New NBA Transaction Window: Top Free Agents, the Boogie Question, More
The NBA is back. Or rather, it will be soon in an abbreviated eight-game regular-season conclusion leading into the playoffs.
The league (including the 22 franchises that will compete on the Orlando campus) and the players union are negotiating a plan for exactly how rosters will be constructed for the postseason run. The league is already leaving eight teams out; how can it minimize the personnel in an NBA bubble? What happens if a team loses players due to a coronavirus infection?
Per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks, "There are expected to be no limitations on the number of players a team could sign to replace those lost, but there would be restrictions on those in the pool of eligible players."
At this point, there's no official policy, but according to Wojnarowski and Marks, the "eligible replacement players probably will have had to be signed in the NBA or G League or be on training camp contracts this season."
Who Is Left Out?
Eight teams saw their seasons end unceremoniously in March: the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Beyond players on those rosters, a long list of quality veterans may not get the chance to join a contender.
Jamal Crawford, who has played 19 years in the NBA and won three Sixth Man of the Year awards, who scored 51 points in his last game with the Phoenix Suns in 2018-19 and has no intention to retire, wouldn't be eligible under the rules detailed by ESPN.
Others of note—some of whom spent much of the year playing overseas—include Darren Collison, JR Smith, Lance Stephenson, Andrew Bogut, Michael Beasley, Corey Brewer, Ian Clark, Kenneth Faried, Jeremy Lin, Greg Monroe and Nick Young, among others.
The best player available in free agency is DeMarcus Cousins, who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in July. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in mid-August that knocked him out for the season.
Then, the season itself was knocked out for months, giving Cousins a significant opportunity to recover from the torn ACL in his left knee.
Impatient and fortunate to add Markieff Morris to the roster, the Lakers unceremoniously cut Cousins, but he was allowed to stay with the team to rehab, at least until the shutdown.
A common mistake is to assume that since the Lakers cut Cousins this season, they won't be able to re-sign him. That's simply not the case. If rosters expand to 17 players (or if they stay at 15 and the team makes a cut), L.A. could certainly bring Cousins back for the stretch run.
Perhaps the confusion is a similar rule. Had Los Angeles traded Cousins to another team and that franchise then chose to release him, the Lakers would be barred from bringing the center back as a free agent this season.
So is he a possibility for the Lakers?
"Maybe," one Western Conference executive said.
A former executive said of Cousins and the Lakers, "That's the only team. He respects [LeBron James], and he's [Anthony Davis'] boy. [Other teams] don't want that distraction. There's a small window of time to play, and you can't let up."
The Lakers are already loaded in their frontcourt with JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma, Morris, Davis and James. They don't "need" him, but if they have the added roster flexibility, he'd certainly be a valuable insurance policy.
Another team that might want to consider Cousins would be the Los Angeles Clippers.
They still have Joakim Noah on an unfortunately named 10-day contract that dates back to March 9. With the NBA freezing rosters a few days later, Noah is still on that same temporary contract. If he can earn his keep, he would give the Clippers a defensive-minded option inside, which may be more valuable than what Cousins might bring as a scoring big man.
Is I.T. an Option for Anyone?
Guard Isaiah Thomas is another former All-Star who would be available. Thomas signed with the Washington Wizards this past summer but was traded to the Clippers in February (who cut him loose a few days later).
"Is he healthy?" the Western Conference executive asked. "Nobody knows what kind of shape any player is in."
And how exactly will teams work out players in the current environment?
Thomas' career peaked in 2016-17 with the Boston Celtics, but after a gutsy playoff performance while dealing with a hip injury, he's struggled to regain his form. He played with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lakers in 2017-18 and briefly with the Denver Nuggets in 2018-19.
At just 5'9", Thomas can be a liability on defense. But when he's at his best, he's an explosive scorer.
Would the Celtics bring back a fan favorite for the playoffs? How about the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that might benefit from some offense off the bench? Or the Brooklyn Nets, who aren't expected to get Kyrie Irving back from a shoulder injury?
Don't Forget Shump!
While Cousins and Thomas were more divisive among those polled in and around the NBA, the name common to almost everyone's list was Iman Shumpert.
"Vets like Shumpert are clutch," the former executive said.
The 29-year-old wing was part of James' 2015-16 title run with the Cavaliers. He played briefly with the Nets earlier this season when the team was decimated by injuries.
He'd be a candidate for just about any playoff team looking for a low-maintenance defender with a 37.6 career postseason three-point percentage.
Other Available Free Agents
Joe Johnson went through training camp with the Pistons, and while he didn't make the team, that would theoretically qualify him for the Orlando bubble.
Others to consider include Pau Gasol, Jordan Bell, Trey Burke, Anthony Tolliver, Tyler Johnson, Justin Anderson, Dragan Bender, Allen Crabbe and Tim Frazier, among others.
Each was in the NBA earlier this season. Some were dealing with injury when they were released; others were completely healthy and just in between teams, waiting for a spot to open on a playoff roster.
The Best of the G League
Most of the talents in the G League are already signed to NBA teams as two-way players. Oklahoma City will certainly look to convert Luguentz Dort to a full-fledged NBA contract given that he's a starter for the Thunder.
Other standouts include Marial Shayok of the Delaware Blue Coats (76ers), Johnathan Motley of the Agua Caliente Clippers, Josh Magette and BJ Johnson of the Lakeland Magic, Josh Gray of the Erie BayHawks (New Orleans Pelicans) and Frank Mason of the Wisconsin Herd (Milwaukee Bucks).
Jaylen Adams, a teammate of Mason who isn’t on a two-way deal, has averaged 21.5 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 40.7 percent from three. He went through training camp with the Bucks and is an affiliate player with the Herd, but he is eligible to sign with any NBA team willing to give him a contract.
Isaiah Canaan, who has NBA experience, has performed well for the Stockton Kings, and Dusty Hannahs has shown out for the Memphis Hustle. Both are free agents.