Latest Rumors and Predictions for NBA's Transaction Period
A total of 22 NBA teams are gathering in anticipation of restarting the season July 30, but not every player is willing or able to return.
Some physically can't (Kyrie Irving, out with a shoulder injury); others have family reasons (Trevor Ariza and Avery Bradley) or are looking to protect future earnings (Davis Bertans).
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) spent several months working out their plan to finish the 2019-20 season at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Both agreed they would not force players to play, and while there won't be any "punishment" for those who opted out, they will be docked 1/92.6 of their salary per game lost (up to 14 maximum).
From June 23 to 30, the NBA has an active transaction window open to all 30 franchises (including the eight whose seasons ended prematurely). Teams cannot make trades, but they can sign free agents, waive players, convert two-way contracts, etc.
The free-agent pool will be limited to players with NBA or G League experience who did not play professionally overseas this year. Jamal Crawford, JR Smith, DeMarcus Cousins and Darren Collison are eligible, but Lance Stephenson, Andrew Bogut and Jeremy Lin are not.
Teams are limited to the standard 15-man/two two-way rosters in June. On July 1, each franchise will submit their eligible players with explanations as to who is missing and why.
At that point, they’ll be able to go beyond the standard 15-player limit to sign substitutes for those who are sitting out for personal reasons, at a higher risk for COVID-19 or ill with the virus. Injured players such as Irving and Kevin Durant cannot be replaced. Once a player is subbed out, they cannot return to the Orlando bubble.
Additionally, two-way players will be playoff-eligible. Under normal circumstances, a two-way deal would need to be converted to a standard NBA contract for the player to participate in the postseason. There isn’t much that's normal about present circumstances.
Once the play-in and playoff games begin, only players who contract COVID-19 can be replaced. Even if an All-Star is stricken, at that point, teams can only replace him with a player that has fewer than four years of NBA experience.
With all that in mind, what should the 22 potential playoff teams do over the coming weeks to bolster their postseason push?
The Sacramento Kings (28-36) wasted no time, signing veteran Corey Brewer on Tuesday to a contract worth $289,803. The Kings had the open roster spot, choosing to bring back the amiable veteran who played 24 games for the franchise last season. That may be it for the Kings, who are one of the six bubble teams in the West.
Sacramento is hoping to catch the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33), who also made a move Tuesday, signing defender/shooter Anthony Tolliver (also $289,803). Tolliver had initially signed a 10-day contract with Memphis in early March, playing 19.2 minutes per game (five appearances), hitting an impressive 41.2 percent from three-point range. Tolliver is a low-maintenance vet—ideal to help mentor the Grizzlies’ young squad through its playoff chase. With Tolliver, Memphis has a full 17-man roster (including two two-ways).
The Brooklyn Nets (30-34) started Tuesday at 17 but waived guard Theo Pinson, who had struggled for accuracy this season as a shooter (29 percent from the field, 18.8 percent from deep). Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Nets have agreed to sign Tyler Johnson, who was waived by the Phoenix Suns in February. Brooklyn tried to add Johnson in 2016 when he was a restricted free agent with the Miami Heat. Miami matched the Nets' $50 million offer sheet. Now Brooklyn will get Johnson for $212,753 for the rest of the season.
The Houston Rockets (40-24), who have 17 players but only two taller than 6’9”, will waive 7’0” center Isaiah Hartenstein, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. That move was to open a roster spot, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic, for defensive guard David Nwaba, as the team reportedly signed him to a two-year deal worth over $900,000 (likely via its mid-level exception) to finish the season, with a team option for 2020-21.
The Rockets are making a forward-looking move since Nwaba is still recovering from an Achilles tear in December with the Nets. He won’t play for Houston this season; the Rockets are gambling almost $1 million that Nwaba will show enough by October to warrant his team option. While this may be Houston’s only move, don’t bank on it. The Rockets still have another seven-footer to cut in Tyson Chandler.
