Sheridan Hoops Sun, 24 May 2015 15:32:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fantasy Spin: Curry, Warriors Crush Rockets Sun, 24 May 2015 15:32:24 +0000

KentNobody saw that coming. On his home court in a must-win scenario, the fearsome Beard was shot down by a baby-faced assassin. MVP Stephen Curry $10500 hit seven of nine 3-point shots while the entire Rockets team went 5-for-25 from deep. 

It’s all over in the West. Even if James Harden $10500 atones for a horrible night (3-16) and Houston wins Game Four to salvage some pride, the Warriors are up 3-0 and no NBA team has ever squandered that advantage.

The East is just as lopsided. Have some sympathy for Atlanta, with Kyle Korver (ankle) now out for the year and DeMarre Carroll $6700 (knee) hobbling on one good leg, trying to stop a bigger, stronger man on a mission.

DKDraftKings matches your first deposit 100% (up to $600) with bonus funds that convert to cash, plus you get a FREE entry in the $40K Sharpshooter — the top score earns $3,000 and 3,236 of 15,332 teams will get paid.

LeBron James $11400 has put the Cavaliers on his back. Despite the absence of Kevin Love (shoulder) and the injury woes of Kyrie Irving $6800 (knee) they are heading home up 2-0 and appear poised to sweep. The King has meshed so well with his makeshift supporting cast that there’s no reason to rush Kyrie back into action.

Matthew Dellavedova $3500 is filling in capably at PG, Tristan Thompson $6300 owns the glass and Timofey Mozgov $4900 has been a pleasant surprise. Iman Shumpert $5000 is also worth considering, and in the unlikely event that Cleveland falls behind, J.R. Smith $5200 and James Jones $2100 can fire away off the bench.

lineup-5-24The unfortunate Hawks have been overwhelmed. Jeff Teague $7500 and Al Horford $7700 (knee) are not the problem; it’s a strangely ineffective Paul Millsap $7800 and the plague of injuries. Kent Bazemore $2500 will probably start at SG, with Dennis Schroder $4700 certain to get more than 12 minutes off the bench and Mike Scott $2200 also deserving of more run. Even Shelvin Mack $2000 appeared (after two weeks off) when Game Two was out of hand.

Lineup construction for Su-Mo contests depends on your expectations for Harden. I see him attacking the rim more and getting to the line instead of settling for errant jumpers. Using him, James and Curry eats up 62.8% of the salary cap, forcing us to find five bargains. Most of the remaining cap room goes to center, where Festus Ezeli $2300 isn’t really a viable option despite thriving last night in garbage time.

Obviously Draymond Green $7900 is the best PF and Dwight Howard $8800 (knee) deserves to be the top-priced C, but there are affordable compromises. It’s a virtual tossup between Mozgov and Andrew Bogut $5000 in the middle. Delly and Bazemore should outperform their salaries and I’m hopeful that Scott will be at least a break-even play. Plugging Andre Iguodala $4400 into the F spot is not ideal, but Josh Smith $5500 is too costly and the cheaper options are completely unproductive.

If you think Harden and his mates are toast and Game Four will be another Golden State blowout, use Green at PF instead. That $2600 in savings can upgrade one or two other positions.

Pos Premium Midrange Bargain
PG Stephen Curry $10500 Jeff Teague $7500 M. Dellavedova $3500
SG James Harden $10500 Klay Thompson $6800 Kent Bazemore $2300
SF LeBron James $11400 Trevor Ariza $6600 Josh Smith $5700
PF Draymond Green $7900 Terrence Jones $4600 Mike Scott $2200
C Dwight Howard $8800 Al Horford $7700 Andrew Bogut $5000

The Fantasy Spin features DFS advice every day of the NBA season. Follow Kent Williams @SheridanFantasy for updates.

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Sheridan’s Top 50 Free Agents — Nos. 36-50 Sun, 24 May 2015 14:01:02 +0000


36. Omer Asik, C, New Orleans (Unrestricted): He may have the Pelicans over a barrel; GM Dell Demps gave up a first-round pick for him because he knew he needed a big body to alleviate some of the pounding on Anthony Davis at the defensive end.

Now that New Orleans has had a taste of the postseason – however brief it was – there is pressure to keep moving forward and become a contender in the West. That is less likely to happen without Asik, who doesn’t score but doesn’t ask for the ball, either. In today’s perimeter-based NBA, he is a good fit and could command eight figures even as a single-digit scorer.

NOP_Gordon_Eric37. Eric Gordon, G, New Orleans (Player Option): Believe it or not, he is currently a max player. Gordon has a $15.5 million player option for next season but may be reluctant to opt out because he has missed 136 of 312 games since arriving in the Big Easy four years ago while his scoring average has dropped a minimum of 1.6 points in each season.If he opts in, he can jump into 2016 free agency with perhaps a healthy season under his belt, although that’s no guarantee.

He did rediscover his 3-point stroke this season (.448) and played pretty well in his first postseason. Don’t forget that he also didn’t want New Orleans to match the offer sheet he received from Phoenix three summers ago.


38. J.R. Smith, G, Cleveland (Player Option): He would be crazy to opt out, given his $6.4 million number for next season, the Cavs’ preoccupation with retaining Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, and the fact that the light bulb is never really going to come on.

While a half-season alongside LeBron James seemed to calm him down a bit, his two-game playoff suspension proved that he is a cheetah who isn’t changing his spots. He has had his moments in the playoffs, especially in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta, but he is the epitome of a leaky faucet — nobody runs more hot and cold. He would be much better off minding his P’s and Q’s for another season and hitting a fertile market next summer.

Cleveland Cavalier's Media Day

39. Tristan Thompson, F, Cleveland (Restricted): He turned down a four-year, $52 million contract extension in October, which may or may not have been a mistake. Counting all options and qualifying offers, the Cavs already are on the hook for over $100 million in salaries next season. It’s hard to imagine GM David Griffin maxing out Love and giving $13 million annually to Thompson, who threatens a double-double every night and has more than adequately replaced Love in the rotation during the latter stages of the playoffs.Griffin could allow another team to set the market or simply play a little hardball, which would make Thompson unrestricted in 2016. That might be a mistake, too, given that Thompson and LeBron share the same agent, Rich Paul.


40. Timofey Mozgov, C, Cleveland (Team Option): The big man from Russia saved Cleveland’s season, giving the Cavs a presence in the paint on both ends, which allowed them to spread the floor on offense and defend the rim on defense.

His $4.95 million salary for next season seems absurd given his value to the team, and he is as much of a lock as Crawford to have his option picked up.

He will have to wait one more year before hitting it big, and there will be no shortage of teams interested in the big Russian’s efficient two-way game.


41. Arron Afflalo, G, Portland (Player Option): Scheduled to receive $7.5 million next season, Afflalo should probably opt out, even though he appeared to regress somewhat this season.

He already has established himself as a starting shooting guard, a position that currently has a lack of depth league-wide that could make him a highly desirable player.

He also is not at the top of Blazers GM Neil Olshey’s to-do list, which includes free agents Aldridge, Matthews and Lopez and a max extension for Lillard.

Rodney Stuckey headshot42. Rodney Stuckey, G, Indiana (Unrestricted): Has he finally added a 3-pointer to his arsenal? Stuckey shot .390 from distance this season, which is 73 percentage points better than his previous best.

If that number isn’t an outlier, Stuckey is worth way more than the $1.23 million the Pacers stole him for last summer and may be worth more than the $8 million former Pistons GM Joe Dumars paid him. Again, there are plenty of teams that could use an upgrade at shooting guard, and Stuckey has the added bonus of being a better ballhandler that most of them.


