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With the NBA draft and free agency only weeks away, it’s officially rumor season in the Association.
While the New Orleans Pelicans are locks to select Zion Williamson first overall in the draft, the intrigue begins from there. Where will the top prospects land, and which teams will shop their picks for veterans?
This year’s free-agent class is also star-studded, and some of the biggest-market teams have enough cap space to sign one or even two superstars.
The trade market remains hot, too. Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley and others could all potentially switch homes this summer.
Now, it’s time to separate fact from fiction.
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Mary Altaffer/Associated Press
Frank Ntilikina appears done with the New York Knicks after only two seasons.
According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the 2017 No. 8 overall pick “desires a relocation” from New York. He recently switched his representation from CAA to French agent Bouna Ndiaye, who also represents French players Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Ian Mahinmi, per Bondy.
While other teams showed interest in trading for Ntilikina before this season’s February deadline, the Knicks declined all offers.
At this point, it makes sense for both parties to part ways.
The Knicks were the NBA’s worst team this past season at 17-65 and haven’t made the postseason since 2012-13. They seem far more interested in chasing established free agents this summer than developing their own young players, which Ntilikina desperately needs.
Easily one of the league’s worst offensive guards, the 20-year-old has career averages of 5.9 points, 3.1 assists and 0.8 steals in 21.6 minutes. He’s made a disastrous 35.4 percent of his overall shots and 30.5 percent of his three-pointers. At 6’6″ with a 7’1″ wingspan, he can stifle opposing guards defensively, but he might never become adequate enough offensively to stick in the league.
Not only does his wanting out of New York seem legitimate, but the Knicks should be happy to move his $4.9 million salary off their 2019-20 books and on to a rebuilding team willing to take a chance on his defensive potential.
Verdict: No BS, Knicks should happily oblige
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Darius Garland is one of the draft’s biggest wild cards. He showed potential as the NCAA’s best point guard before he tore his meniscus five games into the season.
While a strong showing at the NBA Draft Combine seemingly would have boosted his resume, Garland left after reportedly receiving a draft promise from a lottery team. Multiple league executives told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune they assume it was either the Los Angeles Lakers or Phoenix Suns.
Did Garland leave the combine after being promised he’d be drafted in the top six, or is this merely a bluff?
The Lakers pick at No. 4, and Garland and LeBron James are both represented by Klutch Sports. However, Los Angeles likely wouldn’t make a draft promise to any player since that pick could be included in a potential trade.
That leaves the Suns, who make far more sense given their need for a point guard. Garland averaged 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from deep in his four full games at Vanderbilt, showing off an explosive offensive game.
In a draft with seemingly little star potential, Garland carries perhaps the highest upside of any player that may be available when the Suns are on the clock at No. 6. Assuming his medicals check out, Phoenix would be foolish to pass on Garland if he’s still available.
Verdict: BS on Lakers promise, No BS from Suns
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When Anthony Davis requested a trade in late January, it seemed inevitable that the Pelicans would eventually oblige him.
Four months and a draft-lottery win later, Davis remains in New Orleans. And new executive vice president David Griffin wants to keep it that way.
According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Griffin “has not begun collecting new offers because he is still adamant about changing Davis’ mind about wanting out of New Orleans.” Griffin “still believes he can have as good a Big Three as any team in the NBA next season, with Davis, Zion Williamson and star combo guard Jrue Holiday—especially if Kevin Durant bolts Golden State,” per Berman
While Griffin undoubtedly wants to keep Davis and convince him to sign a supermax deal, but is he really not even listening to offers for the six-time All-Star? He once claimed that no player was untouchable in trade talks, even when he was overseeing a 29-year-old LeBron James.
With the draft rapidly approaching, trading Davis now makes more sense than ever.
Griffin can kick-start New Orleans’ rebuild by taking Williamson first overall and moving Davis for a package that involves another high pick this year. The New York Knicks own the third overall selection, which could result in a reunion of Williamson and Duke teammate RJ Barrett. The Los Angeles Lakers surprisingly jumped to fourth overall, which would likely give Griffin his pick of Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland, De’Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish.
While Griffin may not want to trade Davis, failing to move him before he becomes a free agent next summer would be devastating if he walked for nothing in return.
We’ll believe Griffin isn’t actively making trade calls while he tries to sweet-talk Rich Paul into changing his client’s mind, but him not even picking up the phone would be ludicrous.
Verdict: Total BS (At least, it should be)
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If the Lakers can’t get Anthony Davis via trade, they’ll turn their attention to other veterans who can help.
