Fantasy Basketball: Free agency roundup begins with LeBron James' decision
One day down, and we've seen a flurry of activity in NBA free agency. Catch up on the latest news and what it means for Fantasy hoops.
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The NBA collectively wasted no time once free agency opened at midnight Sunday, with many big-name players reaching contract agreements just minutes into the negotiating period.
While Kawhi Leonard's future remains muddled, the likes of Chris Paul, Paul George and Kevin Durant each worked out new deals to remain in Houston, Oklahoma City and Golden State, respectively, while LeBron James joined the Lakers — you might have heard about that one. Big names staying home has been the early theme, though there have been exceptions. Most notably, DeAndre Jordan and the Mavericks agreed to terms on a one-year contract, while Trevor Ariza will head to Phoenix on a one-year, $15 million deal.
Of course, the league's five-day moratorium period prevents any deals from being signed before July 6. But it's rare for these agreed-upon deals to fall through, and it's never too early to begin speculating what kind of impact the first day of free agency will have on Fantasy basketball next season.
Let's dive in.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
The Contract: Four years, $154 million
What it Means: Despite late runs from the Sixers and … Nuggets? ... James finally lands in what all along felt like the inevitable location — whether it was this summer or sometime soon. What's most surprising is the duration of the deal, which will keep LeBron in Los Angeles for at least the next three seasons (the fourth year is a player option). James has been hesitant, to say the least, to commit to multi-year deals since leaving Miami in 2014, and his willingness to sign more than a 1-plus-1 perhaps signifies a shift in mindset.
If the Lakers can pair Leonard with James, they'll be in title contention right away. If not, James will find himself in unfamiliar territory: building for more than just the hyper-immediate future.
Even as the Lakers' roster currently stands, sans Kawhi, it's a major upgrade over James' supporting cast in Cleveland last season. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart is an awfully intriguing — if inexperienced — group of young talent, the caliber of which James has never had at any point in his career. The Lakers also re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Sunday, bringing back a 38.3% three-point shooter who doubles as an outstanding perimeter defender.
Fantasy-wise, James' value has proven to be as impenetrable as any player in the league's. If the Lakers do get Kawhi, James will still be the top option offensively, without question. Adapting to playing alongside Ball could prove to be the bigger adjustment, though the responsibility to fit in will ultimately fall on Ball's shoulders, not James'. Assuming Ball is on the roster come October, maybe James plays more off-ball and his assists numbers take a minor dip, but it would be a surprise if he's not among the elite of the elite when it comes to Fantasy production yet again.
What it Means: Gordon winding up somewhere like Indiana or Dallas would have been a lot of fun, but the Magic made the smart decision to bring him back on what could end up looking like a bargain contract. Gordon was on fire to begin last season before he got hurt, and while he struggled after returning, he's still only 22 years old and will continue to improve. Orlando, which still doesn't have a point guard, will likely struggle again next season, but they could do much worse than going forth with a frontcourt trio of Gordon, Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
The contract: Two years, $61.5 million
What it means: After opting out of the final year of his previous deal, there were some whispers that Durant could explore other options, but the two-time defending Finals MVP leaving Golden State never seemed like a realistic possibility. Fantasy-wise, Durant will obviously remain among the league's elite after another dominant season that saw him post a career-best 1.8 blocks per game to go with his usual, stellar contributions in scoring, rebounds, assists and three-point shooting. Durant's scoring may be down since he left Oklahoma City, but it's tough to argue that he hasn't become an even better all-around player.
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
The contract: Four years, $137 million
What it means: A player opting not to switch teams was the biggest non-LeBron story on Day 1, as George committed to the Thunder on a four-year deal that will pay him nearly $140 million. OKC's big three underachieved in Year 1, but George was able to acquit himself well alongside Russell Westbrook, and he re-emerged as one of the NBA's premier perimeter defenders. Re-signing George, as well as Jerami Grant, is a major financial commitment for a notoriously stingy franchise, and it's likely the Thunder will look to move on from Carmelo Anthony before next season. If that happens, George could take on more offensive responsibility, but he'll still be the clear No. 2 option behind Westbrook. Last season, that equated to averages of 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals and a career-best 3.1 made threes per game.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
The contract: Four years, $160 million
What it means: As is the case for both Durant and George, Paul's fantasy outlook for next season won't change much based on his decision. There's certainly some inherent risk in committing $40 million per year to a 33-year-old with a lengthy injury history, but the Rockets clearly feel like they have a window to contend in the West, and the Harden-Paul duo will still be among the best in the league next season. Paul's scoring increased after coming over from the Clippers, but his 7.9 assists per game represented his lowest average since his rookie season. Even so, Paul was an elite fantasy point guard when healthy, but his durability is perhaps more of a concern now than it's ever been. Paul has missed a combined 45 regular season games over the past two years, which must be given serious consideration when it comes to assessing his Fantasy value.