43. Patrick Beverley, G, Houston (Restricted): Last summer, Rockets GM Daryl Morey played chicken and lost with RFA Chandler Parsons but somehow landed on his feet thanks in part to the contributions of Beverley, whose season ended early with a wrist injury.

Morey cannot afford to do the same this summer with “Mr. 94 Feet,” who isn’t close to being a pure point guard but is among the top defenders at the position, a valuable commodity given the number of scoring point men in the league right now. And with James Harden operating as a de facto point guard for the Rockets, it is imperative that they keep someone who is young and can operate efficiently at both ends of the floor. Plus, Pablo Prigioni and Jason Terry aren’t getting any younger.


44. Corey Brewer, F, Houston (Unrestricted): He had a player option for $4.9 million for next season but agreed to waive it to facilitate the in-season trade from Minnesota to Houston.

Turning his back on nearly $5 million looked like a bad move at the time but may end up being a good one for Brewer, who had a solid season as a reserve and got off to a flying start in the postseason. He still cannot make 3-pointers with any regularity but runs the floor as well as any wing in the league and is a very good defender. The Rockets need him to ease the burden on Harden and Trevor Ariza but also have possible extensions coming due for Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.

Brandon Bass headshot45. Brandon Bass, F, Boston (Unrestricted): A highly professional player who has missed just eight of 312 games since arriving in Boston four years ago and hasn’t said one discouraging word through a rebuilding process that isn’t quite done.

It would be nice if GM Danny Ainge brought him back, but you have to figure that this is the summer that the Celtics go big-game hunting for a star, and they may need Bass’ cap slot to do it. He made $6.9 million this season, just turned 30 and would make an ideal backup big on a contender, a role he has held in both Orlando and Boston. Someone may give him the mid-level, which will be a bargain a year from now.


46. Amar’e Stoudemire, F-C, Dallas (Unrestricted): His days as a starter or even a 30-minute player in this league are over. But you could see the bounce in his step return after arriving in Dallas. Maybe Stoudemire was just happy to get out of New York, where he did more good than title-hungry Knicks fans gave him credit for. Or maybe it was because the Mavericks reduced his minutes by 33 percent and brought him off the bench, where his scoring savvy obliterated opposing reserves and his limited lateral movement wasn’t as much of a liability.

With a similar role moving forward, there’s no reason to believe he cannot be an effective backup big for three or four more years at the mid-level exception.


47. Jae Crowder, F, Boston (Restricted): Is he the next DeMarre Carroll?

In an admittedly small sample size, Crowder averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 57 games for the Celtics – pretty much double what he averaged in two-plus seasons in Dallas. His 3-point percentage slipped as his volume increased, and that will have to get better if he is going to be a true “3-and-D” guy. But he seems like a rotation piece worth keeping. Boston had 20 active or waived players on its payroll at the end of the season, and Crowder ranked 17th at $920,000. He is in line for a big raise, and no one should be surprised if someone offers him the mid-level exception.

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day

48. Jordan Hill, F-C, LA Lakers (Team Option): Someone had to score and rebound for the Lakers, and Hill did his share with career highs of 12.0 points and 7.9 boards in 26.8 minutes, primarily as a starter.

While that clearly is not his long-term role, he could play into his mid-30s as a team’s fourth big. The Lakers hold a $9 million option for 2015-16 on Hill and may not pick it up with Julius Randle waiting in the wings. Turning Hill loose would allow GM Mitch Kupchak to possibly make a run at two top-tier free agents, although not both at max salaries.

Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014

49. Brandan Wright, F-C, Phoenix (Unrestricted): He played for three teams this season, and the only one that used him properly was Dallas, which made Wright the roll man and threw him easy lobs when opponents didn’t help off corner shooters.

The Mavs also turned him loose on defense, where he had the best stretch of rim protection of his career. Wright will never be a starter in this league, and he should be a better scorer given his physical gifts. But in some ways he is a better fit for today’s NBA than plodders such as Jefferson and Hibbert. He also may be in line for a mid-level exception deal.


dellevadova50. Matthew Dellevadova, G, Cleveland (Restricted): When LeBron HJames describes you as basically the most feisty player on thew team, that is a heck of an endorsement.

Showed his value — and Griffin’s skill in assembling a roster full of quality, capable backups, by filling in for Kyrie Irving at the end of the second round vs. Chicago and during the conference finals against Atlanta. He is smart, he can shoot, he defends like a puppy nipping at your ankles, and he is fearless. Give me a team with two guys like him, and I’ll take my chances against anyone. The big question is what kind of an offer will he receive — and whether Gilbert will match it given the luxury tax implications.

THE NEXT FIVE: Jeremy Lin, G, L.A. Lakers; Gerald Henderson, G, Charlotte (P); Marreese Speights, F-C, Golden State (T); Alan Anderson, G-F, Brooklyn (P); Amir Johnson, F-C, Toronto (U).

TOP 50 FREE AGENTS: Nos. 1-18 | Nos 19-35

Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of Follow him on Twitter.

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Sheridan’s Top 50 Free Agents — Nos. 19-35 Sun, 24 May 2015 14:00:14 +0000

Tim Duncan headshot

19. Tim Duncan, F-C, San Antonio (Unrestricted): At this time next season, Duncan will be doing one of two things: playing for the Spurs or fully ensconced in his next vocation of customizing muscle cars.

Any team outside of San Antonio making him an offer will be wasting its time. In fact, he is probably less likely to change teams than James. The bet here is that Duncan, 39, continues to play for the Spurs on a year-to-year basis until he decides he can no longer be effective – which should be around 2022 or so, judging by his current level.


20. Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas (Unrestricted): The last time he was a free agent was also with Dallas in 2011, when he turned down a one-year, $20 million deal for the security of a four-year, $56 million contract with the New York Knicks.

He turns 33 this summer and has lost a bit of lift and mobility at both ends of the floor but remains a plus rim protector and backstops a defense that would be a sieve without him. There will be interest on the open market, simply because there are not a lot of 7-footers who do what he does. But the Mavs likely will retain him, with $30 million over three years sounding about right.


21. Monta Ellis, G, Dallas (Player Option): He scores 20 points in his sleep, has missed just 10 games in six years and still is on the right side of 30, at least until October. Ellis also took a considerable pay cut in his last contract (three years, $25 million) and likely won’t this time around, which makes his decision to opt out of the final year at $8.7 million almost a certainty.

The Mavs will need him to take even more of the heavy lifting off Dirk Nowitzki’s hands next season, and they can turn Chandler’s pay cut into a pay raise for Ellis before scouring the market for a young point guard who runs the plays that the coach calls.

Milwaukee Bucks

22. Khris Middleton, F, Milwaukee (Restricted): One of the league’s most improved players over the last two seasons and the best player on the Bucks, at least right now. Could be a max guy, as Chris Bernucca discussed in this podcast on Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.

He turns 24 this summer and still has a ways to go before he reaches his ceiling. He almost certainly will get an offer averaging eight figures. The Bucks almost certainly will allow a rival team to set the market. With Giannis Antetokounmpo improving and Jabari Parker returning, the question is whether they match. And as we stated in to intro, it makes no sense not to match.

BOS_Rondo_Rajon (1)

23. Rajon Rondo, G, Dallas (Unrestricted): He is no longer Mozart or Mark Zuckerberg – an incandescent, creative talent whose social difficulties are overlooked. The discernible dropoff in his game since returning from an ACL injury, the frightening free-throw shooting, his inability to knock down jumpers in a space-the-floor league and his stubbornness bordering on stupidity has cost him tens of millions of dollars while assuring he will be wearing a new uniform next season. The question is, where? Both the Knicks and Lakers desperately need upgrades and have long histories of overpaying players, so a max deal is not entirely out of the question. But whichever teams signs him likely will be regretting it by Thanksgiving.


