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Russell Westbrook, fishing for a trade, is no surprise given the tumultuous Houston off-season when General Manager Daryl Morey and trainer Mike D’Antoni left. The All-Star Guardian proved uncomfortable last season, and his lack of shooting resulted in the missiles reworking their squad and hugging a little ball. In the playoffs, Westbrook struggled with a leg injury, but played poorly, missed open shots and committed careless sales.
Given owner Tilman Fertitta’s financial troubles, Houston should be motivated to reschedule 32-year-old Westbrook and his Albatros contract, which is set to earn him $ 130 million over the next three seasons. New Rockets GM Rafael Stone will struggle to make amends for much given Westbrook’s age, declining skills, and max salary. The Rockets were grossly overpaid by giving up Chris Paul and various draft assets for Westbrook last summer, and they will sell little if they get his move on.
Westbrook makes little sense for a top contender or even a second division playoff team as they have a desire to go on an offensive. Houston should look around the Eastern Conference dregs to see if Charlotte, Detroit, or New York are interested in giving Westbrook the car keys. To the east, Westbrook would face easier competition from night to night and a better chance of forming the All-Star team.
James Harden has been at the heart of Houston for seven seasons. Despite the many changes around him, it’s understandable that he would have more patience during a transition than Westbrook, who only came to Houston last season. Harden has adapted to a number of different running mates during his time with the Rockets and he hopes Stone can quickly build a playoff-capable rotation around him so that this season doesn’t get lost.
Even so, Harden should seriously consider the next chapter in his career, whether this be this season or the next. Houston seems like a long-term impasse. One way would be to mimic LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers by finding a landing spot in a large market with roster flexibility and young pieces that could allow a quick turnaround plan around him. Or he could see him push his way into an existing super team, which would likely require him to sacrifice the high volume of touches and shots he’s got used to in Houston.
The Thunder in the small market seemed to be feeling the financial bottleneck during the pandemic after replacing veteran trainer Billy Donovan with a first-time visitor to Mark Daigneault and allegedly weighing Chris Paul’s trades. Paul was sensational last season, pulling Oklahoma City into the playoffs and pushing Houston to seven games in the first round. At 35, he remains an All-NBA player and an excellent leader and organizer.
The Suns have fought for almost a decade and could use anything Paul brings to the table: his outside shooting, his superb pass, his late game execution and his veteran presence. Paul would be the best player Devin Booker has ever played with for sure, and the Suns would be a tough bet to make the 2021 playoffs with these two all-star guards and up and coming center Deandre Ayton.
Hanging up for the suns and other interested applicants is Paul’s contract, which will gross him $ 85 million over the next two seasons. Phoenix has cap space to absorb the blow, but trading with Paul is a short-term move. The Suns should worry about pulling the trigger as their ultimate organizational goal should be to keep Booker happy and help him take the next step towards becoming a successful player.
Mike Conley taking up his $ 34 million option for 2020-21 was a no-brainer. The 33-year-old point guard struggled with the jazz in his first season, missed a long distance with a hamstring injury and saw his goal and shooting efficiency decline. While Conley was an All-Star on the Frontier with the Grizzlies a few years ago, he’s aged into another phase of his career and will be more of a role-player for Utah for the next season.
With Conley’s better health and consistency and the return of Bojan Bogdanovic, Jazz should bring back a balanced and seasoned grid that should have a chance to improve its first-round playoff output.
It’s hard to see the match between LaMelo Ball, who is likely the best pick in Wednesday’s draft, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hold the No. 1 pick. Ball and D’Angelo Russell are both creative playmakers and poor defenders who don’t bring much to the table when they step away from the ball. Additionally, the Timberwolves have moved heaven and earth to land Russell at close of trade to appease the Karl-Anthony Towns franchise center. The 19-year-old ball’s draft 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 is not seen as a must-have prospect like other current top draft picks, teams like the Bulls, Knicks, and Pistons have lottery picks and need backcourt playmakers. A best-case scenario for Minnesota might be to swap a few slots back and add a rotating piece to a young and thin squad. Of course, the Timberwolves could always pull ball if they believe he is the best player available and hope for the best.
Top free agents
This ranking takes into account health, age, role, versatility, statistical production and upward movement.
1. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), player option
After a scintillating postseason run that culminated in a title, Davis has announced that he plans to sign with the Lakers again.
2. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), restricted free agent
The most improved player of 2020 should expect an extension of the rookie level at the highest level after a career year in New Orleans.
3. Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors), unrestricted free agent
The tough and talented two-way security guard said he was aiming for a payout 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 settle on a $ 34.2 million option with Boston or test his options as one of the bigger names in a weak class of free agencies.
5. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers), unreserved free agent
Harrell played poorly in the bladder after his grandmother passed away, but his chance at scoring, pick-and-roll expertise, and engine make him one of the best big men on the board.
6. Christian Wood (Detroit Pistons), unrestricted free agent
Little-known Wood grew strong before the March shutdown and became one of the few tall men with an advantage in this year’s class.
7. Davis Bertans (Washington Wizards), unreserved free agent
Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said the re-signing of Bertans, who shot 42 percent three-pointers last season, is the franchise’s top off-season priority.
8. Bogdan Bogdanovic (Sacramento Kings), restricted free agent
Bogdanovic, a 28-year-old gunman, played his way into the Sacramento starting grid and is a perfect fit for any team looking for a bunch of perimeter offenses.
9. Danilo Gallinari (Oklahoma City Thunder), unrestricted free agent
The 32-year-old striker with goal avoidance avoided injuries and played well for Thunder. In his 12-year career, however, he has yet to get out of the first round.
10. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs), player option
While DeRozan remains a reliable goalscorer, his lack of outside shots and poor defense could limit interest and lead him to avail himself of his $ 27.7 million option.
Other notable names: Mike Conley (likely), Andre Drummond (likely), Goran Dragic, Serge Ibaka, Malik Beasley, De’Anthony Melton, Joe Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope