Kevin Durant Latest to Call ‘BS’ That Kobe Is Driving Free Agents from Lakers

Kobe Bryant is not keeping notable free agents from signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, despite his tough-love policies and occasionally abrasive personality. 

The state of the roster may be doing that. The time of year probably has something to do with it as well right now, though that’s neither here nor there. It’s tough for marquee free agents to sign with a team that seems to have an established culture of losing in recent years, even if there’s an abundance of historical appeal and brand appeal. 

But it’s not Bryant who’s driving anyone away, and you can add Kevin Durant to the list of people to claim that, as he told USA Today‘s Sam Amick

Excuse my language, but that’s (expletive). I want to play with a winner every single night, especially somebody who wants to win that bad, who works that hard, who demands a lot, who raises up your level. I’d want to play with a guy like that every day. … (His style) may make people uncomfortable, how he acts and just how he approaches the game, but I love that type of stuff. I think (the accusation) is BS.

Durant—who texted Bryant to congratulate him on passing Michael Jordan on the career scoring leaderboard, per Amick—later said the following: 

Just his work ethic, just his demeanor man. He doesn’t mind being an (expletive), and he comes to work man. He’s intense. He demands a lot out of his teammates, and I’ve seen that just playing alongside him in the Olympics (in 2012). He demands a lot out of everybody. He makes them better. Everybody out on the court. You’ve got to respect that. As a player, I study guys like that. We might not have the same personality, but I think we approach the game the same way and I’ve learned a lot from just watching him.

The NBA‘s reigning MVP isn’t the only notable figure to dispute the now-infamous report by ESPN.com’s Henry Abbott, one that unequivocally blamed Bryant for the downfall of the once-proud franchise. 

Jeanie Buss came to her star player’s defense. Carmelo Anthony disputed the notion that he avoided signing with the Lakers because of Bryant’s presence. Even Phil Jackson, Paul George and Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, thought the claims were ridiculous, taking to Twitter to express their disbelief: 

As Matt Moore writes for CBS Sports, perhaps the blame shouldn’t fall on Bryant, but rather the management of this suddenly dysfunctional franchise: 

Bryant has been the target for the blame about the Lakers’ troublesome direction, but if players do actually want to play alongside the future Hall of Famer, then maybe the blame should be more on the leadership of the Lakers’ organization. Jim Buss taking over the basketball operations while Jeanie Buss commands the business side of it all hasn’t been a good combination for attracting or keeping the biggest names that Dr. Jerry Buss never had issues getting for this team.

Durant isn’t in a position where he can throw the management of the Lakers under the bus, but he can at least defend his fellow superstar. His words don’t exactly leave much wiggle room, and he easily could have declined to go down that route of questioning in the first place. 

Of course, the Lakers may not land any of their big targets during next summer’s free-agency frenzy. That’s a distinct possibility, tough as it may be for purple-and-gold supporters to admit it.

But if that happens, let’s avoid blaming Bryant for the misfires of his lifelong team. He might be clanging plenty of jumpers, watching the ball on defense and playing a highly inefficient and sometimes detrimental brand of basketball, but his play and attitude isn’t exactly driving off free agents. 

Hopefully, now that Durant has spoken up, that narrative can be firmly put to rest. 

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NBA Free Agents 2014: Analyzing Latest Rumors, Predictions on Available Talent

Ray Allen is still the most prominent and potentially important NBA free agent available. It seems several teams are interested in signing the future Hall of Famer, but Jesus Shuttlesworth might be waiting until midseason to pick his team, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast.

Blakely quoted Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge from an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub. Ainge said:

“Ray can really help [Cleveland], but I anticipate that Ray will wait and see the landscape of the NBA. I just think he might wait and see how everybody’s clicking. There’s a handful of teams that would love to have Ray on their team right now that are trying to win a championship.”

With two championship rings to his credit, nearly 3,000 made three-pointers and 24,505 points, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer has earned the right to take his time.