24. Danny Green, G, San Antonio (Unrestricted): He is never going to be a star but is a solid two-way shooting guard who averaged better than a block and steal per game this season while shooting 42 percent from distance. But Green also seems like one of those guys who will never be as good anywhere else as he is with San Antonio, simply because the system maximizes his strengths and hides his weaknesses.

With Manu Ginobili supposedly 50-50 on whether to call it quits, the Spurs have to have some interest in retaining him, perhaps at even double his current $4 million salary. But anything more than that would be a stretch. Remember, Green gets a lot of extra notice because he has played well for stretches for a team that’s always in the postseason. This is what is known as the Austin Croshere Effect.


25. Dwyane Wade, G, Miami (Player Option): He is an institution in Miami rivaling Dan Marino and Joe’s Stone Crabs, so there is zero chance of Wade ending up anywhere else.

He also has to opt out of a $16.1 million player option, and the only reason he would do that is to facilitate other deals Pat Riley may have percolating. There is no doubt he can still get it done on an All-Star level on the offensive end; he nearly pushed Miami into the playoffs by himself. But the defense has been slipping for some time, and he hasn’t played 70 games since the 2010-11 season, another reason why other teams will stay away.


26. Luol Deng, F, Miami (Player Option): He certainly could opt out of his $10 million salary for next season, and some team desperate for stability (but not stardom) at small forward such as Detroit could give him the big contract he has been looking for since leaving Chicago nearly two years ago.

But Deng is 30 with a lot of wear and tear, and if he stays put, he will be part of a starting lineup that includes Dragic, Wade, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside.

If he bides his time, he could cash in big next summer when the cap jumps dramatically.


27. Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana (Player Option): To hit the open market, Hibbert would have to opt out of his final year at $15.5 million. It says here that would be a mistake that could cost him millions.

Hibbert’s plodding, deliberate style is a bad fit for the current space-and-pace NBA, and his frequent disappearing acts – inexplicable for a 7-footer – now have a history of more than a year, going back to the 2014 All-Star break. People like him as a rim protector, but his blocks (1.6) represented a five-year low, and his key stats (10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 44 percent FGs) were not much better than those of Tyler Zeller.

Trail Blazers

28. Wesley Mathews, G, Portland (Unrestricted): His value to the Blazers was illustrated by his absence in March and April. Forget the 3-pointers and hard-nosed play; he was the emotional leader of this group, which fell apart without him and now could be on the verge of a breakup. Matthews was in line for a deal averaging eight figures until he tore his Achilles tendon in early March, which will sideline him until around 2016 and assure him of a somewhat uneventful summer on the open market. And the injury becomes a bargaining chip for the Blazers, who may not have to go much higher than Matthews’ current $7.25 million salary to keep him. Don’t forget that Portland also has the Bird rights on deadline acquisition Arron Afflalo, who figures to opt out.


29. Jeff Green, F, Memphis (Player Option): He can opt out this summer and test the market or stay in Memphis for another year at the same $9.2 million he made this season and hit the market next summer, when more teams will be able to bid for him and he may get a salary bump. His underwhelming series against Golden State did not help his market value.

Keep in mind that if the occasionally frugal Grizzlies retain Gasol, Green remains the third option in their offense, which is the best fit for him but impacts what he can expect as a salary. The further the Grizzlies go in the playoffs, the more his value rises. A very interesting “will he or won’t he” guy when it comes to opting in or opting out.


30. Lou Williams, G, Toronto (Unrestricted): Boy, that Sixth Man Award changes the picture a little, doesn’t it?

Williams is coming off a mid-level deal and will want more in this contract, because (a) he has shown that the ACL tear is ancient history and (b) at 28 years old (yes, just 28; he was born the same day as Game 7 of the 1986 World Series), this will be his last chance at a contract that doesn’t include the words exception or minimum.

Toronto has cap room but also has decisions on Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson.


31. Robin Lopez, C, Portland (Unrestricted): He is never mentioned when discussing the game’s best centers, but he has averaged 10.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in two seasons in the City of Roses, which is not bad for a fifth option on a three-happy team with two alpha dogs.

His best bargaining chips are being a 7-footer, and how Portland would have to scramble for a rim protector if he left (although the Blazers do hold a team option on Chris Kaman for $5 million.)You could see playoff teams such as Atlanta, Dallas or even his previous home of New Orleans being interested if their summers go sideways.


32. Thaddeus Young, F, Brooklyn (Player Option): He is slotted to make $9.97 million next season and could get more if he opts out, either from the Nets or another team looking for a combo forward and glue guy.

Young is similar to Jeff Green in that he is probably most effective as a third offensive option. He also gets a lot of garbage points due to his craftiness around the rim and is improving as a 3-point shooter, although not quite at the level many teams are looking for. He is still only 26 and an absolute sweetheart of a teammate.

Jamal Crawford Headshot

33. Jamal Crawford, G, LA Clippers (Team Option): Doc Rivers the GM could save $4 million by declining Crawford’s option, because only $1.5 million of his $5.67 million for next season is guaranteed.

But we can’t imagine one of our site’s BFFs ever getting to the open market, not when you consider that Crawford remains a threat to win the Sixth Man Award every season – even at 35 years old – and Doc Rivers the coach won’t have a bench if he turns him loose. He is starting to break down a little, but should be able to snag another multi-year deal amid next summer’s frenzy.


34. Josh Smith, F, Houston Rockets (Unrestricted): After being made the scapegoat – unfairly or not – in both Atlanta and Detroit, you get the sense that he has found some peace in Houston alongside former AAU teammate Dwight Howard, even if their series against Golden State did not exactly go as planned.

Don’t forget that the Pistons are paying him $13.5 million in each of the next two seasons, which makes taking less money for a smaller role with a contender much more palatable. If he stays with the Rockets, his salary should be directly commensurate with Houston’s playoff success this postseason. If logic flies out the window the way it did when he signed with Detroit, anything is possible.


35. David West, F, Indiana Pacers (Player Option): It’s hard to envision him opting out of the $12.6 million he is due next season, given his age (35 in August) and his dropoff in scoring over the last two years.

His toughness is always a welcome commodity, but his midrange game is a funky fit in today’s NBA. One factor could be the direction Indiana takes going forward and whether West sees title contention in his future. Remember, he correctly picked the Pacers over the Celtics for that same reason four years ago.


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Sheridan’s Top 50 Free Agents — Late-May Edition Sun, 24 May 2015 13:59:58 +0000


All anybody wants to talk about these days is two guys — Stephen Curry, who has shattered the record for most 3-pointers in a postseason — and LeBron James, who has an opt out in his contract that he’d be nuts to exercise. He’ll be a free agent in the summer of 2016, after he has had two chances to bring that elusive first professional sports title to Cleveland since 1964.

We’re about to have a heck of an NBA Finals, and that’ll keep us occupied over the first couple weeks of June. But then comes the draft, which gets fans of 30 teams hyper-interested, and then free agency — a time when interest in the NBA reaches a fever pitch that makes the Finals, by comparison, look like a D-League tournament.

moneypileIn free agency, nearly everyone has a chance to make the moves that’ll turn them into a champion.

In the finals, only two teams have a chance to validate all the hard work and good fortune that have come their way.

Which brings us to Draymond Green and Matthew Dellevadova —  a pair of players who were largely off the radar outside of Oakland and Cleveland in the lead-up to June. Yes, Green was a known commodity to anyone charting the Most Improved Player runner-up race behind Jimmy Butler, and Dellevadova was right in the wheelhouse of folks who follow Australian basketball and the exploits of former St. Mary’s (Calif.) players.

