BS Meter on Latest NBA Draft, Free-Agency and Offseason Rumors

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2021

BS Meter on Latest NBA Draft, Free-Agency and Offseason Rumors

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Now that's more like it.

    After an uncharacteristically long stretch of relative quiet, the NBA's rumor mill is heating back up in advance of the 2021 draft, free agency and the start of Trade Season: Summertime Edition.

    The latest batch of scuttlebutt comes from The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania and NBA reporter Marc Stein, who unloaded their clip of rumblings on Tuesday. We thank them both oh-so-very-much for giving us plenty of hypotheticals on which to ruminate, including the latest on John Collins' foray into restricted free agency, the Ben Simmons sweepstakes, Los Angeles Lakers happenings and much more.

    As ever, remember the "B.S. Meter" is not a comment on the validity of this reporting. Every tidbit here is included because it holds actual weight. Our B.S. meter is instead designed to gauge what we should expect to come from each situation—if anything.

Dallas, Miami, Minnesota and San Antonio Expected to Pursue John Collins

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    John Collins is expected to command max money in restricted free agency, and as it turns out, his projected price tag won't dissuade rival suitors from giving him chase.

    Dallas, Miami, Minnesota and San Antonio are among the teams that have drawn hearts around his name, according to Charania. Of those four, only the Spurs will have the space necessary to bankroll his max—$28.1 million—without making other moves. The Timberwolves won't even begin the offseason under the cap.

    Granted, spending power doesn't much matter in this case. The Atlanta Hawks have the right to match any offer Collins receives and can't afford to just let him walk for nothing. Prospective bidders are better off trying to engage them in sign-and-trade scenarios if the Hawks are open to losing Collins at all.

    That seems unlikely. Collins' playoff numbers are modest—13.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 63.5 percent shooting on twos, 35.7 percent clip from deep—but he showed real growth inside the pressure-cooker. In lieu of acting as the primary diver during stints beside Clint Capela, he stretched defenses beyond the arc and, on occasion, showcased a semblance of a floor game.

    Collins' defense has also improved over the past couple of seasons. He's fared better as a rim protector in the past, but any "decline" there has more to do with his spending more time guarding away from the basket. His highest-volume defensive assignments in the playoffs included Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Julius Randle.

    Maybe the Hawks would entertain sign-and-trade possibilities if they flamed out early in the postseason. They didn't. Parting ways with such a huge part of the core is too drastic a decision following an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Other teams can try to put Atlanta in a bind by maxing out Collins or giving him a shorter-term offer sheet that lets him re-explore free agency soon. It won't matter. The Hawks aren't letting Collins go. They might not even wait for him to sign an offer sheet before paying him.

    B.S. Meter: Teams can chase Collins, but it'll likely be a fruitless venture.

Knicks Are the 'Most Aggressive Trade Suitor' for Collin Sexton

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Collin Sexton is extension-eligible this summer, and the prospect of his impending windfall has led to a flurry of trade speculation. Not only are the Cleveland Cavaliers a long ways out from competing for anything special, but they have Darius Garland and could end up using the No. 3 pick on another guard in Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

    This doesn't quite make Sexton expendable. At the same time, Garland is more hard-wired to run an offense, and paying anyone big-time money when the Cavs aren't ready to contend costs long-term flexibility without yielding much certainty. Other squads are bound to call about Sexton's availability, and Cleveland is, at the very least, in a position to listen.

    No team so far is making stronger overtures for the 22-year-old than the New York Knicks, according to Charania. Their interest makes sense. They need bucket-getters to pair with RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, and Sexton just joined Jayson Tatum as only the second player to average more than 24 points per game while knocking down over 50 percent of his twos and 37 percent of his threes before his 23rd birthday.

    The simplicity of the Knicks' interest ends here. Though they are flush with cap space, cost-controlled prospects and first-round picks, including two in this year's draft (Nos. 19 and 21), it isn't quite clear what a Sexton package actually looks like.

    A source told Fear The Sword's Evan Dammarell something along the lines of Kevin Knox II, Obi Toppin and a 2021 first has been discussed. That feels borderline sell-low from the Cavs' perspective, unless they're absolutely smitten with a Knox rehabilitation attempt (eh) or Toppin's performance in the latter half of his rookie season (not-at-all eh).

    New York also needs to reconcile surrendering what amounts to two first-round prospects (Toppin and a 2021 pick) for someone it'll have to turn around and pay in one year's time. Acquiring Sexton is a commitment to giving him (probably) $20 million or more per year in his next deal, at which point the Knicks start to get expensive.

    Barrett is extension-eligible next summer while both Randle and Mitchell Robinson (team option for next season) will need new deals by the start of 2022-23. Those contract decisions must inform who New York burns its current assets and flexibility on this summer and beyond. It obliterated win-loss expectations this past season, but that's not a license to lock the organization into a core that, as of now, looks like it'll peak comfortably below championship contention.

    B.S. Meter: The Knicks' interest in Sexton is a given. Their willingness to pull off a deal should be less so.

Lakers Will Attempt to Acquire 'Difference-Making Playmaker'

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Sorry, Los Angeles Lakers fans. Your team is not getting Ben Simmons. But your team is definitely trying to make a splash over the offseason. And as Stein noted, they have their sights set on "one more difference-making playmaker," a pursuit that could lead them to former Laker and Anthony Davis trade asset Lonzo Ball.

    First thing's first: None of this intel bodes well for Dennis Schroder. The Lakers acquired him under the guise he could be their additional "difference-making playmaker." He wasn't. His shooting splits dropped from their career zeniths in Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles' half-court offense ranked inside the 25th percentile of efficiency when he played without LeBron James.

    Schroder turned down an $84 million extension during the season, a decision that doesn't look so hot at the moment. Attempting to upgrade from him—which is to say, trying to land the player they needed him to be—is a no-brainer. Actually doing so is not.

