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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
Blake Griffin Jul 16 1:10pm ET

Last season, Detroit Pistons power forward Blake Griffin dealt with a knee injury that limited his availability at the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs, which led Griffin to have knee surgery in the offseason. The surgery wasn't expected to keep Griffin out of any offseason activities, and Tuesday's announcement that he's resumed light basketball activities keeps Griffin on track to be a full go for the 2019-2020 season. Knee injuries are definitely something to be concerned over, but as long as Griffin is able to take the court when the season opens, his usage on this Pistons team will make him a strong fantasy basketball option next season. There's injury risk, but Griffin's upside is undeniable.

Brandon Clarke Jul 16 12:00am ET

Memphis Grizzlies rookie forward Brandon Clarke was named the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League. In six games, Clarke averaged 14.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest, showing that he can be a valuable piece of the Grizzlies' rotation this upcoming season. The Grizzlies are a young and rebuilding team, and Clarke is bound to get plenty of minutes in the team's front court this season. He's going to be a valuable fantasy contributor thanks to his ability to score efficiently and rebound well.

Henry Ellenson Jul 16 12:00am ET

The Brooklyn Nets have signed power forward Henry Ellenson to a two-way contract. Ellenson's first three NBA seasons -- split between the Pistons and Knicks -- have largely been disappointments, and he finished last season with an average of six points and 3.5 rebounds per game in just 19 appearances. A two-way deal will limit how much time Ellenson is able to spend on an NBA roster, which means most of his season will be spent with Brooklyn's G-League affiliate in Long Island. Any value Ellenson may have had if he'd signed an actual NBA contract has evaporated with this move.

J.R. Smith Jul 15 11:30pm ET

The Cleveland Cavaliers have waived veteran guard J.R. Smith, clearing the way for Smith to join a contending team. Smith averaged 6.7 points and shot just 30.8 percent from the field last season, but played in just 11 games for Cleveland. A healthy Smith could be a decent bench piece for a playoff team, but he's unlikely to find a role where he'll be more than a team's fourth or fifth guard. That means Smith's fantasy stock is likely to vary wildly on a game-to-game basis, making him someone not worth rostering in most league formats. The only exception would be if Smith doesn't sign with a contender and prioritizes signing somewhere where he'll receive minutes, though it's unclear if a team like that exists.

Tyson Chandler Jul 12 3:20pm ET

The Houston Rockets have signed veteran center Tyson Chandler, who played 55 games last season for the Suns and Lakers. Chandler averaged just 3.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and he'll likely be mired in the back of the Houston rotation this year, seeing 10-15 minutes per game on what could be an irregular basis. This signing doesn't matter for fantasy purposes unless Houston's starting center Clint Capela misses time, in which case Chandler may have a little value in deep leagues.

Chris Paul Jul 11 10:10pm ET

The Houston Rockets have traded point guard Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook. It's hard to know what to make of the deal for Paul, because so much remains up in the air. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Thunder are still looking to move Paul after the deal, so there's a very good chance he never plays a game in a Thunder uniform. If he does, he'll likely see a larger usage rate than he has in previous seasons and receive a boost in his statistical output, but the looming threat of another trade leads us to grade this move as an incomplete.

Russell Westbrook Jul 11 10:00pm ET

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets have completed a deal that sends point guard Russell Westbrook to Houston, pairing him once again with former teammate James Harden. With Paul George no longer in Oklahoma City, Westbrook was set to have a huge season statistically, but he'll go back to playing a role similar to the one he played last year, when he saw a drop in shot attempts and averaged 22.9 points per game, down almost 10 points from his pre-George numbers. Westbrook will also see a reduction in assists playing beside another ball-dominant player, and it would be a surprise to see him lead the league in that category for the third straight year. Overall, Westbrook's value takes a slight hit, though he'll still probably go at the end of the first in fantasy drafts.

Coby White Jul 11 11:00am ET

Chicago Bulls rookie point guard Coby White is expected to take a backseat to some of the team's other options this upcoming season. Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said that White's got a lot of learning to do and that the speed of the game could be an issue for White, while head coach Jim Boylen has already said Kris Dunn is the team's starting point guard. With Tomas Satoransky in the picture too, it doesn't look like White's going to be fantasy relevant in the early stages of his rookie campaign.

Kelly Oubre Jr. Jul 11 11:00am ET

Restricted free agent forward Kelly Oubre Jr. has signed a two-year deal to remain with the Phoenix Suns. Oubre is a solid player who's likely to end up starting at the three for the Suns, and he has solid fantasy upside as a guy who can give Phoenix something close to 15 points and five rebounds per game. Last season was also Oubre's most efficient year as an NBA shooter, and he can be a good fantasy pick in the later rounds of fantasy drafts because of his ability to do a lot of things on the basketball court, even if he isn't going to excel at any one thing.

Avery Bradley Jul 8 3:30pm ET

Shooting guard Avery Bradley is expected to sign a two-year, $9.7 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers upon his clearing of waivers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The Grizzlies waived Bradley earlier in the summer, paving the way for the former NBA All-Defensive First Team selection to join a revamped Lakers roster. The second year of Bradley's contract is reported to have a player option, as he'll join Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the wing in 2019-20. After showcasing his offensive game (16.1 points per contest) over 14 games with Memphis to conclude last season, he may revert to his traditional role of defensive stopper with Los Angeles, which could stunt his upward fantasy trajectory.

DeMarcus Cousins Jul 7 1:00am ET

The Lakers have signed free agent center DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 28-year-old, who played just 30 regular season games with the Warriors in 2019 after recovering from an Achilles injury the year prior, averaged only 16.3 points and 8.2 boards per contest while playing a career-low 25.7 minutes. He will be reunited with former Pelicans teammates Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in his new home in Los Angeles and will look to remain healthy in hopes of getting paid next Summer.

Danny Green Jul 6 3:00am ET

Free-agent shooting guard/small forward Danny Green (Raptors) plans to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, sources said late on Friday. He was also being pursued by the Dallas Mavericks. The deal is reportedly for two years and $30 million. It isn't quite the member of the Toronto Raptors championship squad that they were looking for, as Kawhi Leonard instead decided to join the Los Angeles Clippers. But Green isn't a bad addition, as he'll help the Lakers perimeter shooting. He might get a chance to join the starting five, and should be a decent middle- to late-round fantasy option in most leagues for his 3-pointers.

Kawhi Leonard Jul 6 2:50am ET

The Los Angeles Clippers have agreed to a four-year, $142 million deal with forward Kawhi Leonard on Saturday. Leonard, who averaged a career-high 26.6 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field while with the Raptors last season, will undoubtedly be a top-five selection in upcoming fantasy drafts, despite being paired with newly acquired forward Paul George and missing a few games due to load management purposes.

Zion Williamson Jul 6 2:50am ET

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (knee) suffered a knee-to-knee hit in the first half of Friday's Summer League debut against former college teammate R.J. Barrett and the New York Knicks. The injury was to his left knee and he was unable to return. The injury is not expected to be serious, the team is likely taking a cautious approach with the No. 1 overall pick. It was a crazy game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, as the game was eventually suspended in the second half due to a 7.1 earthquake centered near Ridgecrest, Calif., causing the giant speakers and scoreboard to sway.

Paul George Jul 6 2:40am ET

Forward Paul George is being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Clippers in exchange for forward Danilo Gallinari, guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and four unprotected first-round draft picks. George, who will now join forward Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, had the most productive season of his career in 2019, finishing the year by averaging 28 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting nearly 39 percent from deep. He will likely see a slight reduction in production with Leonard in the mix, but he could easily find himself in the MVP conversation once again this season and should be considered a first-round pick in upcoming fantasy drafts.

De'Anthony Melton Jul 3 5:40pm ET

The Phoenix Suns have just been swindled out of one of their better young assets in De'Anthony Melton for the sole reason of dumping Josh Jackson. Jackson, the former fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has had troubles, on and off the court, and now finds himself in a new home with an abundance of young talent and competence. This is an opportunity to rehab his game and image if legal troubles do not interfere. In this deal, the Grizzlies sent over veteran shooting guard Kyle Korver and defensive-minded point guard Jevon Carter and received two second-round picks (one conditional). Korver's partially guaranteed deal is reportedly getting bought out, and he will receive interest from the Lakers, Sixers, and Bucks.

Markieff Morris Jul 3 5:20pm ET

The Detroit Pistons have signed veteran power forward Markieff Morris. The Pistons starting frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond is due to take up most of the minutes there, however, Morris should fill in across the forward/center lines throughout the year. He used to play a little bit of small forward and could potentially fill-in there too when Detroit wants to go massive. Morris took a step back last season as a neck injury cut into his year and possibly hampered his play but could be due for a bounce-back if fully healthy. He's not someone to target in most fantasy drafts and should be an occasional streamer at best.

Justin Wright-Foreman Jul 3 2:50am ET

Utah Jazz point guard Justin Wright-Foreman notched 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting during Tuesdays Summer League win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Competition for the point guard slot on the Jazz roster has ramped up significantly with the addition of both Mike Conley and Emmanuel Mudiay, but Utah thought highly enough of Wright-Foreman to select him in the second round of last months NBA Draft. A collegiate standout at Hofstra, Wright-Foreman averaged 27.1 points per game during his senior year, and to open the summer, he has picked up offensively where he left off.

Tony Bradley Jul 3 2:50am ET

Utah Jazz center Tony Bradley has wasted little time making an impact during Summer League, having taken his game up a notch during Tuesdays win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bradley had a double-double in Mondays opener, but went for a robust 26 points and 16 rebounds Tuesday, finishing 9-for-13 from the field and 8-for-10 from the free-throw stripe. The big man added three blocks across his 27 minutes, making an emphatic statement that he should be in line for minutes behind Jazz starting center Rudy Gobert when the regular season opens in October.

Caleb Swanigan Jul 3 2:20am ET

Sacramento Kings center Caleb Swanigan logged just two minutes of action during Tuesdays Summer League loss to the Miami Heat before departing due to a quad contusion. Swanigan is attempting to make the Kings roster ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, having arrived last season in a deal with Portland. The former collegiate All-American has appeared in 48 games over his first two years in the league, but averaged just 7.6 minutes per contest. Any kind of extended injury that would keep Swanigan sidelined would severely hamper his chances of beginning the year on Sacramentos roster.