But now?

Both are not just making big names for themselves, they are making big bucks. The longer David Lee remains a garbage time player, the more Green boosts his worth. The longer Kyrie Irving remains hobbled, the more Dellevadova gets folks in the Northern Hemisphere familiar with the chant “oy, oy, oy.”

draymondgreenTake Game 3 of the Western Conference finals as an example. He supplemented Curry’s 40 points with for 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, and the Warriors were plus-36 in his 36 minutes of playing time in a game that was decided by 35 points — on the road, no less. Not only can Green fill up the box score, he can defend four positions, maybe five. Barring the sun rising in the West instead of the East, he’ll get the assignment on LeBron in the finals. If he emerges a champion, it’s hard to argue that he is not a max player. You average nearly 14 points, more than 10 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the postseason, and rival owners find reasons to open their wallets.

Max players have been the theme of our free agent lists as we have moved through the spring, and with good reason. Being a max player in 2015 is not the same as being a max player a year from now, in the summer of 2016.

I had a long talk with DeMarre Carroll of the Hawks on the night Atlanta eliminated Brooklyn from the playoffs, and the discussion turned toward money — as in how much money Carroll will be worth on the open market, and whether it would be worth the risk for him to sign a one-year deal and then hope to cash in big-time in the summer of 2016 when the salary cap jumps to $90 million.

Since our conversation, Carroll put together a string of six straight 20-point performances before  in the second round vs. Washington before injuring his knee — and playing through the pain — in the conference finals against Cleveland. During that six-game span, Carroll went gone 49-for-79 from the field (62 percent) and 18-for-32 from 3-point range (.562) from 3-point range. Only one voter (out of 130) included him on his Most Improved Player ballot, so props to Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell for that vote (even though his ballot did not include Jimmy Butler, who won the award).

Like Green, Carroll and Dellavadova are playing themselves into mega-contracts — along with elevated rankings in this latest list of the top 50 Free Agents.

And when we are talking about max deals, the math — and the money — gets quite interesting.

That’s where we get to the risk-reward part of Carroll’s summer decision. As a player with six years of experience in the NBA, he is eligible for a max contract worth a little less than 25 percent of the salary cap, which is projected to be $67.1 million. That would make for a starting salary of roughly $16.3 million, which totals out to $94 million over five years if he stays with Atlanta and does a five-year deal.

But what if Carroll decided to roll the dice on the belief that he will be regarded as a max player one year from now. By then, Carroll will have logged 7 seasons in the NBA, which bumps his max up to a little less than 30 percent of the cap. We would then be talking about a first-year salary of $25 million, which translates into a five-year, $144 million deal if he gets maxed out by the Hawks.

If you are Carroll, is that $50 million in extra money a risk worth taking?

That is the type of question a lot of max-level players will be asking themselves this summer, a list that includes Goran Dragic, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez — a pair of players who can opt-in to the final years on their current contracts and hit the market in the summer of 2016 looking for MegaMillions jackpot contracts. The summer of 2015 will feature a free agent market that will be the last as we have come to know it.

The summer of 2016 will be bedlam as the money from the new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal kicks in. And because the Players Association refused to adopt the NBA’s proposal of “smoothing” in the revenue, the salary cap will jump an astronomical 32 percent to approximately $89 million with a projected tax line of $108 million.

Here are the teams with significant potential cap room this summer: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors.

Here’s who has significant potential cap room in the summer of 2016: Every team.

moneypileUnder normal circumstances, players such as James, Love, Lopez and Dragic wouldn’t give a second thought to opting out and signing a new contract at a fixed percentage of a slightly higher cap. Doing so would lock them into that salary and the corresponding raises.

But given the anticipated increase in 2016, those players have to consider opting in and becoming free agents next summer, when the fixed percentage would be a much larger number.

The increase also impacts teams, which will be trying to do as much business as possible this summer.

There’s almost no sense in taking a tough negotiating stance with a restricted free agent and forcing him to sign his qualifying offer, because that will only make him more expensive as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

So don’t be surprised if players such as Carroll, Tobias Harris or even Green or Khris Middleton receive max contracts, because those deals will be downright bargains compared to the size of max contracts a year from now. And teams that may have been apprehensive about exceeding the luxury tax to sign a player this summer may bite the bullet and pay the tax because the cap increase next summer almost ensures that they will not be a tax team in 2016, avoiding the higher repeater penalties.

This is our fourth edition of our free agency rankings, and we will continue to update it as the spring moves along.

We are factoring in the relative interest in each player, his willingness to change teams, whether he is unrestricted or restricted, has a player option or team option, skill, age and any other mitigating factors. Understand, Rajon?

MEM_Gasol_Marc1. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis (Unrestricted): This isn’t his first free agent rodeo. Remember, the Rockets signed him to a four-year, $55 million offer sheet in the post-lockout frenzy of 2011, which the Grizzlies matched. But this is his last shot at a monster contract, and no team can offer Gasol what the Grizzlies can. Sorry, Knicks fans, but sources tell me the difference between what Gasol can make by staying in Tennessee, compared to what he would lose in New York through higher income taxes and lower annual raises, will take them out of the equation. There is also the overlooked factor that Gasol has lived in Memphis since high school, when his brother was the Grizzlies’ alpha dog. So he’s probably not going anywhere, although the Spurs likely will kick the tires.

POR_Aldridge_LaMarcus (1)

2. LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland (Unrestricted): Less than a year ago, Aldridge said he wanted to be “the best Blazer ever,” which could only be done by staying in the Pacific Northwest. But he also turned down a three-year, $55 million extension.

Most assumed that was because he wanted the more lucrative five-year deal this summer — and Aldridge said as much. This will be Aldridge’s third contract and likely his last chance to truly explore free agency. The allure of playing for Dallas or San Antonio in his home state is strong. And the Blazers’ first-round exit from the playoffs doesn’t help.


3. Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio (Restricted): It doesn’t matter whether the Spurs are proactive and don’t allow their future cornerstone to get to the market, or reactive and allow another team the formality of making an offer. Leonard will become the first Spurs player to receive a true max deal – not an eight-figure average, like Tony Parker; not something slightly below the max, like Tim Duncan – since Duncan’s second contract in 2001.

Think of all the poorly run teams that have given max deals to undeserving players in that span. The Spurs have not handed out one and have four championships to show for it. And the beauty of Leonard’s deal is that it will be below market value once the new TV money explodes the cap.

Los Angeles Clippers Media Day

4. DeAndre Jordan, C, LA Clippers (Unrestricted): Max guy. Not many players can get you 20 rebounds on a nightly basis. Remember when Dwight Howard used to do that?

A valid argument can be made that Jordan should have been both an All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year this season. His horrifying free-throw shooting is a minor tradeoff for his paint presence on both ends and the fact that he is the NBA’s current iron man, having not missed a game since the league returned from its last lockout. It is safe to say that Steve Ballmer can afford to keep him on a five-year max deal, and I expect that to come his way.


5. Jimmy Butler, G, Chicago (Restricted): No one – not Leonard, not Brook Lopez, not Draymond Green, not Enes Kanter – has been on a more sustained or successful salary drive than Butler, who turned down $40 million over four years in October.

Since then, he has become Chicago’s leading scorer, earned his first All-Star appearance, likely will win Most Improved Player and could be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. With Derrick Rose returning to form at times in the playoffs, it’s easy to forget that Butler and Pau Gasol did the heavy lifting for much of the season. And like the Spurs with Leonard, the Bulls will have one of the game’s top shooting guards locked up for below market value once the TV money kicks in.