DeAndre Jordan, Dallas Mavericks
The contract: One year, $24.1 million
What it means: Jordan declined his player option to help facilitate a move to Dallas, and he'll get his wish of joining his hometown team — for real this time. Seeing Jordan leap for alley-oop dunks in anything but a Clippers uniform will take some time to get used to, but he should be in an advantageous Fantasy position next season. He'll be the clear starting center on a team with one of the shallowest frontcourts in the league, and if the Mavs try to make a run at a playoff spot next season — as the signing would indicate — Jordan could see an uptick in minutes after he averaged 31.5 per game in 2017-18, his fewest in six seasons. Jordan's elite rebounding (15.2 RPG) should translate seamlessly, but it could take time to develop a rapport with young guards Dennis Smith, Jr. and Luka Doncic, who will both be directly responsible for a large swath of Jordan's field goals. Playing alongside Chris Paul, Jordan led the NBA in field goal percentage for five straight years from 2012-17, but last season his percentage dropped to 64.5%, nearly seven points lower than two seasons ago.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
The contract: Five years, $146.5 million
What it means: Another star, another lucrative deal to stay put. Jokic was never going anywhere, and the Nuggets now have their franchise player locked in through 2023. The 23-year-old took another step forward last season, averaging 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.1 assist and 1.2 steals while hitting a career-best 39.6% of his three-pointers. While he has his defensive limitations, Jokic should only continue to improve. Three-point shooting aside, his contributions in assists (6.1 APG) and free throw percentage (85% FT) are outstanding for a center and make him one of the league's most unique and valuable Fantasy commodities.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
The contract: Four years, $54 million
What it means: Barton had several teams interested heading into free agency, but he'll remain in Denver and get a major pay raise after playing on perhaps the most team-friendly contract in the league. The former second-round pick is coming off a career year that saw him average 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.0 steal per game, in addition to shooting career-bests from the field (45.2% FG) and beyond the arc (37.0% 3PT). While Barton started fewer than half of the 81 games in which he played, he still averaged 33.1 minutes per game, due in part to Paul Millsap missing several months with a wrist injury. Barton could have a tough time exceeding that number in 2018-19, but he'll be in a better position, from a Fantasy perspective, if the Nuggets are able to find a taker for Wilson Chandler.
Trevor Ariza, Phoenix Suns
The contract: One year, $15 million
What it means: Among players changing locations, Ariza taking a one-year deal to head to the desert may have been the most surprising. One of the league's best three-and-D wings, Ariza was a key cog for the Rockets last season, but he'll more than double his 2017-18 salary with the Suns, who are apparently attempting to position themselves to battle for a playoff spot next season. That's probably an ill-fated goal, but Ariza is certainly a major upgrade on the wing.
Fantasy-wise, a player like Ariza's value should remain relatively constant so long as the minutes are there. The Suns aren't paying a 33-year-old $15 million to sit the bench, but Phoenix does have plenty of talent on the wing, which is a bit of a concern. Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson and rookie Mikal Bridges will all be rotation players, so where, exactly, Ariza fits in that mix remains to be seen.
Leaving James Harden, Chris Paul and the Rockets' three-point-happy offense behind could also take its toll on Ariza's value as a volume three-point shooter (2.5 3PM/G). The Suns ranked 19th in three-point attempt rate (32.0%) last season, though they'll be under new leadership in rookie head coach Igor Kokoskov.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
The Contract: One year, $12 million
What it Means: Caldwell-Pope took a bit of a haircut after making $18 million on a one-year deal last season, but the trade-off is he gets to play alongside LeBron James, and perhaps another star. While a mid-season jail sentence stemming from a DUI tainted his season, Caldwell-Pope was quietly productive in 2017-18, averaging 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 38.3 percent from three. With James in the mix, Caldwell-Pope will likely transition to more of a three-points-specialist role, essentially filling the J.R. Smith spot for the Lakers.
The Contract: One year, $6.5 million
What it Means: The fifth overall pick in 2015 flamed out after three seasons in Orlando, but he still generated a fair amount of interest on the open market. The Knicks are gambling that Hezonja was simply a bad fit with the Magic, and he should have the opportunity to prove himself on what will be one of the league's worst teams next season. At this point, it feels safe to pencil Hezonja in as the primary backup to Tim Hardaway, Jr., and his ability to play three positions should help him find minutes in what's become somewhat of a crowded Knicks wing rotation.
What it means: The prodigal son has returned. This may be a slight overpay by Milwaukee, but Ilyasova reportedly had several interested suitors, and the third year of the deal is non-guaranteed.
Ilyasova has bounced around the league since leaving Milwaukee in 2015, but his production has been remarkably consistent wherever he's played, and he'll join a Bucks team in need of bigs who can stretch the floor. Ilyasova hit 36.0% percent of his threes with Atlanta and Philadelphia last season, and he could compete for a starting spot in Milwaukee. At the very least, Ilyasova will be a key piece off the bench, but the biggest factor in determining his role next season will be what the Bucks decide to do with Jabari Parker.
