Kings Reportedly Decline Ben McLemore’s Qualifying Offer; Will Be Free Agent

Ben McLemore will become an unrestricted free agent this summer after the Sacramento Kings reportedly declined to extend the 24-year-old an offer sheet. 

ESPN’s Chris B. Haynes reported the Kings’ decision to pass on giving McLemore an offer sheet. 

McLemore was eligible for a fourth-year contract extension last season, but the two sides couldn’t agree to terms before the Oct. 31 deadline. 

If the Kings wanted to extend a qualifying offer to McLemore, they would have had the option of matching any offer sheet he received from another team as a restricted free agent. 

Haynes reported last October others around the NBA believed McLemore’s “best playing days would come in a different uniform” after being with a Kings franchise seemingly in constant disarray. 

McLemore has been with the Kings his entire career since they used the seventh-overall pick in 2013 on the Kansas product. He demonstrated flashes of scoring and durability in those first two years and posted 8.8 points a night as a rookie and a career-best 12.1 points per game in 2014-15, all while never missing a game.

His durability hasn’t been the same since, seeing as how he didn’t play in 35 games the last two seasons. Still, he is a potent three-point shooter when on the floor, and his 38.2 percent mark from deep in 2016-17 helped him average 8.1 points per game.

McLemore came on down the stretch and scored at least 13 points in six of the Kings’ final eight games, including two contests where he poured in 22 points.

He has shown flashes of being a quality shooter with a 35.2 percent success rate from three-point range and should command solid attention this summer as a low-cost young player who still has plenty of untapped potential. 

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NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony Trade and Chris Paul

It might sound like hyperbole, but the NBA couldn’t get much more interesting right now.

Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors ripping through LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers hasn’t created an environment where teams sell off their assets and wait for the storm to blow over.

It’s created an arms race.

Jimmy Butler got traded. So did the draft’s top selection. Free agents include Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and beyond. Trade candidates range from Carmelo Anthony to countless others, and we’re already taking out the binoculars and looking ahead to LeBron’s likely trip to market in 2018.

Keeping up with it all isn’t the easiest feat, so here’s a look at the latest.

            

The Carmelo Saga’s Twists and Turns

Finding a word to describe the New York Knicks isn’t hard: “mess.” 

The team is a mess, so much so taking a big gamble on Frank Ntilikina in the top 10 of the draft is the smallest item of concern.

Where to start? The team might still consider trading Kristaps Porzingis, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post

Perhaps most important of all, the team might still lose Carmelo. 

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein noted one route:

The Knicks, of course, want to get something in return for losing one of their best players, meaning a trade might be the only option.

In a new report, Berman explained why Carmelo wants an outright release as opposed to a trade:

“A source confirmed the Knicks are aware Anthony prefers getting released rather than agreeing to a trade, even if he would lose a trade-kicker bonus. Anthony understands the Cavaliers don’t have the assets to make a deal for him, and this way he can add depth to the Eastern Conference champions without taking away a major piece such as Kevin Love, who is being dangled for Paul George.”

Call it a war of wills, as Carmelo doesn’t sound likely to waive his no-trade clause so the Knicks can get a return back while shipping him somewhere he doesn’t want to go. 

It’s hard to place blame on Carmelo there. He’s been adamant about sticking with the Knicks, so it’ll be quite interesting to see if team president Phil Jackson’s departure changes anything here. Rest assured the Cavaliers are watching closely.

         

The LeBron-L.A. Link

It’s never too early to look ahead to a free-agent class boasting LeBron.

James likely won’t hesitate to opt out in 2018, joining free agency with potential names such as Kevin Durant. The possibility is like a dark cloud over the Cavaliers, a team now under the microscope for how it balances giving LeBron what he wants over the next year and how it actually helps the team compete.

Los Angeles has been a constant point of discussion surrounding LeBron’s future, in large part because The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t Pro Basketball Talk’s Dan Feldman) recently reported some within the league consider his moving west a possibility.

It was easy to write off the rumor at first—it doesn’t seem likely LeBron, well over the age of 30, will pack it up and leave the Cavaliers a second time.

But now this from The Undefeated’s Mike Wise during an appearance on Freddie and Fitz (h/t Feldman):

“I got from a very good authority—a very good authority—that LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I can’t tell you who, but I’m going to tell you it’s somebody that knows, and LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I don’t know if that’s because he remembers what the Clippers used to be, or he just doesn’t want to put his lot in there, or he thinks [owner] Steve Ballmer is just too animated on the sideline.”