6. Greg Monroe, F, Detroit (Unrestricted): Do the Detroit Pistons consider him a max player? They didn’t a year ago, which is why Monroe and his agent, David Falk, accepted the qualifying offer and decided to see what comes their way in July 2015.

This is the guy I can see the Knicks making the hardest push for, especially since they are drafting fourth and will not be able to get Karl Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor. … but again, the actual dollar difference (when accounting for local taxes) between taking a five-year max deal from Detroit vs. a four-year max deal from New York is beyond substantial. For now, he appears to be the Knicks’ No. 1 target, as colleague Mike Scotto reported a few months ago.

Phoenix Suns

7. Goran Dragic, G, Miami (Player Option): He isn’t going anywhere. His agent, Bill Duffy, made quite the power play in getting him dealt to Miami, which removed the Knicks and Lakers from the equation in terms of potential destinations.

If he opts out, the Heat will make him a max offer, and that will be that. If he waits a year and stays healthy, the same thing will be true. There will be parties in Slovenia and South Beach, and the Heat will have their best point guard since … Tim Hardaway Sr.?

Cleveland Cavalier's Media Day

8. Kevin Love, F, Cleveland (Player Option): The biggest mystery guy on this list. He has become a third wheel with the Cavaliers, and his first career playoff trip ended with a serious shoulder injury that likely will beep him out of action until training camp.

He has about 100 million reasons to opt out of his contract, which is why many believe he almost certainly will. But if he waits a year and puts up better numbers in Year 2 in Cleveland … ? You could argue this one several ways. Does a return to Southern California where he played college ball seem more appealing? How about Boston, where he can accelerate the rebuilding plan? In the end, maybe the Cavs would have been better off keeping Andrew Wiggins.


9. Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn (Player Option): If he opts out, he will get a max deal because he spent the last two months showing a newfound desire to rebound and defend alongside his polished offensive game. That might scare off Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who no longer has the drunken-sailor approach he brought to the NBA when he arrives a half-decade ago. Lopez seems to be an ideal fit for the Lakers, with the added bonus of being a California native. But there will always be questions about his long-term health due to his history of foot injuries. Here’s another possibility: Lopez rolls the dice on himself, opts in and adds tens of millions to his next contract by working off the bigger salary cap number in 2016.


10. Draymond Green, F, Golden State (Restricted): There is no doubt that Green’s salary is going to jump from six figures ($920,000) to eight figures. The Warriors already are in tax territory next season, when Klay Thompson’s extension kicks in. They have indicated that they are willing to take the one-year hit in order to keep Green, whose improved offense and ability to defend multiple positions is invaluable. GM Bob Myers would love to move David Lee and the $15.5 million on the final year of his contract, which is not impossible given that it is an expiring deal. With no other big names to re-sign, the Warriors can let another team set the market for Green, even if that is a max offer. If that happens, (a) Golden State will become the third team in NBA history with five eight-figure players and (b) Stephen Curry will be their fifth-highest paid player.

Cleveland Cavalier's Media Day

11. LeBron James, F, Cleveland (Player Option): Relax, Cavs fans. He isn’t going anywhere, which is why he is randomly slotted here.

The only way James doesn’t finish his career in his home state is if there is some sort of irreparable disconnect between him and owner Dan Gilbert that drives The King away. And if James went elsewhere, he would need a security force that would make President Obama blush. However, James could temporarily opt out and re-sign if it somehow would help Cleveland improve its roster, and technically he would be on the market. Depending on how you look at it, he could be first on this list or not even on it. So we arbitrarily placed him here.


12. Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta (Unrestricted): One of the best signings of the last two years, as the Hawks paid less than $10 million annually for a tough, team-oriented player who has back-to-back All-Star appearances and continues to expand his game beyond the arc to remain relevant in a shooter’s league.

At 30 years old, he will be looking for a max deal, and the Hawks – thanks to absentee GM Danny Ferry’s previous moves – have plenty of cap room to satisfy Millsap and keep their intertwined nucleus together. The only question was lame duck’s ownership willingness to pony up and make the debit ledger less attractive to a potential buyer. Now that billionaire Antony Ressler’s group has stepped forward with $850 million, all systems are go.

Oklahoma City Thunder

13. Reggie Jackson, G, Detroit (Restricted): It’s hard to envision GM Stan Van Gundy allowing both Monroe and Jackson to get away in free agency. But he does have a couple of hole cards that may help in retaining Jackson. One is that Jackson’s production didn’t make the Pistons winners. Another is Detroit still has Brandon Jennings, although he will be coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Keep in mind that Jackson forced his way out of Oklahoma City because he wanted to start and turned down an extension offer. The guess here is that Van Gundy will allow the market to set Jackson’s value before deciding to match. What he will not do is play hardball as he did with Monroe, because that would make Jackson an unrestricted free agent in 2016, when the bags of TV money show up.


14. Enes Kanter, F-C, Oklahoma City (Restricted): Probably the best pickup of the trade deadline, even though his awful defense in the pick-and-roll and at the rim – coupled with Serge Ibaka’s absence – made the Thunder look like an ABA team down the stretch. But Kanter’s offense is a welcome addition for a team that normally uses its centers as screeners and goons, and his effectiveness – if not his production – should be even better when lining up alongside Ibaka and Kevin Durant, whose free agency clock is ticking loudly. Now all GM Sam Presti has to do is convince skinflint owner Clay Bennett to look beneath the sofa cushions for the eight figures annually that it will take to keep Kanter, either with an offer right out of the gate or by matching another team’s pitch. That means luxury tax territory for one season until the cap jumps next summer. How OKC deals with Kanter is a direct referendum on Bennett.


15. DeMarre Carroll, F, Atlanta (Unrestricted): Along with Green and Middleton, Carroll figures to receive one of the league’s biggest pay raises this offseason from his $2.44 million salary. Scotto has him in his five free agent sleepers column, but these playoffs are showcasing Carroll’s skills to a much wider audience. He has become one of the best “3-and-D” guys in the league, and his numbers (career highs of 12.6 points, .487 FGs and .395 threes) were certainly enhanced by playing alongside four All-Stars in a system that took advantage of his willingness to screen and cut rather than just stationing him in a corner. Millsap remains Atlanta’s priority, but with the Hawks under the cap this season and new ownership soon to be in place, it’s hard to imagine him heading elsewhere.


16. Tobias Harris, F, Orlando (Restricted): Just 22, Harris is going to get max money; you can bet your bottom dollar on that. But here’s two questions: Does he deserve it? Everything he has accomplished has been with awful teams. And will the Magic match? The educated guess here used to be yes, because that is what Rob Hennigan has told Magic season-ticket holders. But the proof will come when the 72-hour matching window begins to tick away, and the Magic have to decide if there may be too much collateral damage from having Harris making significantly more money than teammate Nikola Vucevic, whose $12.8 million salary in 2018-19 might make him the NBA’s most underpaid player. (That title will be held for the next several seasons by Stephen Curry, the MVP, who is under contract for $11.4 million next season and $12.1 million the following season.)


17. Brandon Knight, G, Phoenix (Restricted): He was Jimmy Butler with training wheels, unable to reach accord on an extension with Milwaukee in October, elevating his game to borderline All-Star level and setting himself up for a huge payday as a restricted free agent this summer. Then Bucks management – likely influenced by ownership’s struggles in getting taxpayers to pick up more of the tab for a new arena – got out from under Knight’s impending payday and dealt him to Phoenix, where his season dovetailed with an injury. But Knight is just 23 and is about as close to a max salary point guard as you will find out there this summer. In today’s NBA, he is a much better option than Rajon Rondo.