Per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, Los Angeles has interest in trading for Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and Jazz power forward/center Derrick Favors.
Beal would be a tremendous wing mate next to LeBron James, given his ability to play on or off the ball. A career 38.4 percent shooter from three, Beal was one of only six players this season to average at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
Lowry would be a significant step down. If the Raptors lose Kawhi Leonard in free agency, they may want to move Lowry’s expiring $33.3 million contract off their books, according to Deveney.
While he brings 78 games and counting of playoff experience, Lowry will turn 34 before the start of the 2020 postseason. Favors makes more sense, as JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler will both be unrestricted free agents and the Lakers could use an upgrade at center. The 27-year-old put up 18.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes with the Jazz last season.
Favors’ $16.9 million salary for next year becomes guaranteed on July 6. While he would potentially fit in L.A., why would the Jazz want to help out another Western Conference foe?
Verdict: No BS on Lakers wanting Beal, hopefully BS on trading for Lowry, and Jazz cry BS on helping L.A.
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The Knicks hold the third overall pick in the draft, which they’re expected to use on Duke freshman wing RJ Barrett. However, they appear interested in Texas Tech sophomore shooting guard Jarrett Culver as well.
According to Ian Begley of SNY, “some members of the Knicks front office are still enamored with the 20-year-old.”
Culver put up 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists while leading Texas Tech to the national championship game. Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 24 to watch Culver play against Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA tournament, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
Their interest in Culver is obvious, but would the Knicks really pass on Barrett for him? That seems unlikely for two reasons.
Barrett’s ceiling far surpasses Culver’s, as he set Duke’s all-time freshman scoring record this season. When Culver was a freshman, he was only a part-time starter who averaged 11.2 points and 1.8 assists before a breakout sophomore year.
Should the New Orleans Pelicans decide they want to trade Anthony Davis after the draft, Barrett would be a far more attractive option to pair with Zion Williamson than Culver.
If New York ends up trading back a few spots, Culver should be in play. But at No. 3, the Knicks should not pass on Barrett.
Verdict: No BS if Knicks trade down, BS to taking Culver over Barrett
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If the Lakers end up trading Lonzo Ball this summer, chalk the Bulls up as a potential suitor.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Ball “intrigues the Bulls as a pass-first, defensive-minded point guard with positional size who can best maximize the talents of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr.”
Johnson said a trade centered around current point guard Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick for Ball doesn’t “seem feasible” given Dunn’s low value. Instead, Johnson suggested Chicago could help facilitate a three-team deal in which Anthony Davis would go from the Pelicans to the Lakers, while Ball would go to the Bulls.
Hypothetically, such a trade would make sense for all parties involved.
Chicago’s primary weakness is at point guard, where Dunn averaged only 11.3 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 42.5 percent in 30.2 minutes. He’s already 25 despite having played only three seasons in the NBA, which suggests he has limited upside. Ball, 21, projects to be a far better player with his passing, defense and size moving forward.
In this scenario, getting Dunn as a backup to Jrue Holiday along with the No. 7 overall pick may be more enticing for the Pelicans than just Ball. If the Lakers would also have to include their own No. 4 overall pick for Davis, that would give Griffin three of the first seven picks in the draft, including No. 1 overall. That would help New Orleans expedite its post-Davis rebuild.
Verdict: No BS detected
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Having Kyrie Irving on your team can be frustrating and dazzling, confusing and electrifying, often all in the same game.
While his leadership, durability, shot selection and defense can all be questioned at times, Irving is bound to receive a max contract this summer. However, some teams will reportedly let their current star decide whether Irving’s worth the headache.
Per Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, “two teams for certain are telling people they will only go after him if they land another marquee free agent and that player says he wants Irving.” He added that “teams thought to have interest in Irving as a free agent are now a great deal more wary” due to Boston’s disappointing season and Irving’s horrendous showing against the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs.
Would any team actually let a star player control who it pursues in free agency?
Irving is coming off a career year in which he averaged 23.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals with a .487/.401/.873 shooting line. Only 27, he should be entering the prime of his career.
Only one player in the league should have the power to veto an Irving signing: LeBron James.
Should Kevin Durant be allowed to tell the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Clippers not to sign Irving? How about Kawhi Leonard? Wouldn’t both welcome the opportunity to play with perhaps the NBA’s greatest sidekick?
Giving Irving a long-term max deal isn’t necessarily a no-brainer, but the payoff far outweighs the risk for a team competing for a championship.
Verdict: BS (Unless it’s LeBron)