Yesterday’s rant was devoted to three NBA players who need to make a decision about their contract status for next year by tomorrow. There are several other players in a similar situation and their decision(s) in the near term could have an impact around the league. So, I will begin today with Russell Westbrook who has a player option for one year at $47M. That year is the final remnant of a deal he signed with the Thunder in 2016 and before he began his tour of NBA franchises with stops in Houston, Washington and now Los Angeles. I cannot imagine that any team is going to sign him as a free agent and pay him more than $47M for next year, so I fully expect him to exercise that option. If he does that, he will be the highest paid player on the Lakers’ roster for next year.
But stand by because there are rumors afloat that the Lakers might be interested in acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Nets. As I understand it, the only way that can happen under the salary cap would be for the Lakers to trade away Westbrook and that option-year contract. I said yesterday that Kyrie Irving is a drama waiting to happen; well Westbrook has been known to create a few wrinkles of his own. I would be surprised if the two teams made an even swap of Irving and Westbrook but if they do, let me be the first to label the trade Getting the Band Back Together:
- Kyrie Irving and LeBron James would be reunited in LA after winning a championship in Cleveland and then going through a “messy divorce”.
- Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant would be reunited in Brooklyn after playing together with the Thunder from 2008 – 2016.
Another interesting situation exists in Arizona because the Suns chose last year not to pick up the fifth-year option for Deandre Ayton. That was a tad surprising when it was announced because Ayton was the first overall pick four years ago and because he is from Phoenix and played high school and college basketball in Arizona. Reports say that Ayton wants a 5-year max contract allowed by the current CBA; such a deal would be worth $177M over that span but the Suns – reportedly – have not agreed to such a deal. Ayton is a restricted free agent meaning that the Suns can match any offer that he signs with another team. This kerfuffle has the potential to end harmoniously or atonally.
Last season, the Suns won 64 games – – the most in the NBA by a comfortable margin. Ayton averaged 17.2 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game at the age of 23. It would seem to me that the Suns should want to find a way to keep a happy Deandre Ayton on their roster. So, stay tuned…
Another locus for potential NBA upheaval is in Utah. Quin Snyder resigned as head coach there after 8 seasons on the job. In explaining his decision, he said there were no problems or “philosophical differences” in his decision, but he has been a successful coach there and now he is gone. In addition, there are rumors that Donovan Mitchell might enjoy playing under a more intense spotlight and Rudy Gobert has been a centerpiece of about a half-dozen trade rumors in the last month or so.
Snyder is gone and has not yet been replaced. If somehow Mitchell and Gobert also take their talents elsewhere, the Jazz team you see on the court next season will bear no resemblance to the team that won 49 games last season.
And of course, no compilation of potential sources of NBA drama could possibly exist without a tip of the cap to the NY Knickerbockers. In 2021, the Knicks finished with a 41-31 record meaning the team was above .500 for the first time since 2013. Things were looking up, but the team stumbled last season finishing 37-45 and missing out on the playoffs. Fans were upset – – but there was always the potential for a great draft pick that would put the team back on an upward arc. Well draft night was exciting for the Knicks; let me leave it at that.
After trading away Kemba Walker and its picks in a trio of trades, the Knicks acquired:
- A 2023 first round pick highly protected until 2027
- A 2023 first round pick highly protected until 2025
- A 2025 first round pick protected 1-4
- $18M in cap space for this year.
The story in NY is that the Knicks will use that cap space and every other enticement they can muster to sign Jalen Brunson who is an unrestricted free agent. Brunson has been with the Mavs for his 4-year career and last season he demonstrated clearly that he belongs in the NBA. The Knicks need a point guard; Brunson is their target. Can they get him?
Since I mentioned the NBA Draft above, let me offer an observation that I found interesting. Two teams used their first-round picks to take players whose main strength is defense.
- The Pelicans picked Dyson Daniels from the G-League. I only saw Daniels play a couple of times, but I thought he was far more impressive in defense than he was on offense – – and that makes sense for the Pelicans who have CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson on the roster to produce points.
- The Raptors picked Christian Koloko from Arizona. Koloko was the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year and is an excellent interior defender. On offense, Koloko has a lot to learn, but his defense got him a start on an NBA career.
Finally, since today was all about basketball, let me close with a classic observation about the game from former Princeton coach, Pete Carril:
“Bad shooters are always open.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………