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Draft, free agency ... and lots of questions await the NBA

Fri Jun 14 12:20pm ET
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer

Players: Tony Parker, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Shaun Livingston, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Marc Gasol, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is expected to open next week's draft by announcing that Zion Williamson is the No. 1 overall selection headed to New Orleans. And four months after that, Silver will be in Toronto on opening night to help the Raptors hand out championship rings and watch them raise a banner.

There are few other certainties in the NBA right now.

The league has a new champion and a new landscape. Toronto has climbed to the mountaintop, defeating a Golden State team that lost All-Stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to major injuries toward the end of the NBA Finals. For the first time in a half-decade, the Warriors won't be the overwhelming favorites to win it all next season. They might not even be favored to win the Western Conference.

''I think true champions like we are, we should be able to adapt and keep this same kind of DNA no matter what our roster looks like next year,'' Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. ''And have high hopes about being back on this stage, whether it looks the same or not.''

It won't look the same. Not much will next season.

The champion Raptors don't know if they'll be keeping NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who becomes a free agent in a couple weeks and one that every team with lots of spending power will want. Danny Green, who went to Toronto in the deal that brought Leonard, is a free agent. Marc Gasol, a huge midseason pickup, is a free agent. There are even reports that Raptors President Masai Ujiri may consider leaving.

''I was focused on the now, and I wanted to make history here and that's all I did,'' Leonard said. ''I'm still playing basketball no matter what jersey I have on.''

Durant won't be playing on opening night next season, and almost certainly not on any night next season because of his torn Achilles - though he'll still be highly coveted if he hits the free-agent market as expected. Thompson will miss, at minimum, most of the regular season with his torn ACL. The Warriors may lose DeMarcus Cousins in free agency and Shaun Livingston to retirement.

The team going to San Francisco might look much different than the one that ended this season in Oakland.

Longtime NBA stars like Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker will be gone, enjoying retirements. Vince Carter plans to be back for a 22nd and final season. Leonard, LeBron James and Andre Iguodala - if he returns, which is expected - may be the only three players on the court to start the season with an NBA Finals MVP trophy in their possession.

There will be new coaches taking over in Sacramento, Phoenix, Cleveland, Memphis and with the Los Angeles Lakers. The makeups of the front-office teams in Washington and New Orleans will be different.

And then there's all the player movement, which could be seismic.

Anthony Davis may be traded by the Pelicans, as the soap opera there continues. Kyrie Irving, who told Boston fans before the season that he'd re-sign with the Celtics, is going to be a free agent. Durant might change teams. Thompson may as well, though that seems unlikely. Kemba Walker is dropping every hint that he wants to stay in Charlotte.

''I don't know if I'll sign back with them,'' said Walker, who is eligible for a supermax contract worth $221 million over five years. ''I'm not sure. But they are my first priority. ... We'll see when the time comes.''

There's going to be a lot of ''we'll see'' over the next few months.

Milwaukee had the NBA's best regular-season record at 60-22 and will likely enter next season with the MVP - if Giannis Antetokounmpo walks away with that trophy on June 24. He's vowing to improve and that might make the Bucks, who have some free-agent decisions to ponder, better as well.

''Giannis is going to get better,'' Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. ''To be excited about his future at 24 ... the thing that makes Giannis unique and exciting is in our minds, we feel like he's going to get a lot better. Giannis, we feel, has got a lot of room to grow.''

Philadelphia gave Toronto all it wanted in a seven-game series, and seeing the Raptors win the title might convince the 76ers that they're right there as far as being a championship-ready club. In L.A., James missed the finals for the first time since 2010 and will surely be motivated for better things - if the Lakers can escape the dysfunctional rut that they've been in for the past few months. Houston may sense opportunity with Golden State ailing. Oklahoma City has two elite players in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, both coming off surgeries. Perhaps it's time for a team like Denver or Portland to take another big step forward.

At this time last year, few thought the Raptors would win the 2019 championship.

Everyone should stay tuned to see who wins in 2020 - there are no guarantees.

''I know how hard it's been, how hard it is to get here,'' Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said, a few minutes after he became a champion for the first time. ''And it takes some luck.''

Player Notes
Justin Holiday Aug 13 8:30am ET

Indiana Pacers guard/forward Justin Holiday was on a roll in Wednesday's matchup with the Rockets, finishing a 108-104 win with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting. He had a superb 4-for-8 record from downtown while adding six rebounds, two steals, one assist, and one block to his line. This was clearly Holidays' best performance since the restart and also one of his most productive games all season. He's been getting plenty of minutes in Orlando, but he had failed to make at least 30 percent of his shots in all of the previous games, so it's been a huge struggle for him.

