolves Trading Up?

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    The No. 4 pick has seemingly been available ever since the New Orleans Pelicans acquired it from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade.

    And it appears as though New Orleans may have at least one potential buyer on the line.

    "The Timberwolves have been aggressive in their attempts to move up in the draft from No. 11 and are among the teams that have discussed acquiring No. 4 from New Orleans, league sources say," Marc Stein of the New York Times tweeted Wednesday evening.

    The question is: What else might Minnesota offer to make the move down worth it for the Pelicans?

    The Wolves' only other pick on Thursday is No. 43. And Minnesota shouldn't sacrifice future picks unless it's smitten with Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland or someone else in that range.

    Would New Orleans be interested in Robert Covington? Putting another switchable forward alongside Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson would make the Pelicans more interesting, but it might not be the time for win-now moves yet.

    The 2019-20 campaign could be all about getting as many developmental minutes as possible for the youngsters.

Does Rui Hachimura Have a Promise?

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Rui Hachimura's draft stock has been fairly volatile over the last few years. And according to ESPN's Ryen Russillo, it remains so.

    "Less than 24 hours to go and teams have players ranked all over the place," Russillo tweeted. "Take Rui for examplehearing rumors of a promise. Maybe at the #11 range. Another team on Rui 'we have him in the 20s.'"

    Few things stabilize a prospect's stock quite like the elusive promise. And teams that might make sense for Hachimura in the late-lottery range include the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Both have long-term answers at center in John Collins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Pairing either with Hachimura, who has the potential to be a playmaking 4, could give them more modern frontcourts.

Miami Trades Into the 2nd Round

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    Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    The Miami Heat may have a prospect they wanted in the second round of Thursday's NBA draft. The problem was that they didn't have a second-round pick.

    They remedied that Wednesday, as the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman explained:

    "The Miami Heat will have a dual focus in Thursday's NBA draft after all, with the team announcing Wednesday it has acquired the No. 44 selection in the second round in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks.

    "The No. 44 selection, which originally belonged to the Charlotte Hornets, was acquired for what the Heat listed as 'a future conditional second-round pick and cash considerations.' The Hawks identified the second-round as a conditional 2024 second-round selection.

    "The Heat hold such a 2024 conditional pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers, which would only be obtained from the Cavaliers if Cleveland has one of the NBA's five best records that season."

    The second round is even less predictable than the first, so it would be difficult to peg any specific players Miami is pursuing. But the Heat have managed to identify under-the-radar talent in recent years.

    Tyler Johnson (2014) and Derrick Jones Jr. (2016) both went undrafted. Josh Richardson, Miami's leading scorer in 2018-19, was the 40th pick in 2015.

    With more than $120 million already committed to next season's roster (the salary cap is projected to be $109 million), cheap talent from the draft could be critical for the Heat.

RJ Barrett Is Heading to the Knicks

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    The NBA draft will begin at No. 4, because the Knicks are "locked on" RJ Barrett at No. 3, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    This is how it was always supposed to be. The Pelicans would take Zion Williamson at No. 1, the Grizzlies would roll with Ja Morant at No. 2, the Knicks would select Barrett and then the party would start. But New York injected some mystery into the equation by bringing in Darius Garland for an eleventh-hour workout. It was apparently nothing more than due diligence.

    Everyone should now be looking at New Orleans to set the tone of the draft. Will team executive vice president David Griffin deal No. 4? Use it? Who will the Pelicans choose? 

    Almost anything is on the table—except trading up.

    The Pelicans reportedly showed interest in acquiring No. 2 from the Grizzlies and pairing Williamson with Barrett, his Duke teammate, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman. That ship has now sailed. 

    Memphis sent Mike Conley to the Jazz on Wednesday and can no longer afford to bail out of the pick that will become Morant. Garland is an equally intriguing option to fill the point guard slot, but he appeared in just five games last season before tearing his meniscus, and the Grizzlies have enough uncertainty on their hands as they fire up a rebuild.

Thunder Shopping Adams, Roberson and Schroder

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    John McCoy/Getty Images

    Salary-dumping season is in full bloom in Oklahoma City. 

    Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Dennis Schroder and the No. 21 pick are all "very available" as the Thunder try to slide under the luxury tax, according to SI.com's Jake Fischer. Good luck to them. They're going to need it.

    Roberson will be the easiest to move of this bunch. He didn't play last season while recovering from a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, but he's an All-NBA defender on an expiring contract who will make under $11 million next year. Moving that kind of money isn't particularly hard.

    It also doesn't get the Thunder out of the tax. They're more than $16 million over the luxury threshold entering free agency. Roberson and the No. 21 pick total $13.2 million. Sending both into another team's cap space saves Oklahoma City $11.4 million after baking in minimum roster chargers.

    Unloading Schroder instead would get the job done, but he's owed $31 million over the next two seasons. One late first-rounder probably isn't enough of a buffer to rent out that much cap space without taking back a chunk of salary.

    Adams is the Thunder's third-best player, and the most complicated to deal. Maybe a team is willing to swallow his entire $25.9 million salary. The Kings, Mavericks and Clippers will all have the necessary room and might be interested in a center. But Dallas has Kristaps Porzingis, Los Angeles is chasing bigger fish and any team intrigued by Adams may first want to sniff around Al Horford

    More than anything, the Thunder have to figure out whether they view their big man as a straight salary-dump candidate. He's their dirty-work guru at both ends. They can lean into Jerami Grant-at-the-5 arrangements, but overall, there's no way they move Adams for the sole purpose of cap relief without getting worse.

Rockets 'Explored' Trading CP3 to Knicks

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Everything is still happening in Houston.

    First, league sources told Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill that the relationship between James Harden and Chris Paul was "unsalvageable," and that the latter requested a trade. General manager Daryl Morey then squelched that report when talking to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen and ESPN's Zach Lowe. Paul did his part to quiet the noise on Instagram too.

    Amid all of this, the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith tweeted that the Rockets are "expected" to aggressively go after free agent Jimmy Butler, a star they don't have the cap space to sign—albeit not for a lack of trying.