As it turns out, Allen could have his pick of just about any team considering he’d be signing for a veteran’s minimum contract. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs could use him.

There was obviously talk about Allen possibly retiring, but that doesn’t seem likely. If he were going to go that route, he could have made that announcement months ago.

There seems to still be a desire there. I’m expecting Allen to pick a squad somewhere near the All-Star break.

 

Tyrus Thomas Inching Closer to NBA Return

Believe it or not, Thomas is only 28 years old. It seems like eons ago the Bulls foolishly traded the Blazers the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge for Thomas. It sounds preposterous right now, but on the strength of a strong NCAA tournament run with the LSU Tigers back in 2006, Thomas had the looks of a Shawn-Marion type player.

After an uneventful stint with the then Charlotte Bobcats, Thomas has found himself out of the NBA.

He didn’t get any offers to play for a team last season, and has yet to latch on with a club this year. Prospects are seemingly improving, though.

Quoting sources, Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy reports that Thomas has worked out for the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers. No deal has been struck as of yet, but Thomas is clearly trying to resurrect his career.

At 6’8″, Thomas is an athletic, long-armed forward who never seemed to be given or accept a defined role. Had he accepted an identity similar to what Philadelphia 76ers rookie K.J. McDaniels is adopting—especially with the Bulls—Thomas could have been a force.

Perhaps now that he’s older and more mature, Thomas can find his niche in the NBA.

If he’s persistent, Thomas will get another shot. The league isn’t exactly filled with athletic forwards who have averaged as many as 10 points, 6.4 rebounds and just two blocked shots per game in their careers.

 

Lakers Unlikely to Sign a Free Agent

Despite working out Thomas and others, Dsvid Pick of Basketball Insiders (h/t Kennedy) says it doesn’t appear as though the Los Angeles Lakers will sign a free agent any time soon.

The primary reason is that L.A. would have to release someone on the current roster to make room.

The Lakers are playing better having won their last two games. The thought process might be to wait and see how the current group grows and comes together before a signing takes place.

Perhaps the biggest key for the Lakers to maximize their talent is for Kobe Bryant to simply pass the ball more. During the Lakers five wins this season, Bryant is averaging 20 field-goal attempts per game.

In the losses, he’s taking 24.8 shots. I’m just saying. It seems as though the Lakers will probably wait until they are bit by the injury bug to make a move. 

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W’s Green switches agents with payday in mind

Draymond Green is the next Warriors player in the market for a big payday.

      
 

 

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Ranking the 15 Best Free Agents of the 2015 Class

Forget about regular-season NBA action for a second. Think about the 2015 free-agency class instead.

Yes, I know. The season just started. You’re only just coming to terms with all that’s happened since the end of last year. LeBron James is back in Cleveland. Kobe Bryant is teammates with Carlos Boozer. Chris Douglas-Roberts’ shorts aren’t as short as you thought they would be. 

It’s madness.

But that doesn’t make this any less necessary.

Halloween has come and gone, and so too has the deadline for fourth-year players to sign contract extensions. Some studs successfully brokered one—Ricky Rubio now has 56 million reasons to continue working that boyish smile of his, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. Other extension-eligible talents weren’t so lucky, and the free-agency landscape has changed as a result, even if only slightly.

Restricted free agents rarely find new digs. Incumbent teams have the ability to match any offer they receive, making it hard to leave. Sometimes, though, it happens, and there are now more than a few cases to monitor.

Which of these restricted free agents stand among next summer’s best available mercenaries? Who else makes the cut?

Age, position and past statistical prowess are our guide. Immediate performance outlook counts, too. Then there’s the subjective aspect of all this, which, basically, consists of asking yourself: How good is Player X compared to the rest of his free-agent class?

Put that way, Kostas Papanikolaou obviously lords over all. Everything else about this exercise isn’t as certain. Join me, then, in finding clarity.