The contract: One year, $10 million
What it means: After declining his player option, Gay ultimately re-signed in San Antonio for an extra $1.2 million. All things considered, the veteran fared well coming off a torn Achilles, appearing in 57 games and averaging 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in a career-low (by far) 21.6 minutes. Gay's workload was monitored for much of the season, so, looking ahead, there's reason for optimism. Obviously, the Kawhi Leonard situation looms large, and what assets the Spurs bring back in what now seems like an inevitable deal involving Leonard will impact Gay's Fantasy outlook. San Antonio ending up with, say, Jaylen Brown or Brandon Ingram would be a hit to Gay's Fantasy ceiling.
Marco Belinelli, San Antonio Spurs
The contract: Two years, $12 million
What it means: For Fantasy purposes, Belinelli is essentially a points/3-pointers specialist, and he's coming off a strong, 28-game run with the Sixers during which he averaged 13.6 points and 2.0 made threes per game. Both of those numbers would have been career-highs over the course of a full season.
At this point in his career, Belinelli has earned the green light, but he'll enter a relatively crowded backcourt in San Antonio that already features Danny Green and Patty Mills at shooting guard, with Manu Ginobili potentially returning for one last go-round. Belinelli does have the size to slide up and play some small-ball three, however, and he'll be an upgrade — as a shooter at least — over Green, who's posted three consecutive seasons with a field goal percentage south of 40%. The addition of Belinelli is not great news for those, myself included, who were hopeful that Lonnie Walker could make an impact as a rookie.
What it means: The Raptors hang onto one of their best young players who took a major leap in his second NBA season. VanVleet averaged 8.6 points and 3.2 assists per game while running the second unit, and he knocked down better than 41% of his three-point looks. Fantasy-wise, VanVleet will likely remain a fringe option in the immediate future, but the Raptors look to be grooming him as the potential long-term successor to Lowry.
Jerami Grant, Oklahoma City Thunder
The contract: Three years, $27 million
What it means: The 24-year-old's numbers don't jump off the page, but he's now a key complementary piece as the Thunder look to make the most of the Westbrook/George/Adams trio. Grant backed up Carmelo Anthony last season, but with Anthony possibly on his way out, Grant could be in line for a bigger workload next season. That could hinge on whether he's able to improve as an outside shooter after he knocked down just 29.1% of his attempts last season.
What it means: The Grizzlies desperately need veteran help on the wing and they found that in Casspi, who was woefully underutilized in Golden State last season. Casspi took only 22 threes in 53 games with the Warriors, posting by far the lowest three-point attempt rate of his career, though he did shoot a career-best 58% from the field. Casspi should walk into a considerably larger role in Memphis, where his primary competition on the wing comes in the form of Dillon Brooks and Chandler Parsons.
What it means: The Nets are still a few years away, but Davis is a nice addition to a team that could use another veteran presence. The expectation remains that Dwight Howard will be bought out, which would leave Davis as the top option behind Jarrett Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson up front. Davis isn't going to carry you to any Fantasy league titles, but he was one of the best per-minute rebounders in the league last season, ranking eighth among qualified players in total rebound percentage (21.3%).
What it means: We'll see if the Celtics end up making a splash in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes, but for now it remains the status quo in Boston. Baynes projects to again back up Al Horford at center, and while he's developed into a fine bench piece, the Washington State product likely won't be a significant Fantasy contributor in most leagues.
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
The contract: Two years, $16 million
What it means: Harris has made strides in each of the last two years since coming over from Cleveland, and he finished last season shooting 49.1% from the floor and 41.9% from three. Harris may never be more than a quality sixth or seventh man, but he's a serviceable defender and spot-up shooter — without much Fantasy value.
What it means: This was a bit of a head-scratcher considering how many teams had been willing to give McDermott away in recent years, but the Pacers obviously saw something they liked. McDermott never quite clicked in Chicago or Oklahoma City, but he ended last season in Dallas on a strong, 26-game stretch. During that span, McDermott averaged 9.0 points per game and hit 39-of-79 (49.4%) three-point attempts.
Given the level of investment, the Pacers are prepared to offer McDermott a second chance at finding a long-term home. He'll likely back up Bojan Bogdanovic at small forward, while also seeing time at the four behind Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis.
What it means: Tom Thibodeau still looks out for his guys. Rose played a combined 25 games for Cleveland and Minnesota last season and wasn't particularly impressive. While he still shows flashes of his once-elite speed and finishing ability from time to time, Rose is far too inconsistent to be more than a deep option. Barring injuries to Jeff Teague and/or Tyus Jones, don't expect Rose to be Fantasy-relevant in most formats.
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