    "The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York's cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "Trading Paul would have positioned the Rockets to be a Clint Capela or Eric Gordon trade away from freeing up the cap space to sign Jimmy Butler."

    Can't blame Houston for calling. Kevin Durant's Achilles injury, Anthony Davis' trade to the Lakers and Kyrie Irving's intensifying dalliance with the Nets have nuked the Knicks' visions of staging an offseason coup. They are among the few teams that will have the cap flexibility to absorb Paul's $38.5 million salary without sending anything back.

    Trying to offloading him for nothing might speak to the Rockets' confidence that Butler would sign with them given the chance. Or it may hint at how little value Paul holds with three years and $124.1 million left on his contract. Maybe it's a little—or a lot—of both.

    Either way, Houston's summer will be something.

    Too much smoke is emanating from the house for there not to be a fire. Perhaps Harden and Paul don't despise each other, but the weirdo contract negotiations with head coach Mike D'Antoni and whispers that owner Tilman Fertitta has "grumbled" about CP3's deal don't paint a picture of stability.

    Nor does the reported availability of everyone on the roster except Harden. Morey told Sean Salisbury of SportsTalk 790 in Houston that he won't take calls on Paul and wants to "add one more star" to the Rockets' core, but that's not happening without some form of collateral damage, if at all.

    Capela is the closest Houston comes to blockbuster bait. Attaching him to another salary and a bunch of first-round picks is the Rockets' best shot at a splashy trade. But for who? The list of stars potentially on the chopping block ends with Bradley Beal, and he's not even officially available.

    All of this feels unnecessary. Searching for upgrades is part of Morey's gig. The Rockets' drama, to whatever degree it's true, is excessive. They had every incentive to chill out and mind the store before now.

    Pretty much everyone thought Durant would leave Golden State before his injury, which buoyed Houston's title chances by default. Those odds only improved in the aftermath of his ruptured Achilles and Klay Thompson's torn ACL.

    The Rockets are not perfect, but their relative standing doesn't warrant the incoherent urgency seemingly enveloping their offseason.

Nets, Mavericks, Clippers and Lakers Interested in Al Horford

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Al Horford's decision to opt out of the final year and $30.1 million left on his contract with the Boston Celtics always felt like a move toward more security. Perhaps he'd be willing to sacrifice that amount in one year if he could get something like $60 million to $70 million over four.

    As it turns out, Horford may have been opting out for a lot more security.

    "The belief making the front-office rounds tonight is that Al Horford already knows there's a four-year contract worth in excess of $100 million waiting out there for him June 30," Marc Stein of the New York Times tweeted. 

    Dallas is considered the front-runner to land Horford, with both Los Angeles teams looming, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'ConnorAnother team to keep an eye on here, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports: Brooklyn.

    Joining the Nets would be a wild move by Horford. Kyrie Irving is supposed to be in their bag, and poaching the Celtics' two best players would be quite the flex. Brooklyn essentially bankrolled Boston's turnaround by sending out picks and pick-swaps galore in the now-infamous 2013 trade. Imagine that same team, albeit with vastly different leadership, being responsible for short-circuiting the Celtics' contention window.

    Penning Horford to a nine-figure contract would be quite the investment. The Nets can afford it. Renouncing D'Angelo Russell's free-agent hold arms them with over $67 million in cap space—more than enough to max out Irving ($32.7 million) and offer Horford a four-year, $100 million pact. 

    That's a hefty chunk of change for a player who'll be in his age-33 season in 2019-20. But Horford has shown few, if any, signs of aging. He just posted a career-high box plus/minus of 4.8, and for the first time ever, his true shooting percentage topped 60.

    Plus, Horford has never been heavily dependent on explosiveness. His intelligence, craftiness and skill should all age fairly well over the life of his next deal. This is to say: If the Nets aren't peddling a $100 million commitment, chances are another team, such as the Clippers or Kings(!), will be.

MKG Picks Up Player Option

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has opted into the final year of his contract, according to The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania.

    We promise you—while it was always the most likely outcome—this is significant.

    Kidd-Gilchrist has followed in the footsteps of Bismack Biyombo and Marvin Williams, and the Hornets' payroll is more complicated for it. Maxing out Kemba Walker would vault them into the luxury tax even if they renounce Jeremy Lamb's free-agent hold. That is...far from ideal.

    Charlotte cannot afford to lose Lamb if Walker comes back. Dwayne Bacon has the potential to replace some of his off-the-dribble work, but Lamb morphed into the No. 2 option with Nicolas Batum in a years-long rut.

    The Hornets will only have the mini mid-level exception ($5.7 million) to spend on another second-in-command, and that's assuming they use it. Owner Michael Jordan has never paid the tax and might not want to start, when Charlotte won't be a contender even with Walker.

    On the bright side: The Hornets are ripe for a trade. They have three sizable expiring contracts, some cheap prospects, the No. 12 pick and a reasonably priced impact big in Cody Zeller. Their level of aggression depends on Walker's decision, but they have the mid-tier assets to chase win-now moves if he stays.

Khris Middleton Is (Still) a Max-Contract Lock

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Khris Middleton has opted out of his contract and is still expected to command max money in free agency, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    This is not at all surprising. Middleton was pegged as a max-deal candidate at the beginning of the season, and his importance to the Bucks has only increased since. 

    Here are his contract options if we assume his market value is etched in stone:

    • Four-year max with Milwaukee: $146.5 million
    • Five-year max with Milwaukee: $189.7 million
    • Four-year max with another team: $140.6 million

    The Bucks shouldn't have anything to worry about so long as they're willing to pony up. Middleton not only stands to make the most money by staying put, but they also offer him the chance to be the No. 2 on a title contender. He may have to sacrifice championship proximity, status or both if he heads elsewhere.

    Milwaukee, meanwhile, is already bracing for Middleton's windfall—and so much more.

    Ersan Ilyasova and Tony Snell are available in salary-dumping scenarios, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein. Jettisoning either one of them would make it easier for the Bucks to pay Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon (restricted) while increasing the likelihood they'll retain Brook Lopez, whose Bird rights they do not own.

Dallas Trying to Trade Courtney Lee

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Courtney Lee's expiring contract is on the chopping block as Dallas tries to chisel out max cap space, according to 247Sports' Mike Fisher. This was inevitable

    The Mavericks lost their open-ended line to max money when Dwight Powell picked up his player option. Carrying holds for Ryan Broekhoff (non-guaranteed), Dorian Finney-Smith (restricted), Maxi Kleber (restricted) and Kristaps Porzingis (restricted) leaves them with a little under $28 million in room—close to $5 million shy of Kemba Walker territory ($32.7 million).

    Stretching and waiving Lee makes up the difference, but he'd then be on the books for $4.3 million per year through 2021-22. Brokering a salary dump is more efficient. 

    Sending Lee into another team's cap space is the Mavericks' cleanest scenario. They'll need to add sweeteners to do it. Trading for Porzingis didn't leave them with many buffers, but they have Justin Jackson and the No. 37 pick. Jalen Brunson is too good to use as an add-on asset.

    Dallas can also think smaller. Flipping Lee for a cheaper salary should create extra cap space at a cheaper cost.

    Getting JR Smith's partially guaranteed deal ($3.9 million) from the Cavaliers is perfect, but the Cavaliers believe they can grab a lottery pick for his contract, per The Athletic's Joe Vardon. Fisher mentions Chicago's Cristiano Felicio, but swapping Lee for him doesn't quite shoot the max-salary gap.

    Perhaps the Hawks can be talked into Lee and No. 37 for Alex Len. Maybe including Jackson gets the Bulls to part with Kris Dunn. Offering Lee and No. 37 for E'Twaun Moore might do the trick, and the Pelicans could push for Jackson's inclusion if they operate as a cap-space team.

Karl-Anthony Towns Isn't Shy About Recruiting D'Angelo Russell

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Karl-Anthony Towns reaaally wants D'Angelo Russell on the Timberwolves.

    "I pay very close attention to free agency," he told Uproxx's Jordan Zirm about his not-so-subtle Instagram recruitment. "And D'Angelo is not getting whispers—he's getting more of a yell from a microphone. This is a big free-agency period for us as an organization, so we're taking every step and exploring every avenue."

    "Me and D'Angelo have known each other for a very long time," he continued when asked about their history. "We've talked about how much we want to play with each other, not even just in the NBA or college, but in high school. Who would've thought we're at this moment now?"

    Props to Towns for his candor, and he's not exactly barking up the wrong tree. Minnesota needs more from-scratch creation at the point guard position, and Russell, a restricted free agent, will be eminently gettable if, as expected, he becomes collateral damage of Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving venture.

    Towns' relationship with Brooklyn's All-Star floor general definitely gives the Timberwolves an edge while pitching him. Their cap sheet does not.

    Minnesota will be working with the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception ($9.2 million) without shedding salary ahead of free agency. That doesn't bode well for Towns' pipe dream. Indiana, Orlando and Utah have also shown heavy interest in Russell, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, and they all have paths to significant cap space. 

    Hashing out a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn is a possibility, but not a particularly likely one. The Nets may need to renounce Russell to make room for another star, and the Timberwolves cannot piece together an enticing package without including Robert Covington, Dario Saric or both.

Jimmy Butler to the Rockets?

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Cap space, schmap schpace. Who needs cap space?

    Before free agency even starts, the Houston Rockets' 2019-20 salary sheet is well over the projected cap of $109 million. But that may not prevent them from trying to go after a max guy.

    "Rockets are expected to pursue [Jimmy] Butler and be aggressive in their pursuit," the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith tweeted. "Seen as an ideal fit on both ends of court, and in helping push Rockets to the top of the wide-open West."

    If Butler opts out of the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers as expected, he'll be an unrestricted free agent. And with eight years of NBA service under his belt, he's eligible for a deal worth up to 30 percent of the cap, which works out to a maximum starting salary of $32.7 million.

    So, how does a team already over the cap make room for a player who'll cost that much?

    Even trading Chris Paul's $38.5 million salary somewhere else and getting no money back doesn't do the trick. And good luck finding the team willing to absorb the three years and $124 million remaining on Paul's contract. They'd have to find some way to offload him and at least one of Capela or Eric Gordon.

    Maybe a sign-and-trade? But which of Houston's movable contracts make sense on the Philadelphia 76ers? Perhaps PJ Tucker helps. And maybe the Rockets can cobble together enough other contracts to match salaries. But it would take some serious cap gymnastics for Butler to sign with Houston.

    Rockets general manager Daryl Morey may be the guy who can pull it off, though.

Daryl Morey Shoots Down Rumors of Turmoil

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    NBA Twitter was set ablaze Tuesday by rumors regarding the "unsalvageable" relationship between James Harden and Chris Paul. According to Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill, CP3 went as far as to demand a trade.

    Shortly after that story broke, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey responded emphatically.

    "It's definitely not true," Morey said, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "It's ridiculous."

    And that wasn't even the most forceful quote.

    "No. Can you convey my disdain in my 'no.' It's so annoying at this point.

    "I've talked to Chris since [they were eliminated by the Warriors], for sure. Myself, Mike D'Antoni, James Harden are all super competitive, all frustrated we were eliminated from the playoffs, all want to get over the hump. That leads to a lot of competitive fire. All of it is normal. We're all in the same boat, pursuing the championship. We're all frustrated we're not there. But there is nothing past that.

    "I'm very frustrated right now. We're literally trying to do real work on making the team better, and every day I have to learn about a new media rock that has been turned over. And they crawl out and tweet something, and I'm supposed to react."

    If Paul hasn't asked for a trade, it doesn't make sense for Houston to blow up its core. With the Golden State Warriors decimated by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, the West is suddenly wide open.

    Even as Paul enters his twilight, he and Harden could push the Rockets toward the top spot in the suddenly unpredictable conference.

Could Clint Capela Replace Al Horford?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In the wake of Tuesday's news that Al Horford may leave the Boston Celtics in free agency, an old rumor surfaced.

    "Something worth noting regarding the Celtics: Boston and Houston had checked in recently about a potential trade involving Clint Capela, per SNY sources," Ian Begley tweeted. "ESPN reported recently that the Rockets had made much of their roster available via trade."