Additionally, Charania tweeted that the Los Angeles Clippers (44-20) will sign Joakim Noah for the rest of the season. Noah has been in limbo on a 10-day contract that started March 9 and ended June 23. Barring something unexpected, Noah will probably be the Clippers’ final move, with 17 players on the team.
Before signing Dion Waiters in early March, the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) worked out JR Smith. Given his affiliation with agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who also represents LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Talen Horton-Tucker and Waiters, Smith seems like the obvious replacement for Bradley.
On Tuesday, Bradley told Wojnarowski that he has opted out of the return for family reasons. ESPN also reported Smith is “emerging as a leading candidate" for the Lakers.
Smith played alongside James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning the title in 2016 and spectacularly losing Game 1 in the 2018 Finals (both against the Golden State Warriors), dribbling out the clock in a tied game. Provided James has gotten over that moment; Smith seems L.A.-bound.
Similarly, the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) need a substitute for Ariza, who will sit out with familial concerns. Portland has one open roster spot, so it can add two free agents (including one to replace Ariza).
Iman Shumpert might be the most experienced free-agent defender available. He's shorter than Ariza (6'5" to Ariza's 6'8"), and Shumpert is a 33.8 percent career three-point shooter. Ariza's not much better (35.2 percent career), but he shot 40.0 percent from behind the arc for Portland through 21 games after a January trade from the Kings.
Gerald Green suffered a broken foot in October. If he's healthy enough to play, he would offer the Blazers an experienced shooter with playoff experience. He's not as strong defensively as Shumpert, but then Portland can sign both.
The Washington Wizards (24-40) need to replace Bertans, who won't return and will instead protect his free-agent potential this summer, per Wojnarowski. The Wizards are otherwise fully stocked with 17 players. John Wall may have told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that he was lobbying for Cousins, but the team could be headed in a different direction altogether.
Per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports, the Wizards view the Bertans substitute as “short-term. And, because of that, they can definitively rule out [Cousins]."
The big man is still recovering from a knee injury. Instead, if the Wizards want to consider a young player (22 years old), perhaps they'd take a flier on Dragan Bender, a seven-foot forward who spent time with the Milwaukee Bucks and Warriors this season. Bender, who was the No. 4 pick in 2016 by the Suns, might be an exciting prospect for the Wizards to develop.
Both the Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) and Suns (26-39) only have one two-way player apiece and can fill that spot this week.
The Sixers have an otherwise full roster with 15 players and one two-way in Marial Shayok, who was one of the top players in the G League this past season, averaging 22.4 points per game for the Delaware Blue Coats. Philadelphia would be wise to take a serious look at Dusty Hannahs of the Memphis Hustle, a 44.8 percent three-point shooter who's averaging 21.4 points per game.
The Suns have two slots to fill, one on their regular roster and one two-way. Like the Kings, who brought back a veteran from the 2018-19 campaign, the Suns should consider Crawford. Phoenix could use a shooter/scorer with some ball-handling ability. Crawford ended last season with a 51-point outburst in April 2019.
Shumpert would be another viable option, as he'd help offset the defense lost with injured forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee) unable to return this season. Crawford can be a terrific scorer; Shumpert would give the Suns more of a shot at stopping opponents. An alternative would be Justin Anderson, the No. 21 pick in 2015 by the Dallas Mavericks, who's with the Long Island Nets. Anderson would help replace some of Oubre's lost defense.
For the 17th spot, some G League options might include Jarrod Uthoff (Memphis Hustle) and Jalen Jones (Capital City Go-Go).
Additional Open Spots
The Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24) started two-way guard Luguentz Dort for 21 games, clearly planning on converting him to a regular contract to make the rookie playoff eligible. Now, the Thunder don’t need to use their one open roster spot on Dort. Instead, they can sign a veteran like Allen Crabbe, CJ Miles, Shumpert, Crawford or Smith.