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Jeanie Buss: I’ll fire anyone who said free agents don’t want to play with Kobe

Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanne Buss on made some strong comments on Thursday in response to the recent ESPN the Magazine story that was written about Kobe Bryant. For starters, Buss said that any team employee who contributed to the feature — which claimed Bryant deters free agents from signing with the Lakers — will…Read More

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Jeanie Buss Calls out Free Agents Afraid of Kobe Bryant: ‘Losers’

From the not-so-magnanimous media coverage to his much-ballyhooed return from injury, Kobe Bryant has lately found himself under a microscope of nearly unprecedented intensity—and that’s saying something.

Scorching spotlight though it may be, Bryant has at least one stalwart in his corner (via Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post):

Jeannie Buss, for those who don’t know, is the daughter of longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who passed away in February 2013. After the elder Buss’ death, control of the Lakers was essentially divvied up between Jeanie Buss and her brother, Jim.

Since then, speculation has abounded over the two’s relationship, which Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding (writing then for the Orange County Register) reported as far back as 2013 had been severely strained following the awkward Phil Jackson non-hire.

If anything is going to compel the two to circle the family wagons, it’s a full-frontal attack on their franchise’s biggest, most lucrative star. Not to mention the insidious implication that the Lakers are somehow about anything other than winning.

On Monday, ESPN The Magazine published a piece by Henry Abbott that took a not-so-flattering look at Kobe Bryant’s role in the demise of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Key to Abbott’s thesis was the notion that future free agents might be dissuaded from signing with the Lakers due to Bryant’s hypercompetitive, hypercritical personality. In fact, Abbott—quoting an anonymous source—suggests this was likely a motivating factor behind Dwight Howard’s tumultuous departure following the 2012-13 season.

Coming off the team’s worst season in nearly six decades, the Lakers are a team at a crossroads: Do they try and use the upcoming free-agent classes to build around Bryant one last time? Or do they hold off on a rebuild until their ailing legend—injuries to Achilles and knee barely in the rearview mirror—limps languidly into the sunset?

As Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes recently wrote, the looming narratives are nothing if not compelling:

Bryant is the same man—evolved. To use a baseball analogy, he’s pitching instead of throwing these days, replacing physical skill with tactical smarts.

We’ve seen the unstoppable drives, the one-dribble pull-ups, the relentless transition attacks. But we haven’t seen the measured (though still aggressive) post technician. We haven’t seen the guy who might operate almost exclusively as a draw-and-kick facilitator on the block.

When a superstar fundamentally changes his game in an effort to stay on top, well…it’s fascinating.

Even if reports of Bryant’s difficult demeanor are true, that shouldn’t dissuade the Lakers from continuing to pursue free-agent gold; they should be selling the history and legacy of the franchise itself, not its fading face.

Rest assured, the Lakers have no intention of resting on their playoff-less laurels. Not with Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo and LeBron James all slated to hit the open market within the next two years.

Many will read Buss’s barb as a veiled shot at Howard. Others might see swipes at James or Carmelo Anthony, both of whom bypassed the Lakers en route to richer paydays.

Whoever the target or whatever the intended tone, Jeannie Buss’s harsh words should be seen first and foremost in familial terms—the angered but earnest attempt to protect one’s own from the cruel caustics of the outside world.

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New NBA TV Deal Offers 2015 Restricted Free Agents Unique Leverage

Navigating restricted free agency has always been a leverage-free endeavor for NBA players who, for the most part, find themselves at the mercy of incumbent teams and offer sheets that don’t come.

Then the NBA signed a new media rights deal that, perhaps inadvertently, created leverage for members of the 2015 restricted free-agency class who haven’t yet signed.

Not everything changed upon The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir revealing that ESPN and Turner Sports (which owns Bleacher Report) would pay the Association $24 billion over the course of this new agreement. There remains ample risk involved for players. But there is now a negotiating ploy that wasn’t available to past restricted free agents.

Take the Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson. Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com says the two sides remain millions apart in extension talks. Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy, is apparently seeking “at least $15 million” annually while the Warriors are slinging $2 million less.

Thanks to the new TV deal and the player-friendly raises it will bring later, Thompson has the necessary ammunition to justify his asking price now.

