NATIONAL BASKETBALL LEAGUE FREE AGENT NEWS & NOTES

Dana Gauruder from Hoops Rumors writes the rich are about to get richer, as free agent center DeMarcus Cousins has agreed to a contract with the Warriors, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports tweets. It’ll be a one-year, $5.3MM deal, with the Dubs using the taxpayer mid-level exception to add Cousins, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It’s a shocking move for both Cousins and the defending champions, who initially didn’t appear to be locks to use their mid-level exception at all. However, when Kevin Durant agreed to a contract with a starting salary of $30MM rather than his max of $35.65MM, it opened the door for the Warriors to take advantage of the savings by using their MLE, which is worth $5.337MM.

Signing Cousins will cost the Warriors exponentially more than $5.337MM due to their projected luxury tax penalties, but the investment figures to be worth it for one of the NBA’s very best centers. Golden State will now have the opportunity to play an incredible five-man unit consisting of Cousins, Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

The club also retains key contributors like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell, and Quinn Cook, with youngsters Damian Jones and Jacob Evans expected to contribute as well.

While others Cousins suitors like the Pelicans and Lakers will undoubtedly be upset about seeing him sign with the Warriors for a salary they could have topped, it didn’t appear that New Orleans, L.A. or any other team was willing to make a huge offer for the big man, with cap space drying up around the league.

Of course, it’s also extremely unlikely that Cousins would have accepted a $5.3MM offer from any other team. No other club gives him as clear a path to his first NBA title, and as one source close to him explains to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link): “He’s about winning.”

Signing a one-year pact will also allow Cousins to rebuild his value after suffering a torn Achilles during the 2017/18 season. According to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), the Warriors have no intention of rushing their newly-added star back to the court, so a December or January return appears likely. If Cousins returns to form during the second half of the 2018/19 campaign, he’ll be able to reach the free agent market again a year from now and potentially land a more lucrative longer-term deal.

Before going down with that Achilles injury, Cousins was posting the best numbers of his career, filling up the stat sheet with 25.2 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.6 BPG. He also made 2.2 three-pointers per game at a 35.4% rate. Achilles tears aren’t easy to come back from, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll ever be the same player he was before the injury, but even if he’s operating at 60-70% capacity in 2018/19, he’ll make the already-stacked Warriors even more dangerous.

The move comes approximately 24 hours after LeBron James‘ agency announced that he’d be heading to the Lakers. While LeBron, Magic Johnson, and the new-look Lakers dominated much of the coverage during the first two days of NBA free agency, the Warriors’ latest splash signals that they have no intention of giving up control of the Pacific Division – or the Western Conference, or the NBA – anytime soon.

Guard Grayson Allen has signed his rookie contract with the Jazz, the team tweets.

The 6’6” Duke star was the 21st pick of the draft. Allen will receive approximately $2.07MM in the first year of the deal.

Allen averaged 15.5 PPG and 4.7 APG in his senior year and made 38% of his 3-point attempts during his college career.

Primarily a shooting guard, he will compete for minutes at both guard spots behind Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell and perhaps get some playing time at small forward in smaller lineups.

 writes for CBS Sports the Los Angeles Lakers continue to add veteran help for LeBron James by agreeing to a deal with point guard Rajon Rondo for one year, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter):

Rondo is signing a one-year deal with Lakers, per source.

Rondo, who helped the Pelicans reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008, enjoyed his best production with New Orleans during the playoffs, when he averaged 10.3 points, 12.2 assists and 7.6 rebounds.

According to Yahoo! Sports Chris Mannix, the Pelicans made an offer to Rondo, but the Lakers had a better one to give. (via Twitter):

New Orleans made an offer to bring Rondo back, per source, but the Lakers offer was considerably better.

The Lakers, who drafted Lonzo Ball with the second pick in the 2017 Draft, is reportedly acquired Rondo with the intention of having a battle for the starting point guard position when camp begins according to reports from Yahoo! Sports (via Twitter) and ESPN (via Twitter).

Rondo is coming to training camp with plans to compete for a starting job, source told @YahooSportsNBA.

Regarding Rondo and the Lakers, source (told Ramona Shelburne) says they told him that with LeBron here they’re trying to win now. Best man wins the job.

Also the Lakers renounced the rights to restricted free agent Julius Randle, making him an unrestricted free agent, according to Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

Drafted seventh overall by the Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft, Randle owns career averages of 13.5, points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 238 games (182 starts) for Los Angeles. Randle finished 10th in the NBA in field goal percentage last season, shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. The University of Kentucky product played all 82 games (49 starts) in 2017-18, averaging a career-best 16.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists. From NBA Twitter and media reports.

From NBA media reports, Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has recently resumed running and other basketball activities, according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

“Before he left, he was running out on the basketball court,” Ainge told Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “He was back to resuming basketball activities. It feels great.”

Hayward missed almost the entire 2017-18 season after breaking his leg in the first quarter of the season opener. Earlier this offseason, Hayward underwent surgery to remove the plate and screws that were implanted following the broken fibula he suffered on Oct. 17.

Hayward detailed the reason for this procedure in a recent post on his blog title, “Won’t Be Long Now“:

I had been progressing really well. I had been doing cuts laterally. I was jumping. I hadn’t done anything that explosive and I wasn’t quite 100 percent with any of it, but I was slowly building up to that.