That decision may not be as cut and dried as it might seem. Dort’s two-way contract expires following this season, after which he’ll be a restricted free agent. Instead of going through that process, the Thunder should offer Dort a portion of the team’s remaining mid-level exception to keep him not only for the remainder of the season but also for the next few years.
That would open one of the additional two roster spots, which can only be filled with a player with fewer than four years of experience (like Jordan Bell, Jaylen Adams, Donta Hall, Uthoff, Jones or Hannahs, etc.).
The San Antonio Spurs (27-36) haven’t missed the playoffs since 1997, but they’re in grave danger of doing so, given the season-ending shoulder injury to LaMarcus Aldridge. If there’s one Hail Mary, it’s giving Cousins a look.
While Charania tweeted Tuesday that multiple teams “have been told the four-time All-Star will sit out the resumed season and continue rehab for [a] full return in 2020-21,” later in the day, his agent said otherwise.
Per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times, “[Cousins] has not ruled out signing with a team to finish out the season ... according to his agent, Jeff Schwartz, but it would have to be a situation in which he feels comfortable to play rather than continue his rehab.”
Is that a gamble the Spurs are willing to make? Is it right for Cousins? San Antonio may not have many other options.
Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets (43-22) are hoping center Nikola Jokic quickly recovers from the coronavirus. The Nuggets are currently the third-best team in the West by record.
Denver could look to add any of the usual suspects mentioned, such as Crawford or Shumpert, but it may be better off using some of its mid-level exception to lock down two-way player PJ Dozier to a multiyear deal. Dozier averaged 21.2 points and 7.3 assists per game for the Windy City Bulls (Denver doesn’t have a G League franchise yet).
That would open an extra roster spot for the Nuggets to sign a player with fewer than four years experience for the rest of the season, such as Hannahs or Adams.
No Thanks, We’re Good
Not every team is likely to make a move for this season.
That would include the Bucks (53-12), who have the best record in the NBA, 15 players under contract and two two-ways. They added veteran forward Marvin Williams in February, off a buyout from the Charlotte Hornets.
Similarly, the Toronto Raptors (46-18), second in the East and third overall, have a full, healthy roster. Unlike the Bucks, the Raptors can use what’s left of their mid-level exception ($537,721) to add a player well above the minimum, but they’d need to cut someone first. Dewan Hernandez might be the most expendable, given he’s only made four appearances this season and has no guaranteed salary over the next two years.
Other teams that appear full include the Boston Celtics (43-21), Miami Heat (41-24), Indiana Pacers (39-26), Orlando Magic (30-35) and New Orleans Pelicans (28-36).
The Utah Jazz (41-23) are maxed with 17 as well, but with Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist) done for the season, should the team cut a young player like Miye Oni (11 minutes played this season) to make room to add another veteran?
How about Pau Gasol to back up Rudy Gobert? Or either a wing scorer (probably not Nick Young or Smith, stylistically, but perhaps Crawford or Crabbe) or a defender (Shumpert)?
The Dallas Mavericks (40-27) would also need to cut someone to add. They may need to bring in available depth given Courtney Lee (calf), Dwight Powell (Achilles) and Jalen Brunson (shoulder) are all injured. Lee is in the final year of his contract and could be the most obvious candidate for waivers. Almost everyone else on the roster has either a multiyear deal or is part of coach Rick Carlisle's rotation except for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (who is shooting 14.3 percent from the field through nine appearances with the team).
Dallas is still loaded at guard, but it could be a dark-horse team for Cousins if he's willing to return. Shumpert would also make sense if Dallas moved on from Kidd-Gilchrist.
Point guards Isaiah Thomas, Trey Burke and Tim Frazier could help a team in the right circumstances. Collison considered coming back out of retirement to join the Lakers midseason but chose to stay retired (for now). If he changes his mind, he may need to wait until next year.
Others to consider: Joe Johnson, Isaiah Canaan, Josh Magette, Jonathon Simmons and Cameron Payne.
Finally, teams should mind the waiver wire. The Rockets let go of a young center in Hartenstein. Similar options could become available through the end of the month.