And he’s not the only one.

 

Immediate Change

It all starts with the salary cap.

There is no reason for spending power not to explode in the coming summers. Nearly three years removed from a lockout that emphasized the limits of a franchise’s earning potential, the owners will be hard-pressed to escape the symbol of $24 billion.

“That’s a lot of money,” Kevin Durant said of the deal, per NewsOK.com’s Anthony Slater. “I don’t see how owners can say they losing money now.”

One way or another, this influx of cash will be funneled into the salary cap, which stands at $63.2 million for 2014-15. It’s not a matter of if, only when and how much.

Although the cap is expected to erupt at some point, “smoothing out” has become a buzzphrase around the Association, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe:

There is no way to avoid some shock to the cap figure at some point, but there are ways to ease the trauma. The league and its TV partners, the same partners as under the old deal, could agree to make 2015-16 sort of a hybrid year, at some price point between the old $930 million and the new $2 billion–plus. That would raise revenues more than anticipated for 2015-16, and thus raise the cap beyond the current $66.5 million projection. …

Several teams have been operating for months under the assumption the cap would reach at least $70 million for 2015-16, and any bigger-than-expected jump for that season could help teams on the borderline of having max cap room this July. 

Spreading out the increase over time, beginning immediately, diminishes the size of the anticipated jump for 2016-17, which Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck says will elevate the cap to an “estimated $84 million.” But it also means that player salaries are going to increase sooner.

Player contract values and annual earnings are proportionate to the salary cap. If the latter goes up, the price of contracts and yearly salaries goes with it. And if next sumer’s cap surpasses the current projection ($66.5 million), players are going to cost more sooner.

Bypassing those expenses would be impossible when it comes to unrestricted free agents. Midseason extensions are obsolete for them because they, unlike restricted free agents, stand to make more by waiting regardless of salary-cap increases, hence the reason Kevin Love didn’t put pen to paper on a new pact upon joining the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Impending restricted free agents—such as Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried—are wont to sign on the dotted line prior to actual free agency because 1) these contracts represent their first massive payday and 2) offseason markets are limited by their respective team’s ability to match any offer. The latter is why incumbent teams aren’t always inclined to extend max-contract sheets as soon as they can.

Usually the Warriors could wait their Thompson situation out, the worst-case scenario being they match an offer sheet that meets Thompson’s current asking price; the best-case scenario being they lock him down for less.

But if the cap mushrooms early as part of some smoothing-out process, his price tag could balloon with it, costing the Warriors more. Signing him now, even if it’s for more money than anticipated, winds up being a discount if the team believes another interested party will throw a max deal his way next summer.

Players coming off rookie deals who are angling for extensions, like Thompson, can use the threat of that increase to inflate their immediate value.

Teams are going to be in the hunt for talent this summer. With so many players expected to position themselves for 2016 free agency—think about the two-year deal LeBron James signed in Cleveland this year—suitors may be more willing to tender max-offer sheets in exchange for long-term security other prospects aren’t promising.

 

Pulling a Monroe

Immediate adjustments to the salary cap aren’t going to be earth-shattering, bringing the upside of above tactics into question. If the 2015-16 ceiling stops somewhere around $70 million as Lowe suggests, that’s only a $3.5 million difference from the initial projection.

Greater leverage is found in summer 2016, when the cap figures to spill into the $80-plus million range.

To get there, restricted free agents would have to do what most restricted free agents typically don’t do: table extension talks now, play through 2014-15, sign their qualifying offer next summer, then hit unrestricted free agency in 2016.

Precedent is found in Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency this past offseason. Instead of signing an offer sheet from a rival team or re-upping with the Detroit Pistons, he accepted his qualifying offer worth almost $5.5 million, per ShamSports

Monroe easily could have made double that amount this year. Though the move allows him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, the Pistons can still offer him the most money and he’s tightly tethered his financial security to remaining healthy and productive for at least another year. That Monroe’s agent, David Falk, also told Sports Business Daily (via BasketballInsiders.com) his client received numerous lucrative offers only adds to the big-picture risk.