Victor Oladipo Aug 13 8:30am ET

Indiana Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo was awful on Wednesday against the Rockets, shooting 7-for-26 from the field, but he still ended up logging a game-high 37 minutes. It's the most he's played all season which is great news regarding his health, but he clearly needs to perform better if the Pacers are going to go anywhere in the playoffs. Oladipo finished with 16 points on Wednesday, going 2-for-12 from deep. He also had six rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block. The Pacers take on the Heat next against whom Oladipo had a 14-point performance in 28 minutes earlier in the week.

Myles Turner Aug 13 8:20am ET

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner became the latest big to shine against Houston, finishing Wednesday's 108-104 win with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He also had two assists, one block and one steal in 28 minutes of action. It actually wasn't a particularly good offensive night for Turner, with him going 5-for-14 from the field, but the 24-year-old was busy at the charity stripe and did a great job with 8-for-10 shooting. Turner will get a much tougher challenge next against Bam Adebayo and the Heat. The two teams already met at the start of the week and Turner was limited to nine points and seven boards.

Robert Covington Aug 13 8:20am ET

Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington had 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks in Wednesday's loss to the Pacers, attempting all of his shots from three-point range and finishing with 3-for-8 shooting from the field. He spent 36 minutes on the floor which was by far the most by a Rocket. Covington's offensive performances have been inconsistent in Orlando, but he's a key guy for the Rockets defensively and could be the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs. Before the postseason starts, Covington gets a revenge game against the Sixers on Friday. He spent a productive four years in Philly before getting traded in November 2018.

Jeff Green Aug 13 8:10am ET

Houston Rockets power forward Jeff Green missed all four of his attempts from downtown but still had a solid bench outing in a loss to Indiana, scoring 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting and adding three rebounds, one steal and one block to his line. Green has been a very useful pickup for Houston, and he's carved out a solid role for himself, even playing 30-plus minutes in back-to-back games. The veteran forward is hitting form just at the right time, with the playoffs starting next week.

James Harden Aug 13 8:00am ET

Houston Rockets guard James Harden had a wonderful 45-point performance on Wednesday against the Pacers, shooting 13-for-21 from the field with a 7-for-14 record from downtown. He also tied his career high with 17 rebounds and dished out nine assists with six turnovers and three steals. The league's top scorer has been in great form in the seeding games, and he should be very motivated to finally register efficient post-season performances. The Rockets take on the Beard's former team OKC in the first round. Harden shot below 33 percent from the field in three regular-season games against them this season, so it looks like a difficult matchup for him.

Brandon Clarke Aug 12 11:10am ET

Memphis Grizzlies power forward/center Brandon Clarke provided an excellent boost off the bench, but his club still fell short to the polished Celtics. Clarke scored 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting and added six rebounds and a block in his 29 minutes. Clarke has stepped with the injured Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) out and is posting 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assists while shooting a sizzling 63.3% from the floor over his last three games. Keep him on your radar for Thursday as he has been quite reliable over this stretch.

Jonas Valanciunas Aug 12 11:10am ET

Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas did all he could on Tuesday to try to help his club keep their postseason hopes alive, but it was not enough in the loss Boston. Valanciunas netted 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes but the big man was a minus-22 while on the floor. Gorgui Dieng also provided a solid spark off the bench with 10 points, five boards, and three steals and was actually a plus-seven in his 23 minutes. The Grizzlies have one last try to attempt to secure that their season resumes on Thursday and the Grizz will need their best out of JV in that one.

Ja Morant Aug 12 11:00am ET

Memphis Grizzlies rookie guard Ja Morant brought his prime game on Tuesday as he exploded for a monster line, yet it was not enough in the loss to the Boston Celtics. Morant tallied 26 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the floor while connecting on 11 of 15 from the line. Morant also found his teammates by handing out 13 assists with four rebounds and two blocks with a steal for one of the lines of the night. We can assume Morant will have another high-usage outing on Thursday in hopes to keep his club's season alive against the Bucks, who we can assume will be resting many starters.

Jayson Tatum Aug 12 10:50am ET

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum continued his elite form on Tuesday in the win over the Grizzlies. Tatum shot an incredible 10 of 13 from the floor en route to 29 points in 29 minutes of action. The young stud did not stop there as he added six boards, two assists, and a steal while committing five turnovers. Tatum looks to be back to where he was before the break and he will be a force come the postseason. The Celtics go again on Thursday and we can assume Tatum will be limited it he does indeed suit up in that one.