    With Horford and Kyrie Irving potentially gone, focusing on a future centered around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or both makes some sense. And Capela is a Horford replacement who'd fit right in.

    At 25, Capela is just three years older than Brown and four years older than Tatum. Over the last three seasons, he ranks ninth in win shares per 48 minutes among players with at least 3,000 minutes.

    There may be some concern that Capela's effectiveness would drop off without James Harden spoon-feeding him wide-open dunks, but pick-and-rolls with Tatum could eventually be dangerous. They probably won't reach Harden-Capela levels, but Tatum does have potential for growth as a creator.

Lakers Still Chasing That 3rd Max Slot

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    In the immediate aftermath of the Anthony Davis trade, there was some speculation that the Los Angeles Lakers might be able to chase a third star.  

    Then, confusion and speculation about the timing of the trade ensued. No one seemed to know if the deal would officially be done on July 6 or July 30.

    Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times explained the significance of those dates:

    "July 6 is the soonest the trade can be legally completed, and would require the Lakers to trade the draft rights of the No. 4 pick, rather than the player’s contract. It would also leave the Lakers without enough salary cap space to sign another free agent to a maximum contract. If Davis declines to waive his $4-million trade kicker, it would leave the Lakers with a little more than $23 million in salary cap space.

    "On the other hand, because of salary cap rules, if the trade is consummated in late July, the Lakers would have the space to add another maximum contract. That cap space could used on players such as Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker, All-Star point guards who will be free agents."

    Turns out, the Lakers may be looking to create that third max spot regardless of when the AD trade is executed.

    "Lakers are trying to expand Anthony Davis trade and create ability to open max salary slot on July 6, sources tell @BobbyMarks42 and me," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. "Lakers offering contracts of Mo Wagner/Jemerrio Jones/Isaac Bonga to additional teams, so LA can satisfy CBA rules on creating $32M in space."

    Bobby Marks went on to explain that Davis would also have to waive his $4 million trade kicker. And Wojnarowski all but said the Lakers were trying to buy enough second-round picks to fill out the roster that way.

    That's, um, a form of team-building we really haven't seen outside of NBA 2K.

Al Horford Ready to Say Goodbye to Boston?

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    When news broke Tuesday morning that Al Horford would opt out of the final year of his deal with the Boston Celtics, there was some optimism the two sides would reach a deal on a new contract with more years and a lower annual salary.

    The obvious concession for Horford was an immediate pay cut. But maybe security in the later years would be worth it. For Boston, the deal might have provided a little more cap room this summer.

    Welp.

    "Major change in the Al Horford situation," Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald tweeted Tuesday evening. "Per source close to Horford, his side is no longer discussing a new 3-year deal to stay with the Celtics. He is expected to sign a 4-year free agent contract elsewhere..."

    The Athletic's Shams Charania followed that up with a little confirmation: "The Boston Celtics are preparing for strong scenario that All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford will leave as free agents..."

    Less than 12 months ago, expectations were almost through the roof for Boston. With the injured Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving returning to a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals without them, the over/under was set at a whopping 57.5.

    The Celtics instead won 49 games, got bounced in the second round and now see their core eroding.

    Perhaps a full pivot to a rebuild around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown may be better in the long run. But both saw significant dips in box plus/minus from 2017-18 to 2018-19 (1.0 to minus-0.8 for Tatum and minus-0.2 to minus-2.1 for Brown).

    Would being thrust back into bigger roles sans Irving and Horford get them back on track?

Is Kyrie to Brooklyn a Foregone Conclusion?

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Kyrie Irving to the Nets has become a thing, because it is a thing, but the Knicks, apparently, still have a shot.

    "I wouldn't rule out the Knicks in this still, but there's no question the Nets are becoming very prevalent in these conversations," The Athletic's Shams Charania said during an appearance on CBS Sports Network (h/t Knicks Film School). "Players, free agents right now around the league are looking at this Nets organization as a real destination point."

    It certainly feels like Brooklyn has Irving in the bag after using two first-round picks to grease the wheels of an Allen Crabbe salary dump with Atlanta. Then again, the same was said about the Knicks after they sent Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee to the Mavericks in exchange for a clear path to dual max contracts. 

    Kevin Durant, another thought-to-be Knick, changed the offseason calculus after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Even if he leaves the Warriors, he's expected to miss all of 2019-20 while he recovers, which figures to be a turnoff to other potential star free agents.

    Still, the Kyrie-to-Brooklyn noise predates Durant's injury. It feels real...just as the Kyrie-to-New York theories felt real...and just as select Lakers fans will tell you Kyrie to Los Angeles is in play.

    Irving is unpredictable. The Nets are consensus favorites to land him now. Perhaps they're even locks. But he could change his mind.

    Only one aspect of his future seems to be an absolute certainty at this point: It doesn't lie in Boston

Knicks 'Extremely Open' to Moving Frank Ntilikina

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    How open are the Knicks to trading Frank Ntilikina?

    "Extremely open," according to the New York Post's Marc Berman.

    This keeps in theme with the Knicks' view of their 20-year-old guard. Ankle and groin injuries have hampered his first two seasons, but they've failed to carve out a consistent role for him.

    Is Ntilikina a floor general? An off-guard? More of a wing? No one quite knows what this niche should be, and the Knicks haven't given him nearly enough room to explore. 

    Another team might. But the price has to be right. Ntilikina is a net-negative at next year's $4.9 million salary (right now), and the Knicks are hoping for "either a late first-rounder or second-rounder" in any deal.

    Holding out for a first is unrealistic. Ntilkina is a suffocating defender, particularly in the pick-and-roll, but he doesn't wield a reliable jumper and hasn't displayed consistent offensive feel with the ball in his hands. Not one of the teams that owns a selection in the 21 to 30 range is an obvious fit.

    Flipping him for a second-rounder in the 32 to 42 range feels more plausible. Squads like Atlanta, Phoenix and Sacramento should be open to taking a look if that's the cost of admission.

Indiana Interested in Signing Ricky Rubio?