“Players—more accurately players’ agents—have been threatening to sign the qualifying offer for ages,” SB Nation’s Tom Ziller wrote weeks before Monroe signed his qualifying offer. “There’s a reason no one takes those threats seriously. The QO is not an arrow in the players’ quivers. It’s a fake weapon.”

A fake weapon that now carries real weight.

Writing for ESPN.com (subscription required), salary-cap guru Larry Coon estimates that the max-contract value for players with six years or less of experience will “increase by $3.77 million” annually if the cap incurs a $16 million spike. If it climbs even higher—as Lowe discussed—the annual uptick will be even more.

Threatening to drag out contract situations for nearly two years, as 2015 restricted free agents would have to do, might seem pointless if modest financial gains were on the line. But $3.8 million a season over the life of a four-year max is $15.2 million. Over the life of a five-year max, it’s $19 million.

That’s a truckload of money. It’s also a rough projection that could grow exponentially if the NBA is unable to convince the players union to curb any looming hikes.

 

Deadline Madness En Route?

Deadline day is almost upon us, and it carries incredible intrigue.

Fourth-year players have until Oct. 31 to hash out extensions with their teams, otherwise they’ll reach restricted free agency in July. There’s no telling what happens from there, roughly eight months later, when 2016 and its suspected cap bang doesn’t seem so far away.

Ricky Rubio can use that to force his Minnesota Timberwolves off the four-year, $48 million extension the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney says they’re dangling.

Thompson can use it to push the Warriors toward max-contract territory now.

Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic, among many others, can use it to extract more money from their contract negotiations.

Pricier contracts now won’t seem as expensive later. That’s the play. If restricted free agents are willing to defer, they have leverage past players didn’t, and an advantage future ones who enter the fray after the league is acclimated to this brave, new world won’t.

If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Teams could call bluffs. Off years and injuries could derail earning potentials. That’s the price players could pay. That’s the risk they’re taking. But this is still leverage, the rewards of which allow today’s extension-seekers to reap the benefits of tomorrow’s financial boom.

 

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5 Remaining NBA Free Agents Who Should Be Signed Before 2014-15 Season

NBA free agency kicked off all the way back on July 1, but there are five still-available players who can make an impact on the 2014-15 season.

Whether it’s a stalemate in negotiations, consideration of retirement, attitude concerns or simply an absence of the right fit, the reasons they’re available are varied.

Working around the aforementioned obstacles and signing one of these five could be a great low-risk, high-reward opportunity (except in the case of the first player in the slideshow, who will eventually command a hefty contract).

In the following slides, organized by position, you’ll read why each player is still available and what he has to offer a team this season.

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Boston Celtics: 5 Free Agents To Target in 2015

Boston Celtics fans are already sick and tired of the “Rondo wants to stay” and Rondo wants to go” game. With the 2014 offseason winding to a close, outside of a surprise major move, Boston appears to be more or less set to open the upcoming year. With a franchise-altering rebuild in full swing, not […]
Boston Celtics: 5 Free Agents To Target in 2015 – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA

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Chicago Bulls: 4 Free Agents To Consider Signing

Chicago Bulls: 4 Free Agents To Consider Signing
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
The Bulls have just 12 players signed for next season, one being their 2nd round pick Cameron Bairstow who isn’t going to be playing much and could be in the D-League, so they can sign 3-4 more players and if he is in the D-League they have to sign 2 to get to the minimum 13 players. So they still have some work in filling the roster. There is still some strong talents that are free agents and there are some players that could help them, so here are 4 free agents they should consider signing.. However they would have to be minimum signings.
1. Emeka Okafor- C
- If Okafor was on this team, he would at best be their 4th big man, maybe 5th, but the Bulls still lack a 2nd center and he is the best free agent who isn’t Eric Bledsoe or Greg Monroe. It is doubtful that he would take a minimum to play a small role, but there is no harm in trying to sign a player that fits the team perfectly and …

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