Charlotte Bobcats

18. Al Jefferson, C, Charlotte (Player Option): Michael Jordan is a billionaire now, according to Forbes, and if you are Jefferson, you opt out of your deal and get a new one for five years at max money. If you know your boss can afford it, and if you know your boss has no choice … this is what you do.

And if Jordan hesitates, you remind him of the max money he offered Gordon Hayward last summer when the team put Hayward’s likeness on the Jumbotrons inside and outside the arena. Yes, leverage is good.

CONTINUE READING: Nos. 19-35  |  Nos 36-50

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SH Blog: Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy connected to Pelicans job Sun, 24 May 2015 03:46:57 +0000

With all due respect to Marc Gasol and Greg Monroe, this summer’s most coveted free agent might not be a player at all. And he might not even get to free agency.

The relationship between Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office has deteriorated to the point where it’s widely expected, almost assumed, that he won’t coach another game for Chicago. But there’s been no public word on that front. Here’s K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune on Thibs and the Bulls:

Tom_Thibodeau_croppedBut this delay isn’t some leverage ploy or negotiating tactic. If the Bulls, whose second-round pick coincidentally is headed to the Magic, wanted a second-round pick, they would buy one. This is, after all, a franchise that ponied up $3 million to move up and acquire Luol Deng’s draft rights in 2004 and paid an undisclosed amount to do the same for Nikola Mirotic in 2011.

No, this decision is way above getting, say, a second-round pick from the Pelicans or Magic. Especially because sources indicate the Magic’s interest in Thibodeau has been way overstated, if not nonexistent to this point. And Yahoo Sports reported the Pelicans’ interest in Thibodeau lies more with team President Mickey Loomis than general manager Dell Demps, who, the website reported, fired strong-willed coach Monty Williams in part over internal battles.

The Pelicans have interviewed Warriors’ assistant coach Alvin Gentry and reported Friday night they also are considering Jeff Van Gundy.

General manager Gar Forman has said consistently he and top basketball executive John Paxson make all decisions based on what’s best for the franchise and the players. Forman has applied this even for unpopular decisions, like not renewing assistant coach Ron Adams’ contract in 2013.

That’s the same premise underlying the decision on Thibodeau, whose outside options appear to be drying up.

Thibodeau is far from the only big name publicly tied to the vacant New Orleans job, which has to be a pretty plum position: where else can a coach take over a playoff team that young, without any stars’ contracts about to expire, and with a player as good as Anthony Davis? There’s been no shortage of great coaching opportunities coming open recently, with Steve Kerr and Billy Donovan landing some pretty nice gigs with the Warriors and Thunder, but the Pelicans’ job has to be on the same level. Why else would it attract Jeff Van Gundy, who’s been out of coaching for years and publicly removed himself from consideration for every job that has been even so much as rumored to be interested in him?

Marc Stein of reports:

jeffvangundyJeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks, sources said, has so far declined to interview for the Pelicans’ job, with Yahoo! Sports reporting this week that Brooks is considering sitting out a year to focus on family and perhaps sample TV work, despite interest from all three teams with openings: New Orleans, Orlando and Denver.

The other team that’s been linked to Thibodeau is the Orlando Magic. While not as exciting as the prospect of coaching Anthony Davis, the Magic have quietly assembled a solid young roster, though they’ll pick in the high lottery again this year, and the roster kind of seems like it’s full of nice complementary players without a true star. Still, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, and Nik Vucevic are all pretty talented players, and if most of them stay in Orlando and the team adds a genuine star, they could be cooking with gas.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports updates us on the Orlando coaching search:

Scott_SkilesScott Skiles has emerged as the strong frontrunner to become head coach of the Orlando Magic, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has discussed the opening with several possible candidates, but Skiles has clearly separated himself in the process, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Although Orlando has thus far shown no inclination to rush into a hiring, discussions could soon advance into contract negotiations, league sources said.

Skiles, 51, has been the preferred choice of Orlando ownership, which has been fond of him since his playing days with the Magic in the 1990s. Skiles fits the candidate profile that Hennigan privately outlined for the coaching search: a successful head-coaching résumé that includes strong emphasis on upgrading Orlando’s defense and accountability.

In head-coaching stops in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, Skiles developed a reputation for turning bad teams into competitive ones, and tightening porous defensive units. Nevertheless, Skiles also built a reputation for burning out teams and wearing out a path to his exit.

Orlando had interest in discussing its opening with Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, but the Magic haven’t wanted to offer draft compensation for the chance to acquire him, league sources said.

The other team with a vacancy right now is the Denver Nuggets, who, while they were successful just a few years ago, aren’t seeming to attract the type of candidates that the Pelicans, Magic, and, earlier, Thunder vacancies have.

Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post has this update on the Nuggets’ search:

Mike D'Antoni“It’s beneficial for us on some level to be patient,” Kroenke said. “I think more candidates have opened up since the end of the season. Based on different organizations wanting to go different directions with different guys, I think there was never a time when we wanted to rush into anything.

“Until you have that guy that you know is the one that you want, I think it really benefits you to talk to as many people as you can. Because also during the course of these interviews you’re getting to pick some of the best basketball minds that are out there. That’s an incredible benefit to the process.”

The Nuggets finished the season with Melvin Hunt as their interim head coach. He’s in the mix for the job along with others such as Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry. The Nuggets have talked to other candidates as well.

“We have a list of traits that we have identified that are incredibly important to us going forward,” Kroenke said. “And we’ve had several conversations with people already to kind of identify if those guys have the traits that we’re looking for.”


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Fantasy Spin: Hawks Grounded By Injuries; Rockets Desperate Sat, 23 May 2015 13:12:03 +0000

KentThere are really only three teams left in the NBA playoffs. After a fantastic regular season, Atlanta is simply decimated by injuries.

Al Horford $7700 (knee) and Kyle Korver $5000 (ankle) each limped off the court last night, though Horford did return. DeMarre Carroll $6700 (knee) showed courage but limited ability in his 34 minutes, as the Cavaliers won both road games and appear poised to sweep. Thabo Sefolosha (NYPD) would be quite useful if he could walk.

It’s not as if Cleveland is anywhere near healthy, with two-thirds of its Big Three on the sidelines. Kyrie Irving $6800 (knee) got last night off and will not be needed on Sunday; extended rest might help him recover before taking on the Western Conference champions. Kevin Love (shoulder) is out for the year. However, LeBron James $11400 is capable of a triple-double every night and the Cavs’ supporting cast is playing very well.

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Matthew Dellavedova $3500 is finally PG-eligible at DK; he logged 37 minutes and accumulated 26 FPTS in Game Two. Iman Shumpert $5000 scored 16 points including 4-6 from deep and Tristan Thompson $6300 grabbed 16 rebounds. As expected, J.R. Smith $5200 cooled off a little from his scorching Game One but Timofey Mozgov $4900 continues to be a factor.

Several scenarios are possible in Houston tonight, most of them depending on Dwight Howard $8500 and his gimpy knee. The big man is probable after a gutsy effort on Thursday (19 PTS, 17 REB in 40 minutes) and we saw how resilient the Rockets are in coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Clippers. James Harden $9800 is a must start, but Howard costs almost twice as much as Andrew Bogut $4600, is unlikely to be twice as good and is one bad step from aggravating that injury.

lineup-5-23Josh Smith $5700 was awful in Game Two and can only improve; Terrence Jones $4600 is cheaper and more reliable. Trevor Ariza $6600 also needs to bounce back from a sub-par outing — all three forwards will be more productive if Dwight regresses at all. It’s really a shame that Patrick Beverley (wrist) isn’t available to make Stephen Curry $10500 work harder. Jason Terry $4200 is still a useful role player but as a starting PG, can’t check the MVP.