On paper, this makes plenty of sense if the Los Angeles Clippers manage to keep core pieces of the franchise going. The Los Angeles Lakers, with Kobe Bryant‘s shadow hanging over the team or not, have a young core featuring names like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who in a year or two could perhaps compensate for LeBron as he starts to decline.

At worst, this is a big win for the Lakers as proof the team is going about the rebuild the right way. It also seems like a warning shot to the Cavaliers, the team deepest in an arms race it can’t afford to lose.

          

Paul’s Trip to Market

Above all else, Paul might’ve been the most unpredictable facet of the summer. 

Paul opting out alongside Griffin wasn’t the biggest surprise. It never seemed likely he’d leave the Clippers, especially not when the new super max will pay him $205 million as opposed to the $152 million he could make with a new team.

But the rumors tell a different story. Stein reported the Houston Rockets aren’t a casual team to overlook in the process:

Again, it’s sometimes easy to write off the Rockets because they seem to always come up alongside the biggest names on the market. Stein‘s write-up even mentions the front office will also still try to trade for Paul George.

But at the least, this is a threat the Clippers needed to take seriously. The Rockets are the team always willing to make a major splash. It seems risky moving James Harden away from the 1, where he flourished a season ago, but having Chris Paul and James Harden in the backcourt is still an incredible tandem.

Wednesday, he reported Paul will indeed agree to a sign-and-trade deal that will land him in Houston next to Harden:

It’s still hard to see Paul leaving the Clippers after so many years. But he hasn’t showed any signs of slowing as a player, and if he’s tired of the staleness in Los Angeles after years of letdowns, the grass might indeed look quite a bit greener elsewhere.

Maybe the craziest part of all the above? Free agency is less than three days away from opening.

              

All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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With Chris Paul Gone, Clippers’ Future Hinges on Blake Griffin

An NBA contender in Los Angeles reaches a fork in the road.               

Down one path, a 32-year-old all-time great at his position facing a major payday. Down the other, a homegrown superstar in his prime, not far removed from off-court issues, eying his first foray into unrestricted free agency.

Thirteen years ago, it was the Los Angeles Lakers who shipped Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat, putting the kibosh on his feud with Kobe Bryant and setting the stage for Bryant’s return.

Now, it’s the Los Angeles Clippers who are looking to pick up the pieces after trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, per The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The first big item? Blake Griffin. The five-time All-Star has already opted out of his contract. He’s well positioned to sign a nine-figure deal in July. Now that Paul is gone, the Clippers have little choice but to put all their eggs in his basket.

To be sure, relations between Paul and Griffin were never as toxic as the nuclear standoff between Shaq and Kobe. But as ESPN’s Jeff Goodman noted, the Clippers’ inside-out tandem wasn’t particularly close off the court, either:

Even so, they worked well together—well enough to lead L.A. to the most prosperous six-year run in the franchise’s sordid history. Paul’s arrival in December 2011 precipitated six straight playoff appearances, with five consecutive 50-win seasons since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign.

For all their talent, though, the Clippers failed to advance to the Western Conference Finals, let alone compete for a championship, amid injuries and untimely meltdowns. Paul’s departure puts the onus on Griffin to change that—assuming the latter comes back.

Per the Los Angeles TimesBroderick Turner, the team believes that Paul’s departure “clear[s] the way” for Griffin to re-up for as much as $170 million over five years. In truth, it will probably take more than dollar signs to convince him to stay. The Clippers’ brass, with Jerry West joining Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank among the brain trust, must sort out a path to contention in a post-CP3 world.

In some respects, L.A. did well to position itself for the future by passing over paying Paul upwards of $40 million a year deep into his 30s. In the near term, the Clippers will receive a return for Paul—built around Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl and a 2018 first-round pick, per Woj and Turner—that, while an exchange of dollars for dimes on its face, still beats losing a franchise cornerstone for nothing.

And while it won’t open up enough cap space for the Clippers to splash cash in free agency this summer if Griffin returns, it could allow the team to retool around its power forward in 2018. No current incumbent Clipper is locked in beyond the 2017-18 season. DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson all have player options to exercise (or not) next summer. Jamal Crawford’s $14.5 million salary for 2018-19 isn’t guaranteed. 