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Ricky Rubio is expected to be a top target for the Indiana Pacers in free agency as they prepare for the potential departures of Darren Collison and Cory Joseph, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

    What's the opposite of "This bangs?"

    Indiana needs to load up on shooting and from-scratch shot creation more than anything. Rubio provides neither. His three-point efficiency plunged after a feel-good outlier in 2017-18, and he posted a 38.8 effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers—a bottom-12 mark among 100 players to fire off at least 200 such shots.

    Adding Rubio won't be as inexplicably awkward if the Pacers don't use cap space to get him. His arrival is a different story should his market crater enough for him to be had at the $4.8 million room exception.

    But if the Pacers plan on cutting into what will be significant wiggle room even if they carry free-agent holds for Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young? Forget about it. Rubio doesn't make nearly enough sense for them at the offensive end to warrant a substantive investment.

    By the way: Indiana has also shown interest in New Orleans' No. 4 pick, per O'Connor. But finding a workable deal between the two is tough without the Pelicans being head-over-heels for the extension-eligible Domantas Sabonis or the Pacers dangling Myles Turner.

Harrison Barnes Opts Out, But Kings Reunion Seems Likely

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    In a somewhat surprising move, Harrison Barnes has declined his $25.1 million option and will enter unrestricted free agency, his agent, Jeff Schwartz, told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    This move has "playing the long game" plastered all over it. Barnes won't get $25.1 million per year on the open market, but at 27, he should draw multiyear interest at a semi-substantial price point. Landing a three-year, $48 million deal or something similar would be worth it for him in the aggregate.

    Count on the Kings to remain in the mix for Barnes. These types of decisions are usually part of a larger understanding between team and free agent when the player isn't a piping-hot commodity.

    Barnes could have rolled the dice on entering a shallower 2020 market, but next summer's dip in talent coincides with fewer squads having cap space. Sacramento and many other teams have more money to spend now.

    Beware of the Kings if they don't bring back Barnes. They'll have almost $60 million in space should they renounce Willie Cauley-Stein, and they can creep past the $62 million threshold by waiving non-guaranteed contracts for Yogi Ferrell and Frank Mason III.

    Superstars still probably won't flock to Sacramento, but that level of flexibility would be license for the Kings to increase the price tag on coveted targets who aren't necessarily max-salary formalities.

    Malcolm Brogdon, anyone?

Hassan Whiteside to Pick Up Player Option, but He Wants a Trade

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Hassan Whiteside will pick up his $27.1 million player option "barring something completely unforeseen developing in the coming days," according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. And after he does, he'll be asking for a trade, per the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds.

    This might be the least surprising thing ever.

    Whiteside averaged just 17.3 minutes per game after the Heat moved him to the bench in March. He falls well short of a non-factor; his defense around the rim and, at times, in space is useful. But he wouldn't get anything close to $27.1 million on the open market. It would probably take a three-year deal for him to recoup that value.

    "I don't think I'm a 20-minute guy," Whiteside said in April, per Jackson. "I average what, 20 minutes? So I think I can play more and I can do more. So I definitely think what I bring to the game is at a high level for my position. You know, I led the league in categories that you would want a big man to lead the league in. I feel like I can keep doing that."

    It would go a long way toward increasing Whiteside's utility if he owned his offensive wheelhouse. He is in his bag catching lobs, finishing out the pick-and-roll and slamming down putbacks. The push to take more jumpers and toil away on the block needs to go. Almost 16 percent of Whiteside's offensive touches last season came as post-ups, on which he averaged just 0.73 points per possession.

    The Heat's mushrooming payroll is the bigger news. They'll be more than $13 million over the luxury tax once Whiteside joins Goran Dragic in picking up his player option. They can trim that to under $8 million by waiving Ryan Anderson ($15.6 million guaranteed), but they'll need a bigger salary dump to entirely skirt the tax.

    Sources told The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania that the Heat are interested in trading for JR Smith's partially guaranteed deal ($3.9 million). Acquiring him would help them duck the tax, but the Cavaliers believe they can grab a lottery pick for his contract, per The Athletic's Joe Vardon. Miami doesn't have the incumbent talent to throw away the No. 13 selection willy nilly.

    Prospective salary dumps probably won't impact Whiteside anyway. The sheer enormity of his cap hit makes him difficult to move. If the Heat do sidestep the tax, it'll most likely come at the expense of someone else.

Bradley Beal Is Off-Limits...For Now

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Hopeful vultures will cross their fingers for Giannis Antetokounmpo to vault up the superstar-dilemma list now that Anthony Davis is in Los Angeles. They better not hold their breath.

    We're at least one year away from Antetokounmpo's future becoming an issue, and he'll have to reject a five-year, $247.3 million supermax extension next summer for the Milwaukee Bucks to even consider soliciting offers. 

    Bradley Beal is the better trade candidate. Whether the Washington Wizards are ready to open the bidding for him is another matter. They don't have a permanent general manager in place, and they aren't expected to "even consider moving" him without securing an "overwhelming" return, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

    Washington resisted when New Orleans showed interest in Beal before it completed the Anthony Davis trade, per NBC Sports' Ben Standig. That off-limits stance could soften, but "the sense from league sources is the team plans on keeping Beal despite ample interest from contenders."

    Perhaps this will keep speculation at bay. Don't bet on it. Beal is about to turn 26 and has two years left on his contract, and his All-NBA candidacy is fresh in everyone's minds.

    Equally important: He can qualify for the same supermax extension as Antetokounmpo by making an All-NBA team next year. The Wizards may not be keen on bankrolling megadeals for both him and John Wall, knowing how poorly other supermaxes are aging (Chris PaulRussell Westbrook, Wall).

    Even if nothing happens on draft night—and it probably won't—Beal's future is worth monitoring over the offseason.

Atlanta Aggressively Trying to Get No. 4 from New Orleans

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Attention "Jarrett Culver needs to play for the Hawks" enthusiasts: Your wish may be their command.

    Atlanta has been unsuccessfully trying to pry No. 3 from New York, but New Orleans is "considering the possibility" of flipping No. 4 for Nos. 8 and 10, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony

    Whatever the outcome, expect the Hawks to do something. They have three first-round picks and won't keep them all. Inching up the draft board has always felt inevitable.