    Without any cap space to burn, the Lakers will have to broker a sign-and-trade if they're to bag another marquee name. Going that route hard-caps them, which is problematic but not unworkable. They can have ample room under the luxury-tax apron if they're prepared to show Schroder the door and/or Montrezl Harrell declines his player option.

    Putting together a tempting sign-and-trade package profiles as the hardest challenge of all. Especially if the Lakers are after Lonzo. On the bright side, Charania wrote the New Orleans Pelicans "are unlikely to match a significant offer sheet" for the 23-year-old guard, giving them plenty of incentive to suss out sign-and-trade proposals.

    To the Lakers' credit, they are not bereft of worthwhile offers. Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the No. 22 pick isn't nothing. Whether it's enough to sway the Pelicans on Lonzo is a separate matter. They are invested in the Lakers' long-term demise, so sending them a legitimately helpful player feels counterintuitive.

    Lonzo also isn't the ideal get for Los Angeles. He is a genuine outside threat who can space the floor around clunky frontcourts, but he's yet to prove he's suited to run an offense. The Pelicans' half-court attack imploded whenever he played without Zion Williamson, and the Lakers' commitment to getting out in transition helps only so much. Insofar as a sign-and-trade splash is within reach, they need to prioritize someone better equipped to torch set defenses with rim pressure and off-the-dribble shot-making.

    B.S. Meter: The Lakers will absolutely try to acquire a notable offensive weapon. Lonzo, in all likelihood, will not be it.

Rockets Going Harder After No. 1 Pick and Also Shopping Eric Gordon

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    ESPN's Jonathan Givony previously reported the Detroit Pistons "will be active in exploring the possibility of trading down," and the Houston Rockets apparently took that to heart. They have been "aggressive" in their attempts to acquire the No. 1 pick from Motor City, per Charania.

    Good luck to them.

    Attaching various sweeteners to the No. 2 selection gives the Rockets a viable offer, but how high are they willing to go? Dangling Nos. 23 and 24 won't do the trick alone, and Christian Wood has limited value to a franchise that let him walk last summer and still isn't trying to party-crash the Eastern Conference playoff race.

    Houston can include its own 2022 first-rounder, but that only grabs Detroit's attention if general manager Troy Weaver isn't dead set on taking Cade Cunningham. And that gets us to the crux of this issue: If the Pistons aren't in love with Cunningham, then the Rockets and other first-overall admirers have a shot at moving up. If they view Cunningham as the North Star they need for their rebuild, then this is all moot.

    Charania also wrote that Houston has discussed Eric Gordon in potential deals. That piece of business isn't as complicated. The Rockets have little need for a 32-year-old guard guaranteed $37.8 million over the next two seasons.

    They're not alone. Plenty of teams will flinch at Gordon's per-year price tag—doubly so when he missed most of this past season with left knee and right groin issues.

    Still, Gordon's familiarity jacking ultra-long threes can open up pockets of space, and he shot 58.2 percent on drives last year—a top-six mark among 143 players who averaged at least five downhill attacks per game, behind only Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Joe Ingles, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Some squads will see the chance to net an impact scorer who, while expensive, doesn't cost them any core assets.

    B.S. Meter: It'll be shocking if the Rockets trade for the No. 1 pick. It'll also be mildly surprising if Gordon is still in Houston to start next season.

Sixers 'Have Opened Up' Trade Talks for Ben Simmons

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Let the Ben Simmons sweepstakes commence. Or continue. Or recommence. Or...whatever.

    The Philadelphia 76ers have officially "opened up trade conversations" involving their 24-year-old star, according to Charania, who added that bargain-bin vultures needn't give general manager Daryl Morey a call. "[They] want an All-Star-caliber player in return," said a source with knowledge of the discussions.

    Stein also expanded upon Simmons' market, as well as Philly's apparent willingness to send him somewhere he doesn't necessarily want to go:

    "The length of Simmons’ contract, if not the dollars, only adds to his appeal to teams that do not typically attract free agents. He has four seasons left on his contract at nearly $150 million — and the team control that comes with that status, in most cases, is bound to outweigh any trepidation teams might feel about the pressure Simmons' agent Rich Paul can apply to dissuade them from pursuing him.

    "Just scan through the teams that have been linked to a Simmons trade already: Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota and Sacramento are known suitors. Toronto is also said to have expressed interest. More will emerge."

    Lots of smoke is emanating from Philly at the moment. Follow it long enough, and you'll probably find a fire. But that's different from counting on a Simmons trade. The Sixers are in a precarious situation. They cannot afford to value him as anything less than a superstar building block under contract for the next four years who doesn't turn 25 until later this month. Settling for the sake of doing something, anything, only risks setting them further back than standing pat after this postseason's implosion ever could.

    Joel Embiid's rise to foremost MVP candidate—and extension eligibility in advance of 2023 free agency—also demands the Sixers suss out a win-now return. Maybe there's a rebuilding team willing to shower them with picks and prospects galore. Without a third team to take on those assets and send Philly impact players or another star, it won't mean anything.

    Finding a middle ground is never impossible. Determining what that looks like after Simmons' postseason vanishing act on offense is a different story. Does a package of CJ McCollum and Robert Covington qualify as settling? Or what about a sign-and-trade that brings back 35-year-old Kyle Lowry and other stuff?

    Absent any real clarity, this soap opera seems fated to spill into next season. Simmons will have time to beef up his value while putting more distance between himself and the 2021 playoffs, and the Sixers won't want for a competitive market around the trade deadline when he'll still have three-plus years left on his deal.

    B.S. Meter: Expect Simmons to be readily available. Don't be so sure he'll be moved for next season, though.

                 

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.

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