As for those said to be heading west from Houston, Williams will be unrestricted next summer, Harrell will be restricted, Dekker has a team option for 2018-19 and Beverley has a non-guarantee. Ryan Kelly, Tim Quarterman and DeAndre Liggins—all part of the deal as well, per NBA.com’s David Aldridge—figure to be expendable, as well.

The free-agent class of 2018 could be filled with players who, on paper, would pair well with Griffin in L.A. Paul George is already angling for a return to his Southern California roots. Russell Westbrook could be, too, if he and the Oklahoma City Thunder can’t agree to an extension this summer. LeBron James will be back at it, though the word from The Undefeated’s Mike Wise is that he “will never be a Clipper”—and would seem even less inclined to be now that Paul, his buddy, doesn’t play for them anymore.

Still, there will be big names for the Clippers to pursue. Whether they can reel any of them in is another story.

Beyond his on-court dominance, Paul was instrumental in recruiting free agents to L.A. Losing him leaves the Clippers down a powerful voice with even more powerful connections, as the head of the National Basketball Players’ Association.

Will Griffin have anything close to that kind of pull with his peers? Is he even the right guy to build around?

Both questions merit murky responses. The latter is particularly tough to answer, given Griffin’s physical frailties. He’s missed at least 15 games during each of the last two regular seasons and has seen his previous two playoff runs cut short by injuries. Remember, too, that what was supposed to be his rookie season in 2009-10 ended before it began with a knee injury, and that his 2012-13 postseason was also abbreviated by knee troubles.

Committing max money to a big man whose body appears to be breaking down might be just as problematic as doing the same with an aging point guard. Griffin would be hard-pressed to push the Clippers any further in the playoffs if he can’t stay on the court.

To his credit, Griffin is no longer as reliant on his physical gifts as he once was. He’s established himself as one of the best passing forwards in basketball, averaging at least 4.9 assists during each of the last three seasons. Where once his range barely extended outside the restricted area, he’s now a reliable midrange shooter (43.6 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line in 2016-17) and an improving three-point threat (33.6 percent on 1.9 attempts per game last season).

The Clippers will need Griffin to continue to sharpen and showcase his full range of skills if they’re going to succeed in Paul’s wake. Beverley, Williams, Crawford and the younger Rivers are all capable shot creators, though Griffin may still be L.A.’s most reliable distributor. If the Clippers surround him with shooters and wing defenders—which Goodman reports is among the team’s to-do’s this summer—Griffin could quickly find himself playing point-forward within a radically different style of play.

Or, if he bolts to Boston, Miami or elsewhere, L.A. may be back to square one, though not in the worst way. The Clippers have their own 2018 pick and could add other assets by offering up Jordan, Crawford, Rivers and/or the Rockets arrivals. Tank the 2017-18 campaign and voila! The Clippers could snag another young star at the top of next year’s draft and head into free agency with gobs of cap space.

That being said, these are nervous times for Clipper Nation. Paul transformed the team from league laughingstock to legitimate threat in the West, and he’s out. Griffin’s emergence made the Clippers a palatable landing spot for Paul, and he might be gone too.

But if Griffin stays, his club can look to its Staples Center co-tenant for some modicum of comfort. Four years after O’Neal’s ouster, the Lakers were back in the Finals, with Bryant as the league’s MVP and two more championships on the horizon.

The Clippers can only hope their turn at star-studded drama will play out so favorably in the long run.

 

All stats via NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook and listen to his Hollywood Hoops podcast with B/R Lakers lead writer Eric Pincus.

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Ryan Kelly Traded to Rockets; Hawks Receive Cash Considerations

The Houston Rockets‘ offseason makeover continued Wednesday with the acquisition of forward Ryan Kelly in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks

Per an official release from the Hawks, they will receive cash considerations in exchange for sending Kelly to Houston. 

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been keeping plenty busy Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Houston agreed to acquire All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers

In addition to Paul, Wojnarowski reported the Rockets made a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers for Tim Quarterman, and Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reported the Dallas Mavericks sent DeAndre Liggins to the Rockets for cash considerations.

Kelly just finished his fourth NBA season. He only appeared in 16 games for the Hawks last season, averaging 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds for the team. His best year was his rookie campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2013-14, when he averaged 8.0 points in 59 games.

