NBA 2020 free agency tracker and biggest rumors

Latest news and analysis Russell Westbrook angling for a trade is no surprise , given Houston’s tumultuous offseason, which has featur...

Latest news and analysis

Russell Westbrook angling for a trade is no surprise, given Houston’s tumultuous offseason, which has featured the departure of general manager Daryl Morey and coach Mike D’Antoni. The all-star guard proved to be an awkward fit last season, and his lack of shooting led the Rockets to overhaul their roster and embrace small ball. In the playoffs, Westbrook fought through a leg injury but played poorly, missing open shots and committing careless turnovers.

Given owner Tilman Fertitta’s financial struggles, Houston should be motivated to move the 32-year-old Westbrook and his albatross contract, which is set to pay him $130 million over the next three seasons. New Rockets GM Rafael Stone will struggle to recoup much, given Westbrook’s age, declining skills and max salary. The Rockets vastly overpaid by giving up Chris Paul and various draft assets for Westbrook last summer, and they will be selling low if they grant his wish to move on.

Westbrook makes little sense on a top-tier contender or even a second-tier playoff team, given his desire to lead an offense. Houston should poke around the dregs of the Eastern Conference to see if Charlotte, Detroit or New York is interested in giving Westbrook the car keys. In the East, Westbrook would face easier competition on a night-to-night basis and would have a better chance of making the all-star team.

James Harden has been Houston’s centerpiece for seven seasons now. Despite the many changes around him, it’s understandable he would have more patience during a transition than Westbrook, who just got to Houston last season. Harden has adapted to a bunch of different running mates during his time with the Rockets, and he’ll hope Stone can quickly construct a playoff-ready rotation around him so this season doesn’t go to waste.

Still, Harden should start thinking seriously about the next chapter of his career, whether this offseason or next. Houston looks to be a long-term dead end. One option would be to mimic LeBron James’s move to the Los Angeles Lakers by finding a large-market landing pad with roster flexibility and young pieces that could enable a quick turnaround plan around him. Or, he could see about squeezing onto an existing super team, which would probably require he sacrifice the high volume of touches and shots he has become accustomed to in Houston.

The small-market Thunder seemed to be feeling the financial squeeze during the pandemic after replacing veteran Coach Billy Donovan with a first-timer in Mark Daigneault and reportedly weighing Chris Paul trades. Paul was sensational last season, dragging Oklahoma City into the playoffs and pushing Houston to seven games in the first round. At 35, he remains an all-NBA caliber player and an excellent leader and organizer.

The Suns have struggled for the better part of a decade and could use everything Paul brings to the table: his outside shooting, supreme passing, late-game execution and veteran presence. Paul would easily be the best player Devin Booker has ever played with, and the Suns would be a strong bet to make the 2021 playoffs with those two all-star guards and rising center Deandre Ayton.

The hang-up for the Suns and other interested suitors is Paul’s contract, which will pay him $85 million over the next two seasons. Phoenix has cap space to help absorb the blow, but trading for Paul is a short-term move. The Suns should think hard about pulling the trigger, as keeping Booker happy and helping him take the next step toward becoming a winning player should be their top organizational goal.

Mike Conley picking up his $34 million option for 2020-21 was a total no-brainer. The 33-year-old point guard struggled in his first season with the Jazz, missing a long stretch due to a hamstring injury and seeing his scoring and shooting efficiency tumble. While Conley was a borderline all-star a few years ago with the Grizzlies, he has aged into a different phase of his career and will be more of a role player for Utah next season.

With better health and consistency from Conley and the return of Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz should bring back a well-balanced and experienced starting lineup that should have a chance to improve on its first-round playoff exit.

It’s difficult to see the fit between LaMelo Ball, who is gaining buzz as the likely top pick in Wednesday’s draft, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hold the No. 1 selection. Ball and D’Angelo Russell are both creative playmakers and poor defenders who don’t bring much to the table when they move off the ball. What’s more, the Timberwolves moved heaven and Earth to land Russell at the trade deadline in an effort to appease franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns. Drafting the 19-year-old Ball would create positional conflicts with Russell and potentially send mixed messages to the Timberwolves’ two centerpieces about the organization’s desire to win now.

While Ball isn’t viewed as a can’t-miss prospect like other recent top draft picks, teams such as the Bulls, Knicks and Pistons have lottery picks and a need for backcourt playmakers. A best-case scenario for Minnesota might involve trading back a few slots and adding a rotation piece to a young and thin roster. Of course, the Timberwolves could always draft Ball if they believe he’s the best available player and hope for the best.

Top free agents

This ranking takes into account health, age, role, versatility, statistical production and upside.

1. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), Player Option

After a scintillating postseason run that culminated in a title, Davis has indicated he plans to re-sign with the Lakers.

2. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), Restricted Free Agent

The 2020 Most Improved Player should anticipate a max-level rookie extension following a career year in New Orleans.

3. Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors), Unrestricted Free Agent

The tough and talented two-way guard said he is seeking a “cash out” after winning a title in 2019 and establishing himself as a full-time starter last year.

4. Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics), Player Option

An ankle injury limited Hayward during the 2020 playoffs, forcing him to choose between opting into a $34.2 million option with Boston or testing his options as one of the bigger names in a weak free agency class.

5. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers), Unrestricted Free Agent

Harrell played poorly in the bubble following the death of his grandmother, but his scoring ability, pick-and-roll savvy and motor make him one of the best big men on the board.

6. Christian Wood (Detroit Pistons), Unrestricted Free Agent

The little-known Wood came on strong before the March shutdown, emerging as one of the few big men with upside in this year’s class.

7. Davis Bertans (Washington Wizards), Unrestricted Free Agent

Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard has said re-signing Bertans, who shot 42 percent on three-pointers last season, is the franchise’s top offseason priority.

8. Bogdan Bogdanovic (Sacramento Kings), Restricted Free Agent

Bogdanovic, a 28-year-old gunner, played his way into Sacramento’s starting lineup and represents a clean fit for any team looking for a jolt of perimeter offense.

9. Danilo Gallinari (Oklahoma City Thunder), Unrestricted Free Agent

The 32-year-old scoring-minded forward avoided injuries and played well for the Thunder, but he still has yet to advance out of the first round during his 12-year career.

10. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs), Player Option

While DeRozan remains a reliable scorer, his lack of outside shooting and poor defense could limit interest and lead him to pick up his $27.7 million option.

Other names of note: Mike Conley (expected to opt in), Andre Drummond (will likely opt in), Goran Dragic, Serge Ibaka, Malik Beasley, De’Anthony Melton, Joe Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Newsrust: NBA 2020 free agency tracker and biggest rumors
NBA 2020 free agency tracker and biggest rumors
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