This first appeared in the July 9 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
LAS VEGAS — With the NBA Summer League underway in Sin City, it’s a good time to assess where the NBA stands one week into free agency.
Most of the big business is done. LeBron James changed teams; Paul George, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant remained with their current ones; and DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Golden State Warriors.
But just because the major moves are made doesn’t mean all of the business is complete. There are still a handful of significant names on the market and other issues outstanding before players can spend what’s left of the summer on vacation — before gearing up for the start of next season.
Here’s a look at them:
1. What will be the resolution to the Kawhi Leonard situation?
Leonard is still a Spur, despite it appearing at many points over the past few weeks that he could be dealt elsewhere. So what does that mean for his future — and does it mean he will be with the Spurs when training camp starts 11 weeks from today?
That very much remains to be seen.
San Antonio has never been an organization that lets the world know what it is thinking, and that remains the case with regard to Leonard. Even studying the team’s moves from this summer could be seen in multiple ways. On one hand, bringing back Rudy Gay on a one-year deal and signing Marco Belinelli to a two-year pact seem designed for San Antonio to be as competitive as possible next season. On the other, not matching Kyle Anderson’s offer sheet — essentially leaving Leonard as the only small forward on the roster — seems the opposite.
Not matching Anderson also could mean the Spurs are trying to leave open as much space as possible to attack free agency next summer — with or without Leonard. With as many as 10 all-stars on the market next summer, the Spurs will be an attractive destination to land one of them if Leonard remains in San Antonio.
But that all comes back to whether the Spurs decide to keep him. For every person who posed that question here at the Summer League, a different answer was given. To some, things have grown too toxic and Leonard has to get shipped out of town. To others, Leonard remains one of the league’s most talented players and every possible avenue to mend fences needs to be pursued before deciding it’s time to end the relationship.
The Philadelphia 76ers have consistently remained atop the list of teams expected to land Leonard. There is an obvious connection between the franchises with Coach Brett Brown, Gregg Popovich’s longtime assistant, now running the Sixers, plus the fact Philadelphia is in the Eastern Conference and the Sixers have the talent to make a deal. The one thing that was consistent was that such a deal will likely hinge on whether Philadelphia makes Markelle Fultz available. If the Sixers do, it’ll be hard for another team to top their offer.
The Toronto Raptors also generated buzz as a potential destination for Leonard. With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, perhaps Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is willing to swing for the fences and move DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry in such a deal.
Further complicating the situation is Leonard’s health, which, until he’s on a court in a live-game situation, will probably remain a mystery.
2. Where will Isaiah Thomas land?
A year ago, Thomas was talking about the Boston Celtics having to “back up the Brinks truck” to sign him.
Now, Thomas is just hoping to find a job in the NBA.
The Orlando Magic seemed like a possible fit, but that appears off the radar now that the team traded for Jerian Grant on Saturday. The Phoenix Suns need a point guard, but Thomas has already worn out his welcome there once. The Charlotte Hornets were in need of a backup to Kemba Walker but filled that need by signing Tony Parker.
Perhaps the New Orleans Pelicans would be willing to take a flier? Perhaps the Denver Nuggets or Memphis Grizzlies, teams with potential needs at backup point, would? If not, there is a possibility Thomas will begin the season without a home.
This saga is the latest reminder that when fans demand loyalty from players, they leave out the fact that this is an insanely fragile business — one that can change with one false step. Thomas is learning that the hard way this summer.
3. What’s next for Carmelo Anthony?
Unlike Thomas, Anthony will have suitors. Three of them, at least: the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
For Houston, Anthony would likely come off the bench as a scoring power forward. Ironically, that’s exactly what Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni wanted him to do when the two clashed while together with the New York Knicks. D’Antoni’s presence was expected to be a roadblock to Anthony’s arrival, but multiple sources said D’Antoni would be fine with Anthony coming to Houston. The phrase “time heals all wounds” comes to mind.
For Los Angeles, Anthony would make it the second straight year LeBron James could team up with one of the members of the “banana boat” crew, after he initially did so with Dwyane Wade in Cleveland last year. The difference is Cleveland had designs on getting back to the NBA Finals. Unless the Lakers swing a trade for another prime-age star (and few people here expect them to land Leonard unless something happens midseason), that would not be the case this season. But Anthony already owns a home in Los Angeles and would likely enjoy the opportunity to play there with one of his closest friends.
Then there is Miami, where Anthony would undoubtedly wind up in the best shape of his career, would potentially be there with Wade (if he returns; more on that in a minute) and would be in a system and culture that would demand him to play a certain way.
The guess here, after speaking to people this weekend, is that the decision is between Houston or Los Angeles. Either would be a fascinating situation.
4. Where will the remaining high-profile restricted free agents wind up?
While Nikola Jokic, Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon and Jusuf Nurkic are all off the market, having re-signed with their current teams, three marquee restricted free agents — Clint Capela, Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker — remain unsigned.
And, as of now, none seem to have much of a chance of getting an offer outside their current teams — the Rockets, Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. That means there are likely to be three lengthy standoffs before deals are struck.
The deal most likely to happen is between Capela and the Rockets, as Houston can ill afford to have Capela go elsewhere and has every incentive to get a deal done. That said, the Rockets are clearly trying to get Capela for as cheap as possible, given they are into the luxury tax and he has no other team making him an offer. The guess here, though, is that Houston will figure out something that makes him happy enough before having him take the qualifying offer and leave the Rockets in the position where they could lose him in a year for nothing.
Smart comes next, and while he has reportedly been frustrated with the way things have played out so far from Boston’s side of things, he is in a situation where no one has given him a real offer. The Celtics, however, are also in a tough spot. They could use a mid-sized contract to help facilitate a potential trade down the road, but Smart signing for much more than his qualifying offer would put them into the luxury tax — something Boston would be smart to avoid, given how many years the Celtics are likely to be in it going forward with the series of expensive players who are about to become free agents (Al Horford and Kyrie Irving next year, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown the year after that, and Jayson Tatum the year after that).
Then there is Parker, who feels destined to take the qualifying offer. The Bucks haven’t acted like a team willing to pay him any kind of serious money this summer — and, after Parker has already torn his anterior cruciate ligament twice, it appears no one else is, either. There is little doubt Parker is a big-time talent. But the health concerns appear too great for anyone to take a huge risk on him.
5. Will future Hall of Famers Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade return for another season?
Both Ginobili and Wade have an open-door policy with the Spurs and Heat, respectively, to play for them next season. Both the Spurs and Heat, however, have no idea whether either of them will return.
Ginobili is under contract for next season, so his choice purely comes down to whether he wants to continue playing. It’s hard to know how much the Leonard situation, plus Parker’s departure, factors into what he’ll do. The world will likely find out, one way or the other, in a tweet from Ginobili announcing his decision later this summer.
Wade, on the other hand, is a free agent. So while it seems unlikely he’ll choose to play anywhere else, he’ll at least have to factor in whether he wants to play for the minimum (which it seems likely he’d have to do).
The hope here, from a pure entertainment standpoint, is that both do. The NBA is better off with Ginobili and Wade a part of it, and both showed last season they can be useful bench pieces, even at these later stages of their careers. Now we will wait and see whether they’ll decide to sign up for another year of NBA life or whether they’re ready to turn the page.
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