Problem was, I was also still having some pain on the outside of my ankle, kind of where the peroneal tendon is. I had been reporting back daily how I was feeling, and the team that I was working with in Indianapolis—along with the Celtics training staff—had surmised that it could be the hardware they put in during my initial surgery causing some irritation

So I called up Dr. Porter, who collaborated on my surgery and who’s advised us throughout this process, just to ask what he thought. I explained to him what was going on, and he said it could be a couple different things, so we should do a test to figure out what it is. He told me that it could just be that my muscles were sore, and it was a strength issue, and I just needed to continue to rehab and have it get stronger, and eventually, it would go away. Or it could be something different.

On May 31, the Celtics were minutes away from their first Finals berth in eight years. However, they lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers — a remarkable feat considering they reached that game without injured stars Hayward and Kyrie Irving.

Irving missed the final 15 games of the 2017-18 season and the entire playoffs to repair his left knee. Roughly a week ago, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters he is hopeful that Irving could return to the court sometime in August.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Hours after the Lakers rescinded their qualifying offer and made him an unrestricted free agent, Julius Randle is reportedly set to join the New Orleans Pelicans.

The former seventh overall pick would join a frontcourt rotation that includes All-NBA big man Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Free agent Julius Randle has agreed to a two-year, $18M deal with New Orleans, league sources tell ESPN. Player option second year.

The four-year veteran is coming off four seasons with the Lakers in which he averaged 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field. From NBA media reports.

The Los Angeles Lakers got LeBron James on Sunday and immediately started launching heat checks. Their first move was agreeing to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a $12 million deal, and things got much weirder from there: A one-year deal for Lance Stephenson for $4.4 million (the room exception), a one-year minimum deal for JaVale McGee and, Monday, a one-year, $9 million deal for Rajon Rondo.

What on Earth is happening? Well, that’s, uh, complicated, so let’s ask five smaller questions:

Why give Stephenson the room exception?

It’s not a crazy amount of money for a solid reserve, but it just seemed odd. To do this on July 1, the first day of free agency? Why not wait and see who else is willing to take that kind of contract? Are we even sure he’s better than Josh Hart? I am not.

Stephenson is a creative playmaker and an underrated passer. He is tough and can defend multiple positions. He can swing the momentum of a game, both for better and for worse. He shot 29 percent from 3-point range last year, though, so I’m not sure he should be spending significant time playing next to James. And if he’s mostly going to play while James is on the bench, he probably shouldn’t have been offered more than the minimum.

Is McGee supposed to be the starter?

Credit where it is due: McGee played his role well in two seasons with the Golden State Warriors, and he was awesome in this year’s NBA Finals. If his job is to simply to set some screens, space the floor vertically and block some shots, he has proven that he can do that, even if his team defense is still a problem. His former teammates with the Warriors loved creating dunk opportunities for him and you can bet that James and Lonzo Ball will, too. Remember when James made J.J. Hickson look good all those years ago? Remember when Chris “Birdman” Andersen basically never missed while he was a member of the Heat? This signing is not some sort of joke, despite McGee’s reputation.

I can’t help but wonder, though, what the Lakers are planning to do with McGee. Is there still a chance they will bring Brook Lopez back? Are they looking at adding DeMarcus Cousins, as TNT’s David Aldridge suggested? They only have about $5.6 million of cap space left if they don’t use the stretch provision to waive Luol Deng, and they might want to use that on a shooter (more on that soon).

If they don’t add another big man, then McGee could be counted on as much more than the situational player he was in Golden State. That is risky.

What is Rondo’s role?

According to USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Rondo has not been told he will be Ball’s backup. He is expecting to compete for the starting spot. This is a strange situation, given that Ball was the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft and Magic Johnson declared him “the new face of the Lakers” at the introductory press conference.

Rondo’s lack of gravity on the perimeter is such an obvious concern that it feels silly to even point it out. He played well for the New Orleans Pelicanslast year, but that was a totally different situation and everybody understood he was the floor general. Usually, when you’re looking for a point guard to put next to James, you’re looking for someone who can make open shots and defend with intensity. Rondo has his own strengths — and hey, LeBron did say he valued basketball IQ — but he is an unconventional choice.

If Rondo is simply a reserve guard who comes in and runs the show for 15-20 minutes a game, this could work out. If Ball is included in a deal for Kawhi Leonard and Rondo becomes the starter, this could work out. This could also, however, end up being a pretty awkward fit.

Shouldn’t the Lakers care more about shooting?

Um, probably. James surely wanted more playmaking around him than he had in his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but this seems like an overreaction to that. Los Angeles coach Luke Walton has always wanted to run a system with multiple playmakers and beautiful ball movement, but Rondo and Stephenson can be ball-stoppers.

The Lakers could definitely use a sharpshooter on the wing and a stretch-four. If they don’t add anybody who fits either of those descriptions, they will be betting on internal improvement. Kyle Kuzma might be able to bring his 36.6 percent 3-point percentage up when he’s receiving passes from the likes of James, Rondo and an improved Ball. As funky as Ball’s shot looks, he could become more consistent with his long-range jumper in his second season.

It is notable, though, that James’ current supporting cast is mostly guys who James can make better, rather than the other way around. In order for James to have an ideal amount of room to operate with the ball in his hands, he needs floor-spacers.

Has Los Angeles lost its mind?

Too early to say. A Leonard trade could happen anytime. The presence of LeBron could lure otherwise unattainable free agents to town on discount deals. It would be unfair to seriously criticize the front office that just successfully recruited James before we see how this roster comes together. As presently constructed, though, the roster looks like this:

  • Starters: Ball, Caldwell-Pope, Ingram, James, McGee
  • Reserves: Kuzma, Hart, Rondo, Stephenson, Deng, Moritz Wagner, Ivica Zubac

 

 

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