    Striking a deal to land No. 4 would presumably mean the Hawks want to take a stab at Culver or DeAndre Hunter. Darius Garland has been mentioned among the players most likely to go there, but pairing him with Trae Young creates all sorts of overlap, and Atlanta needs more big-picture wings after it sent Taurean Prince to Brooklyn.

    Pick Nos. 8 and 10 alone might be enough for the Pelicans to bite. They don't have an urgent need for Garland with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday on the docket, and while adding Culver to their stash of defensive assets is tempting, the talent gap between fourth and 10th overall in this year's class isn't all that stark. 

    New Orleans should still have a chance at Hunter or Cam Reddish at No. 8, and landing a second top-10 prospect even in a shallow draft is a good way to maximize the start of the post-Anthony Davis era.

Interest in Darius Garland Is Heating Up

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    Cassy Athena/Getty Images

    Darius Garland is a wanted prospect.

    Not only is he granting an eleventh-hour workout to the Knicks, owners of the No. 3 pick, but "Minnesota, Boston and Chicago are teams looking at potentially trading up to No. 4" with the intention of taking him, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony.

    This news comes on the heels of a report from ESPN's Dave McMenamin that Garland worked out for both the Lakers and Cavaliers (No. 5) before the Anthony Davis trade. The latest spate of intel suggests the Pelicans aren't too interested in selecting or keeping him at No. 4, and that the Knicks might consider grabbing him at No. 3.

    The latter feels like a stretch.

    A torn left meniscus limited Garland to five appearances at Vanderbilt, and RJ Barrett, while a tough-to-read prospect, is considered the consensus No. 3 selection in what's been deemed a three-player draft. The Knicks would be assuming a ton of risk if they took the point guard—liability they cannot afford when their grand offseason plans have already gone up in flames following Kevin Durant's Achilles injury and Kyrie Irving's reported affinity for the Nets.

    New Orleans at No. 4 is more intriguing. Garland is redundant with both Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday on board, so if the Pelicans aren't enamored with any of the wings in top-five territory, they'll be adequately incentivized to move back while snagging another asset.

Kawhi's Free Agency Remains a 2-Team Race

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    Ron Turenne/Getty Images

    Kawhi Leonard's latest free-agency update won't please Lakers fans. As ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said on Get Up:

    "The reality is Kawhi Leonard's focused on Los Angeles, but it's the Clippers not the Lakers. No. 1 one, [the Lakers] don't have the money to sign him. And two, the idea of him being a third wheel on a team trying to create a superteam, that has not been Kawhi's M.O. The Clippers are poised to be able to lure him from Toronto. This will be a Raptors-Clippers fight down to the end. He may take meetings with more teams. It's not even certain he'd take a meeting with the Lakers right now."

    Anthony Davis and LeBron James shouldn't take this personally yet. The Lakers won't have close to the $32.7 million in cap space it'll take to sign Leonard unless they push back the completion date of their blockbuster trade with the Pelicans. 

    But yeah, if they figure out a way to dredge up max room and Leonard still doesn't grant them face time, they're free to take it personally.

    That the Clippers remain a formidable possibility for Leonard is the bigger takeaway. It has become tougher to envision that he'll leave the Raptors after they won the NBA title. This reminds us that Leonard's interest in relocating to Los Angeles is an actual thing, and that his future in Toronto is anything but assured.

Implications of Al Horford's Opt-Out

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    Al Horford has declined his $30.1 million player option, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. This should make Celtics fans only a little queasy.

    Kyrie Irving already seems to have both feet out the door. Losing Horford would consign Boston to a quasi-rebuild. But his foray into free agency may not mean a departure. Both he and the Celtics have interest in hashing out a new deal, per Woj. This opt-out could be part of a broader play for each side.

    Horford will not get $30-plus million per year on the open market unless an under-the-radar aggressor (Kings!) is feeling spunky. But he has the chance to sign a longer-term pact worth more in the aggregate.

    Cheapening Horford's average annual value, meanwhile, better positions the Celtics for other moves. They can feasibly re-sign Horford, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier (restricted) while staying below the luxury-tax apron and accessing the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception in the event Irving leaves.

    Boston's flexibility will still depend on how much everyone else commands and whether it brings back other free agents like Daniel Theis (restricted). Failing overpays, though, the Celtics wouldn't have too much trouble ducking the tax, keeping a lion's share of the core intact and gaining the $9.2 million MLE to use on another playmaker.

    Team president Danny Ainge could also go the nuclear route. Renouncing all of their own free agents, including Horford, gives the Celtics a line to more than $28 million in cap space. That number climbs into 30 percent-max territory ($32.7 million) if they dump one of their three first-round picks and find a taker for Guerschon Yabusele's $3.1 million salary.

    Treat this as the most unlikely scenario. Jettisoning Horford, Morris and Rozier to sign one player isn't the most practical business call. With Kevin Durant recovering from a ruptured Achilles, Kawhi Leonard is the only singular free agent worth stripping down the roster for, and his decision figures to come down to the Clippers and Raptors.

    If the Celtics and Horford cannot find common ground, he'll have no trouble drumming up suitors. The Lakers and Dallas Mavericks loom if they want Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingis, respectively, to see more time at the 4. The Kings can go full max payday. The Clippers become super interesting if they land Leonard.

Suns Not Interested in Making a Trade?

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    Maybe the Suns aren't looking to make a splash ahead of the draft after all.

    ESPN's Jonathan Givony wrote in his latest mock that Phoenix continues to shop the No. 6 pick for "the right veteran guard that complements Devin Booker." The Athletic's Shams Charania then added that Josh Jackson and TJ Warren are both up for grabs.

    Not so fast, though. Sources have since told the Arizona Republic's Duane Rankin that Phoenix has not made Jackson, Warren or the No. 6 pick available in trade talks.

    Have your grains of salt at the ready. The Suns need upgrades at the point guard and power forward slots, and that trio of assets is their best chance to net impactful players.