Marcus Smart Aug 12 10:50am ET

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart looked great in 29 minutes off the bench as he scored 11 points and added nine assists in the win over the Grizzlies. Smart connected on 3-for-7 shooting from the floor and added three rebounds with a steal in this one. The Celtics are healthy entering the playoffs and Smart has been distributing the ball at an elite level over his last four games (7.3 assists a game in that span), which adds a whole new dimension to the Celtics already efficient offense. The Celtics close out the regular season on Thursday and stay tuned to see if Smart suits up in that one, or if he gets the night off.

Kemba Walker Aug 12 10:40am ET

Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker needed just 10 shots (making seven of them) to record 19 points in the win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Walker also nailed two triples to go along with four boards and three steals in the fine-tuning game for the Celtics. Walker and the Celtics take on the Wizards on Thursday to close out the regular season. If Walker does suit up in that one, we can assume he will play limited minutes to rest up for the postseason, so there will probably be better options out there.

Nemanja Bjelica Aug 12 10:40am ET

Sacramento Kings power forward Nemanja Bjelica played a heavy 33 minutes and made the most of his time by filling up the box score in the six-point win over the Pelicans on Tuesday. Bjelica scored 13 points while adding five rebounds with two assists and two steals with a block. We know when the Serbian gets the minutes he will produce and this could be a similar case on Thursday in the meaningless season-ending game against the Lakers. Thursday is going to be a wild one in the DFS world but put Bjelica on your watchlist as we could see similar production from the big man.

Harrison Barnes Aug 12 10:30am ET

Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes took on the extra workload with De'Aaron Fox sitting out this one. Barnes connected on 9-for-19 shooting en route to 25 points and added eight boards with two assists and two blocks without committing a single turnover in 37 minutes in the win over the Pelicans. We can assume Barnes will take on a similar role on Thursday in his club's season finale against the Lakers - add him to your watchlist, especially if the Kings decide to rest some players once again.

Harry Giles III Aug 12 10:20am ET

Sacramento Kings power forward/center Harry Giles recorded his first double-double since February 22nd in the win over the Pelicans on Tuesday. Giles was not so efficient from the floor as he connected on just 6-for-17 shooting, but he still managed to record 12 points while gathering 11 boards with three assists to go along with two blocks in 25 minutes of action. The Kings' last game is on Thursday against the Lakers and we can assume he will get some solid minutes in that game, making him worth a look as a cheap punt play.

Lonzo Ball Aug 12 10:10am ET

New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball was the only regular starter in the lineup on Tuesday for the Pels and he started hot with 10 early points but cooled off to finish the game with 16 points across 29 minutes. Ball added four assists with three rebounds and two blocks with four turnovers against the Kings. The Pels go again on Thursday to close out their season and we can assume many regular bodies will not return for that one and if Ball does play, he will most likely be limited with nothing on the line. Frank Jackson and Josh Hart could be intriguing backcourt play for that one.

Josh Hart Aug 12 9:30am ET

New Orleans guard Josh Hart struggled to get his shot to fall, yet salvaged his night with some solid supporting numbers on Tuesday. Hart managed to make just one of his eight shot attempts to record just three points. He was able to grab 10 rebounds while adding an assist with two steals and if his shots were falling, it would have been a nice line for the versatile wing. The Pels play one last time on Thursday and we can assume many starters will be sitting that one out making Hart a solid low-end play with his abilities to fill up the box score even his shot isn't falling.

Jahlil Okafor Aug 12 9:20am ET

New Orleans center Jahlil Okafor came off the bench to fill up the box score in the six-point loss to the Kings on Tuesday. Okafor tallied 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting while chipping in four boards, one assist, and two blocks as he caught fire in just 25 minutes of action. We haven't seen Okafor come to life in some time and we can assume on Thursday that he will get similar minutes in the meaningless game against the Magic. If you are looking for cheap punt play, Okafor could be your man for Thursday.

Mike Scott Aug 12 9:20am ET

Philadelphia 76ers power forward/center Mike Scott took advantage of some extra run with many 76ers players' sitting this one out on Tuesday. Scott scored 17 points with three makes from three while adding four rebounds with a steal in just 22 minutes of action. Raul Neto also came to life off the bench with 22 points and four assists in 25 minutes of action. The 76ers should have Al Horford (knee) and Tobias Harris (ankle) back on Wednesday, meaning Scott and Neto will be pushed back to lesser minutes.

Alec Burks Aug 12 9:10am ET

Philadelphia 76ers guard Alec Burks was able to pace his club with 23 points on Tuesday, but it was not enough in the 130-117 loss at the hands of the Suns. Burks connected on a solid nine of 17 shooting and added four assists with two rebounds and a steal in 28 minutes. Burks has come to life in the absence of Ben Simmons (knee) with averages of 21.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and just 0.7 turnovers a night over his last three outings. If his price tag is still friendly on Wednesday when his club takes on the Raptors, he could be worth playing to ride out his hot streak.