If the Warriors win either of the two road games, they can wrap this up in five. Draymond Green $7900 and Harrison Barnes $4900 were more productive in Game One because Bogut was ill and Steve Kerr went small; again the matchups depend on Howard. Andre Iguodala $4300 and Shaun Livingston $3200 also gain value when the true centers are on the bench.

Perhaps most important in DFS is the difference in pace. There’s no incentive for Cleveland to run up the score (the teams combined for just 26 points in the fourth quarter on Friday) so by comparison, the West is a track meet.

My sample lineup for Sa-Su contests is extreme stars-and-scrubs. Using Curry, Harden and James costs $31700, which leaves just enough to afford Bogut and Jones at C and PF, with only $9100 to fill the G, F and Util spots. I was surprised to see Mike Scott $2200 get 26 minutes last night — more than Mike Muscala $2400 and Pero Antic $2100 combined — and Kent Bazemore $2500 is only relevant if Carroll can’t play.

Scott was good enough after sitting out two weeks with DNP-CDs that Mike Budenholzer may use him again. Another ultra-cheap guy to consider is James Jones $2100, who is actually a stretch four but qualifies only at SG for some reason. Getting 23 minutes because Irving was out, he was left open in the corner five times and swished three, adding a few defensive stats.

Pos Premium Midrange Bargain
PG Stephen Curry $10500 Jeff Teague $7500 M. Dellavedova $3500
SG James Harden $9800 Klay Thompson $7000 Kent Bazemore $2300
SF LeBron James $11400 Trevor Ariza $6600 Josh Smith $5700
PF Draymond Green $7900 Terrence Jones $4600 Mike Scott $2200
C Dwight Howard $8500 Al Horford $7700 Andrew Bogut $4600

The Fantasy Spin features DFS advice every day of the NBA season. Follow Kent Williams @SheridanFantasy for updates.

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Eisenberg: LeBron plays near-perfect Game 2 as Cavs take control Sat, 23 May 2015 11:00:02 +0000

jacob eisenbergATLANTA — These are not the same Atlanta Hawks we grew accustomed to seeing in the regular season — both offensively and defensively. Hawks

Need proof? Atlanta’s 15 assists on Friday night tied a season low.

Need more proof? Cleveland closed the game with 10 consecutive misses from beyond the 3-point line and still finished at 40 percent from deep as a team.

While Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll brought the Philips Arena crowd to its feet during pre-game introductions with a surprise start, it was LeBron James who quickly hushed the building as he attacked a hobbled Carroll on nearly every play to start the game.

“It’s always difficult to guard LeBron,” Carroll said. “He’s a physical player and a smart player. He knew I was injured so he came at me with full force. I would’ve done the same if he was injured. At the end of the day, he’s a great player and he led his team to victory.”

James had 30 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers, who led by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter en route to a 94-82 victory. It marked the 74th time in James’ career in which he finished with 30 points or more in the postseason, tying him for the fourth most all time with Jerry West.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary but I’m sort of running of superlatives for that guy,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “He’s just a great basketball player. Everything more that you would add to that is probably better than I can say.”

James was in complete control of his team’s offense, leading them to hit 12 of their first 20 3-pointers. Eight of James’ first nine assists were on 3-pointers, helping blow open the game for Cleveland in the third quarter.

“I’ve seen every coverage that a defense can offer me.” James said. “I always try to be a triple threat on the floor – to score, to pass, to rebound. I have a lot of confidence in my teammates to put it up and shoot it. I just try to put the ball exactly where it needs to be for a catch and shoot or catch and drive.”

The biggest benefactor from James’ passes was Iman Shumpert, who made 4-of-6 from deep and finished with 16 points:

“A lot of the time, you find yourself open with a lot of guys cheating,”  Shumpert said. “You only got to tell [James] one time that someone’s looking a little too much and he’ll find you and snap the ball at you. There’s energy in the ball when you get it and you just have to knock them down.”

The Cavaliers kept knocking them down. James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova (starting in place of injured Kyrie Irving) combined to shoot 5-of-12 from deep after combining to shoot 0-of-6 in Game 1.

“You always get the excitement of two guys being able to benefit from a pass,” James said. “When I’m able to put pressure on a defense and then make a pass to a teammate and he’s able to knock it down, I’ve always gotten the excitement of that more than anything. I have a gift and that’s why I’m able to keep defenses off guard … They can’t really make me do what I don’t want to do.”

Atlanta simply didn’t have answers for Cleveland’s shooters.

“When you combine really good perimeter shooting – I think they were 64 percent from three at the half – with good penetration and a good attack game, that’s when you become very difficult to guard,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve got to be better getting out to shooters. They’ve played well the two games and I don’t think we’ve been at our best. You’ve got to give them credit.”

On the other end of the floor, Atlanta’s offense was surprisingly stagnant. Each player uncharacteristically took a turn trying to get his own offense going. For a team reliant on ball movement, the ball seemed to stop too much, allowing Cleveland to load up on defense.

“We said at the end of the game that we played too much isolation ball,” Carroll admitted. “We didn’t play our team ball. That’s what really hurt us. The biggest thing going into Game 3, we’ve got to look at film and get back to playing Atlanta Hawks basketball. I think we didn’t do that tonight.”

Cleveland also took advantage of second chance opportunities off the glass. The Cavaliers collected 11 offensive rebounds on 43 opportunities, meaning they essentially grabbed an offensive rebound on every fourth missed shot.

“Offensive rebounding is a weapon at a number of different levels,” Blatt explained. “It’s also going to help your transition defense when the other team is going to have to take the ball out of the net more often than not. Our guys are going aggressively but intelligently to the glass. When they can get it, good. When not, they are getting back. That is something we are going to have to continue to concentrate on.”

Cleveland’s defense was also phenomenal, limiting Atlanta to just six 3-pointers on 26 attempts. Atlanta’s four All-Stars combined for just 40 points and two of them – Kyle Korver and Al Horford – left the game due to injuries. Korver left with a sprained right ankle and did not return, while Horford returned shortly after a right knee scare.

Paul Millsap, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, registered a season-low four points and had minimal court presence. To sum it up, Atlanta will need to change a lot of things if it wants to beat Cleveland.

If Game 2 wasn’t a must-win for the Hawks, you can be sure that Game 3 on Sunday will be. Only 16 teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-7 series, and James’ teams are 14-0 when opening a 2-0 lead.

Jacob Eisenberg just graduated from Emory University and works as an NBA columnist for Sheridan Hoops, specializing in analytics-based scouting reports for individual players. Follow him on Twitter and check out his website.


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Fantasy Spin: Rockets Down 0-2 Despite Harden, Howard Heroics Fri, 22 May 2015 15:38:13 +0000

KentAnother fantastic finish, another home win for the Warriors. James Harden $9800 was spectacular in defeat (38 PTS, 10 REB, 9 AST) and Dwight Howard $8500 (knee) not only played, he double-doubled in 40 minutes. The big man will be “questionable” every game, but it’s hard to imagine him not giving all he can in a must-win Game Three.

Unfortunately for Houston, Josh Smith $5700 went 5-for-17 and Trevor Ariza $6600 was quiet. Their third-best player was Terrence Jones $4600, who came off the bench for 12 points and blocked three shots. At home tomorrow night, expect the supporting cast to improve and the Rockets to climb back into an exciting series.