    Selecting a floor general at No. 6 is of course on the table. It just doesn't move the needle nearly enough. Booker is entering the first year of his max extension, which defaults the Suns to a more win-now timeline. Taking the ball out of his hands and giving it to a rookie playmaker up against a steep learning curve doesn't jibe with that immediate(ish) window.

    Putting Warren off-limits likewise doesn't solve their power forward problems. His floor game and improved outside shooting render him an offensive mismatch, but the Suns defense cannot float a 4-5 partnership between him and Deandre Ayton. They coughed up 115.5 points per 100 possessions and ceded an offensive rebounding rate of 28.2 when they played together up front last season.

    And let's not pretend Jackson is untouchable material. He shot 38 percent from deep after the All-Star break but remains an offensive wild card. His finishing closer to the basket is suspect at best, and he wrapped 2018-19 with almost a dead-even assist-to-turnover ratio.

    If the Suns can turn some combination of him, Warren and the No. 6 pick into a veteran stud, they absolutely should. Change simply for change's sake is never a good idea, but it won't hurt to sniff around the markets for Mike Conley, Spencer Dinwiddie or, much less likely, Jrue Holiday.

Lakers Bringing Rondo Back?

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    Last season, the Lakers' net rating was 10.9 points per 100 possessions worse when Rajon Rondo was on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass. That put Rondo in the 9th percentile leaguewide.

    He also posted a career-low minus-1.6 box plus/minus. A zero box plus/minus indicates a league-average player. Minus-2.0 is replacement level.

    And yet, there may be interest in another year. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explained on ESPN LA 710's Mornings with Keyshawn, LZ and Travis (h/t Silver Screen & Roll's Harrison Faigen):

    "In the case of Rondo, because he played for them last season, he would be difficult for them to bring back. I think first they want to look to other players, like Seth Curry, for example. Someone like that. There's a lot of guys out there that they would look at, but Rondo is the one that I'm sure they want to bring him back because he played with AD in New Orleans, he played with LeBron James, he improved as a 3-point shooter, and he's a leader, and he's a winner, and he wants to return."

    There are some pros here.

    As pointed out by Turner, Rondo has gotten better as a shooter. Over the last four seasons, his three-point percentage of 35.8 is barely above the league average (35.7), and he did seem to enjoy some synergy with Anthony Davis when both were members of the New Orleans Pelicans for 2017-18.

    But it makes sense for the Lakers to look elsewhere first. With a top two of LeBron and AD, shooting should be a top priority. And average probably shouldn't cut it.

    Seth Curry is a good target. Among players with at least as many career three-point attempts (686), Curry is third in three-point percentage (43.9), trailing only Steve Kerr (45.4) and Hubert Davis (44.1).

Rui Hachimura Moving Up

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Rui Hachimura's draft stock has been fairly volatile over the last couple of seasons, but it sounds like his physical traits could end up pushing him into the top 10 of this week's draft.

    "In the lottery, that's a guy that I see moving up right now," ESPN's Fran Fraschilla said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "That's a guy for me, for you guys to keep an eye on. When he does go 6 or 7, when nobody's had him any higher than maybe 12 or 13, you could say, 'Well, Fran said this guy would go higher.'"

    Also in the interview, Fraschilla described a play from early in the season during which Hachimura sent Zion Williamson "flying" on a drive. 

    Hachimura is 6'8", 230 pounds and sports a 7'2" wingspan. That's prototypical size for today's playmaking 4. And despite low assist numbers, he has shown enough perimeter skill to suggest he can create for himself and others.

    With an NBA developmental staff and plan, his vision and shooting (24-of-76 from three during his Gonzaga career) should improve.

    The natural gifts he has are harder to teach.

Patrick Beverley Should Have a Busy Schedule

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Patrick Beverley ranked 11th among point guards in ESPN.com's real plus-minus this season.

    A random sampling of some point guards listed behind him: Russell Westbrook (12th), Ben Simmons (17th), D'Angelo Russell (21st) and John Wall (51st).

    Now, some people put more stock into catch-all metrics like real plus-minus than others. Few, if any, would say this means Beverley is better than Westbrook. But the former is probably better than a lot of fans realize, and NBA teams are interested.

    "Sources tell me Patrick Beverley—a sensible FA target of the Bulls and Lakers—will be taking meetings with as many as 5 teams BEFORE meeting with the Clippers in 2 weeks," longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney tweeted. "Clippers will be chasing max-type FAs, but Beverley won't necessarily wait on an offer from them, I'm told."

    Should the Los Angeles Lakers opt to go for depth rather than a third star with their remaining cap space, Beverley would be borderline ideal alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

    Over the course of his career, he's been one of the game's best off-ball point guards. Alongside players like James Harden, Lou Williams or, dare we say, LeBron, Beverley is willing to defer and space the floor on offense while taking the most difficult defensive assignment.

    His unselfishness makes him an easy fit on most teams, too. It should come as little surprise multiple organizations are already lining up to meet with Beverley.

Celtics out on AD, but They May Still Be Dealing

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    In an appearance on SportsCenter (h/t NESN's Chris Grenham), ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said the Boston Celtics have all but resigned on the Kyrie Irving front. But at this point, that almost feels like old news.

    The juicier nugget might have come later.

    "I'm told they have been really aggressive out in the marketplace." Woj said. "Again, three picks in Thursday's NBA draft. I'm told they don't want to have three rookies on the team. You can expect, one way or another, at least one, maybe two of those picks end up somewhere else."

    Now, there are plenty of ways Boston could move that pick (or those picks).

    Right now, the Celtics have Nos. 14, 20 and 22. Maybe they could package a couple of them and move up to grab a prospect higher in the lottery. Maybe they could add them to a deal for an established player. If they wanted to unload the two years and nearly $67 million owed to Gordon Hayward, it might take a pick as a sweetener.

    However it gets done, the desire to avoid adding three more rookies to a team that already features Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum makes some sense. That's especially true in this top-heavy draft.

Milwaukee Looking to Shed Salary

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    It is salary-dumping season in Milwaukee.

    According to the New York Times' Marc Stein, the Bucks are "offering draft compensation this week in hopes of finding a team willing to take on the contract of Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova." This undoubtedly has to do with new contracts for Malcolm Brogdon (restricted), Brook Lopez (non-Bird) and Khris Middleton (player option) hanging over their head.

    Pencil in Middleton for a max salary ($32.7 million), and the Bucks can keep Brogdon on a deal that starts in the $15 million range after waiving George Hill ($1 million partial guarantee) before they lose access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.2), which they'll likely need to retain Lopez. However, the Bucks will have to pay Brogdon way more if an ultra-aggressive suitor comes along, which would cost them the non-taxpayer MLE and perhaps their chance to retain Lopez.

    Trading Ilyasova (two years, $14 million; non-guaranteed in 2020-21) or Snell (two years, $23.6 million; 2020 player option) would give the Bucks more maneuverability to keep their core. Jettisoning Snell's $11.4 salary million into another team's cap space is the ultimate dump. It positions them to max out Brogdon and Middleton while retaining access to the non-taxpayer MLE for Lopez.

    Is the No. 30 pick enough to make that happen? Perhaps. Milwaukee may have to wait for the free-agency dust to settle before it happens.

    The Bucks likely can offload Ilyasova's contract on a whim, but teams might not be as ready to take on the remaining two years of Snell's deal before attempting to spend their cap space elsewhere.

Kevin Porter Jr.'s Stock May Be Skyrocketing

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Kevin Porter Jr.'s draft-day stock may be rising—and perhaps exploding.

    Multiple execs "selecting near the top of the lottery" told The Athletic's Shams Charania that he's a "sneaky name on their board." As one executive said: "He has the gifts to be a top-five pick—easily."

    This shouldn't mean too much in the short term. Quad and ankle issues along with a suspension limited him to only 21 appearances at USC, and he'll need to prove his handle can help him create separation in the half court at the NBA level.

    At the same time, Porter has long been considered a swing prospect. He has strength and length to be moved around the wing on defense, and anyone who's so comfortable firing up step-back threes can potentially carry an offense.

    Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has Porter listed at No. 14 on his big board. Teams that could perhaps give him a look before then include the Washington Wizards (No. 9), Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 11), Charlotte Hornets (No. 12) and Miami Heat (No. 13), all of whom are in need of another possible star and don't have the cap space or asset equity to acquire one.

Pelicans Shopping No. 4 Pick?

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    Anthony Davis is gone, but the Pelicans are not done wheeling and dealing. The No. 4 pick they acquired from the Lakers appears to be on the table.

    "New Orleans has had significant interest in talks with teams in recent days on the fourth overall pick, and those talks are expected to continue over the next several days, sources said," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported. "Teams are pursuing point guards Darius Garland and Coby White high in the lottery, giving New Orleans a chance for an even bigger haul from the deal."

    Trading out of No. 4 makes perfect sense if the Pelicans are hot for their Lonzo Ball-Jrue Holiday backcourt. (They should be.) Fourth overall is prime Darius Garland territory, and both the Phoenix Suns (No. 6) and Chicago Bulls (No. 7) need a long-term option at point guard. The Atlanta Hawks are also in the mix, per Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith.

    The Pelicans could feasibly stay in the top seven, snag an extra asset and end up with Zion Williamson and, say, Jarrett Culver or De'Andre Hunter. That's a quality draft.

    In the event New Orleans is extra high on Culver, though, it makes more sense to stay put. He probably isn't lasting past the No. 6 selection.

Lakers Still in Play for a Third Superstar?

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    Executing the Anthony Davis trade on July 6, as expected, would preclude the Lakers from carving out enough cap space for a third max star. Instead, they'd have to flesh out the roster with role players or a loaded offer sheet for a restricted free agent such as, ahem, D'Angelo Russell. On the other hand, pushing the completion date back to July 30 would give them the ability to create max money.

    Los Angeles has yet to commit to one direction or the other.

    "The Lakers right now are operating on both fronts," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote. "They still hope to chase max players such as Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, sources say. They also have begun discussing players expected to fetch somewhere in that $10 million-plus range, sources say."

    This isn't a typical draft nugget, but it has implications for what the Pelicans do with the No. 4 pick.

    Whoever's selected will already be thrust into the awkward situation of wearing a Lakers hat. Delaying the official completion date of the Davis trade would then prevent that player from joining the Pelicans in summer league.

    By extension, that might make the pick harder to flip in advance of the draft if the Pelicans don't want to keep it. Interested teams will presumably want more immediate access to their cornerstone prospect.

    Still, the Lakers have to try to perfect the timeline. Including the No. 4 pick as actual salary is the only way for them to make the math work in a Davis trade and enjoy max-level cap space. And that extra money matters even if they opt to prioritize depth over additional star power.

Hawks, and Perhaps Cavs, Have Eyes for De'Andre Hunter

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    De'Andre Hunter no longer seems like he'll be in the conversation to go at No. 4 if the Pelicans keep the pick—which comes as great news for the Hawks and, potentially, Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Atlanta is "very high" on Virginia's combo forward, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony. His fit is tantalizing beside John Collins in smaller frontcourt combinations. Hunter's 41.9 percent clip from three in college came on just 160 total attempts, but his stopping power from the outside-in floats strong three-and-D projections on its own.

    The Hawks most likely have to make a move if he's their guy. They won't be on the clock until No. 8, by which time Hunter figures to be gone—particularly, it seems, if new Cavaliers head coach John Beilein gets his way.

    A source told The Athletic's Sam Vecenie that Cleveland's head honcho "is a fan of De'Andre Hunter, but as a new coach it's unclear what kind of sway he'd have in such decisions." Hunter should be there for the taking at No. 5 if the Cavaliers want him, and he profiles as a better complement than lead guards Darius Garland and Coby White, both of whom are in best-player-available discussions at this spot.

    But Cleveland is too early into its rebuild to draft exclusively for fit. Garland and White shoot well enough to play off incumbent guard Collin Sexton, and Jarrett Culver is a worthy, if better, alternative to anyone else should he still be available.

    If Hunter is piquing the Cavaliers' attention, they'll want to strike up conversations with Phoenix and Chicago, just to see whether they can net another asset for moving back while remaining in front of Atlanta.