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NBA Free Agents 2017: Rumors, Predictions for Gordon Hayward, Andre Iguodala

The 2017 NBA offseason has already seen a flurry of activity, including trades of the No. 1 pick in the draft, D’Angelo Russell and Dwight Howard. And now, the buzz surrounding free agency is almost palpable.

Adrian Wojnarowski, Marc Stein, David Aldridge and plenty of other NBA reporters are wearing out the keys to spell “sources” on their computers, and the actual free-agency period is still days away.

As we draw nearer to 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday and the anticipation grows, here’s a roundup of the latest from the ever-churning rumor mill, as well as predictions for some of the biggest free agents.

     

Gordon Hayward to the Celtics?

It feels like Gordon Hayward has been connected to the Boston Celtics ever since they hired his college coach, Brad Stevens, back in 2013.

On an episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, The Ringer’s Mark Titus provided some details on the relationship between the two, including Hayward’s loyalty to Stevens when family-favorite Purdue offered a scholarship after Butler.

Now, that loyalty could be on display again, as the Celtics pursue Hayward and eventually Paul George.

The Boston Celtics are pursuing an aggressive summer plan of sequencing the signing of free agent Gordon Hayward and relinquishing the assets needed to complete a trade for Paul George, league sources told The Vertical,” Yahoo’s Wojnarowski wrote.

If Boston was able to pull off such a series of moves, it’d have a core of Hayward, George, Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. That’s a foursome that could legitimately compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The moves are easier said than done, though. As Wojnarowski points out, the Pacers may not have the patience to wait out the Celtics’ pursuit of Hayward before finding a trade it likes for George. And while the Hayward/Celtics rumors are fun for nostalgic reasons, his current Utah Jazz are on the rise.

Still, this feels like the kind of blockbuster sequence Boston general manager Danny Ainge has been angling for years. And he’s put his team in a strong position to pull it off.

When Hayward meets with the Celtics and Ainge presents his master plan, it could be tough to say no.

Prediction: Hayward goes to Boston.

     

Andre Iguodala on the Move?

Golden State’s incredibly talented core of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson is going to get incredibly expensive over the next few years. And that means hanging on to key role players could become difficult.

“Andre Iguodala has become the foremost target in an attempt to weaken the Golden State Warriors’ chokehold on the NBA, league sources have told ESPN,” Chris Haynes of ESPN.com wrote.

The Minnesota TimberwolvesSan Antonio SpursLA ClippersPhiladelphia 76ersOrlando MagicBrooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz are among the teams interested in the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, sources tell ESPN.”

Iguodala would surely be a help, both on and off the floor, to any of those teams, especially if he wants to make much more than the $11.1 million he hauled in this season.

But how can the fifth-best player (maybe even fourth, depending on how you view Thompson) on possibly the best team ever assembled leave right when it’s on the cusp of a seemingly inevitable dynasty?

Iguodala’s a 13-year veteran who’s already made over $100 million in his career. One of the aforementioned teams may nearly double that career haul in one contract, but the history, chemistry and familiarity of the Warriors will all have plenty of pull.

Prediction: Iguodala re-signs with the Warriors.

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Bobby Webster Promoted to Raptors GM, Becomes Youngest in NBA

The Toronto Raptors announced Wednesday they have promoted Bobby Webster to general manager.

Webster had previously worked as the team’s assistant general manager and vice president of basketball management and strategy. At 32 years old, he’s the youngest general manager in the NBA, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

     

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Jason Williams out 6-8 Months After Suffering Knee Injury in Big3 Debut

Jason Williams will miss six to eight months after injuring his right knee in his first-ever game of the Big3 as a member of the 3 Headed Monsters on Sunday.

Big3 co-founders Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz announced Williams’ estimated recovery time during a conference call on Wednesday, per the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated). 

Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post noted the Williams was not injured as a result of contact. 

Kwatinetz said during Wednesday’s conference call he didn’t view the injuries suffered by players like Williams and Corey Maggette as significant problems for the league moving forward:

”We had four games and in those four games less people were injured than will most likely be injured in any single first game in the NFL this year. People are injured in the NBA all the time, unfortunately. Cars crash in NASCAR and these things do happen. We do believe that there was intensity that maybe everybody didn’t expect and there will be an adjustment period as the season goes on.”

The 41-year-old Williams didn’t play a game of professional basketball from 2011-17 following his second retirement from the NBA. 

Williams played 12 NBA seasons from 1998-2011. He won an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2005-06. 

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