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Stephen Curry $10500 was MVP-like with five more triples — all in the first quarter — for 33 points and Andrew Bogut $4600 must have recovered from his flu or hay fever, as he was extremely active at both ends of the floor. The Aussie hit seven of nine shots, grabbed eight boards and had five blocks in a complete turnaround from a lackluster Game One. As a result of him playing 31 minutes, the Warriors didn’t use a small lineup as much. Every playoff game is great in real life, but no two are alike for DFS purposes.

In Friday-Saturday contests at DK, which close at 8:30 Eastern, I’m going to give Curry a night off. It’s just a hunch. Harden will be unstoppable and combining him with LeBron James $11400 means being thrifty at every other position.

lineup-5-22The big question mark tonight is the left knee of DeMarre Carroll $6700, who might be Atlanta’s most important player. The good news is, there’s no ligament damage; it looked much worse than a bone bruise. The bad news is, he’s in a lot of pain, though he did take part in shootaround this morning, wearing a brace. If DMC can’t guard LBJ — a very difficult task even at full strength — it will be up to Paul Millsap $8000 (too slow) and Kent Bazemore $2300 (too small) so the King is a decent bet for a triple-double.

Jeff Teague $7300 is the best daily play for the Hawks. He scored 27 in a Game One defeat and Kyrie Irving $7000 (knee) is somewhere between questionable and doubtful. Matthew Dellavedova $3800 would start at PG if Ky can’t go, and while he’d be a decent bargain in DFS, he can’t stop Teague. Hot as the sun side of Mercury on Wednesday, J.R. Smith $4900 hit eight 3-pointers. Tristan Thompson $6000 and Timofey Mozgov $4800 both played well.

This evening, desperate to split at home, Al Horford $7900 and Millsap must improve. Kyle Korver $5200 sure picked a bad week to give up scoring; he’s a mere 9-for-27 over his last five overall and has missed 13 of his last 16 attempts from deep.

My daily Short List is an attempt to narrow down the player pool to 15, three at each position in various price ranges. It’s a tool to assist with lineup construction. Teague being in bold does not mean I think he’s better than Curry; that’s a compromise to save $3200. It’s the same with Jones and Bogut. When you key on two expensive mega-stars, you have to plug in some second or third choices elsewhere. Bazemore isn’t as good as J.R. Smith, but he’s less than half the price. If Carroll starts, I’ll replace Bazemore with Smith, Dellavedova or Dennis Schroder $4800 and plug in someone cheap at Util.

Pos Premium Midrange Bargain
PG Stephen Curry $10500 Jeff Teague $7300 Dennis Schroder $4800
SG James Harden $9800 Klay Thompson $7200 Kent Bazemore $2300
SF LeBron James $11400 Trevor Ariza $6600 Josh Smith $5700
PF Paul Millsap $8000 Draymond Green $7900 Terrence Jones $4600
C Dwight Howard $8500 Al Horford $7900 Andrew Bogut $4600

The Fantasy Spin features DFS advice every day of the NBA season. Follow Kent Williams @SheridanFantasy for updates.

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Ladewski: Curry v. Harden is a matchup that shouldn’t end too soon Fri, 22 May 2015 09:02:58 +0000

LadewskiOAKLAND, Calif — It’s not often that the Most Valuable Player and the MVP runner-up meet in the playoffs — 21 times before this season, to be exact. Even less are the number of times the matchup exceeded the hype.

In that case, you may want to stay tuned to the Western Conference finals, because James Harden and Stephen Curry have something special going on right now.

The monster showdown continued in Game 2 on Thursday night, and it was brilliant, fabulous, sensational, ridiculous, sick — pick whatever adjective you like. Harden hit a cold-blooded shot, then Curry matched it. Curry made a nifty pass, and Harden followed suit. And so it went for the better part of four memorable quarters before Curry and the Warriors finally prevailed by a single point.

HardenlossWhen the haze cleared at Oracle Arena, Harden had gone off for 38 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Curry countered with 33 points — 15 on 3-pointers alone — six assists, three rebounds, one steal and one game-ending trap that ended with Harden failing to get off a final shot for the win.

“They’ve exceeded expectations,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said. “Harden continues to hit tough shots. He’s an MVP-caliber player. He has been efficient. I don’t know how much better he can play, but you know, we’ll see.”

If Harden has another level to his game, the Warriors may want to kidnap him for a week.

“Harden is a great player and he has a lot to prove,” Warriors center Festus Ezeli said. “He feels like he was overlooked, but Steph is deserving of the (MVP) honor. So they’re going to rise to the moment.”

This has been a great, old-fashioned shootout, Jerry West vs. Oscar Robertson style. West is a Warriors advisor now, and he may have to cover Harden next.

Even Klay Thompson has looked helpless at times, and he’s one of the league’s better defenders at shooting guard.

“When he’s hitting those step-back threes, you kind of just shake your head because you feel like you contested (the shots),” Thompson said. “You can’t let him get rolling. He’s quicker than he looks, so you have to get into his body.”

“He gets a head of steam going toward the rim, and it’s tough to stop,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Obviously, he can shoot that pull-up shot, and he can get all the way to the rim, and he’s a great passer.”

Um, that pretty much covers it, right?

After two games, Harden has the advantage in rebounds (21-9), assists (18-12) and steals (7-3), while Curry holds a 67-66 edge in points. But as was the case in the regular season, the Bay Area bomber has had the better of it on the scoreboard, the only place that matters, really. Curry’s team hasn’t lost to Harden’s team in six tries this season.

The difference between the two best players at their position: Curry has displayed more of the clutch gene in the final minutes.

Harden scored a dozen points in the fourth quarter, but it was the two he didn’t score that will be remembered more.

Harden had the ball twice on the final possession but didn’t get a shot off either time. Why The Beard passed to Dwight Howard the first time, not even his barber knows for sure. When Howard returned the ball to Harden, Curry and Thompson did well to smother him, and Curry batted the ball away while the clock ran out.

Curry ThompsonAn angry Harden knocked down a curtain pole in frustration on his way to the locker room. After a pair of squandered opportunities to steal homecourt advantage, was it curtains for his team, too?

“They did a good job to having two guys on me, so I didn’t attack,” Harden said. “I looked up and saw a red jersey, and it was Dwight, so I tried to throwing it back to him. At that time, I thinking there were five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back. There were still two guys right there. When I watched the film, it was a tough play.”

As competitive as their teams have been thus far, Harden and Curry have been even better. After the series, let MVP1 and MVP2 play a best-of-seven in 21 for charity, I say.

A matchup this good shouldn’t end so soon.

Paul Ladewski is a veteran Chicago sports journalist who recently relocated to the Bay Area and a contributor to

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NBA players react to incredible performances by Stephen Curry and James Harden in Game 2 Fri, 22 May 2015 04:49:28 +0000

ParkJames HardenAs the MVP and runner-up MVP, Stephen Curry and James Harden put on an absolute show in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

In Game 2 on Thursday, the two were just as good if not even better, going toe to toe and making one clutch play after another for their respective teams.

Stephen CurryHarden was masterful once again for the Houston Rockets, scoring 38 points on 13-of-21 shooting from the field with 10 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block. Curry carried the Golden State Warriors with 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting from the field to go with three rebounds, six assists and a steal.

In the end, though, Curry had just a bit more help as the Warriors barely edged the Rockets 99-98 to take a commanding 2-0 lead.

Harden had a chance to go for the win on the final possession of the game, but ended up coughing up the ball while facing a double team from Curry and Klay Thompson.

Regardless of the results, it was simply an incredible display of individual ability between the two guards down the stretch, and NBA players around the league appreciated watching the greatness:


Jim Park is a blogger and editor of Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on twitter @SheridanBlog.

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