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The NBA world received terrible news on Sunday, as it was announced that Bill Russell passed away at age 88. His basketball credentials are beyond reproach, as he won a total of 13 titles (11 as a player, two as head coach) as a member of the Boston Celtics. Add in Russell’s two national titles at the University of San Francisco, and he was an incredible 21-0 in “winner take all” games (NCAA tournament and NBA Game 7’s). But for all that he accomplished on the court, Russell’s work in helping to enact social change was of even greater importance. As a result, his loss was not felt by just the NBA family but by society as a whole.
This past week did not offer much in the way of news on the court, as the NBA remains in a holding pattern of sorts due to Kevin Durant’s and Donovan Mitchell’s unresolved statuses. The price Minnesota paid to acquire Rudy Gobert from the Jazz set the market, and Durant and Mitchell are players of even higher regard than the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year; Brooklyn and Utah are looking for a king’s ransom for their star scorers. Let’s take a look at what did (or did not) happen in the NBA over the last week.
– Utah’s veterans await the “Mitchell decision”
With Spida still a member of the Jazz (and the front office hasn’t come out and said that he’s available for trade), the veterans who were either already on the roster or acquired from the Timberwolves are in search of some clarity. In addition, younger players acquired from Minnesota, most notably Jarred Vanderbilt and rookie Walker Kessler, would be in line for significant playing time if Utah were to go all-in on a rebuild. But what would happen with Patrick Beverley, heading into the final year of his contract? Beverley told FOX 26 Houston’s Mark Berman last week that he hopes Mitchell will remain in Utah and the team will be competitive under first-year head coach Will Hardy.
“I don’t know. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks. There’s a lot going on right now. I don’t know. There’s just a lot going on right now. We’ll see when the dust clears if everything works out in Utah,” Beverly said. “Hopefully it does. Hopefully Donovan Mitchell stays and the team is competitive, and if that’s the case, we’re very excited. If that’s not the case, then, obviously, I’ve been in this league long enough I want to taste how winning a championship feels. We’ll see, though, over the next couple of weeks. We’ll see.”
Beverley would be an asset to a contending team if Utah were to shift into rebuild mode, and there would likely be varying levels of interest for holdovers Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, and Bojan Bogdanović as well. Beverley finished last season ranked just outside of the top 100 in 9-cat formats. Still, he only appeared in 58 games and was behind Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell in the Timberwolves’ offensive pecking order. The change in scenery wouldn’t affect Beverley’s fantasy value much, as he hasn’t averaged double figures in scoring since the 2017-18 season (the last in which he’s provided top-100 value). While Conley was a 6th-round player last season and appeared in 72 games, this was just the second time since the 2014-15 campaign that he tallied at least 70 appearances. What also doesn’t help here is that Mitchell stands to be featured even more if the Jazz don’t shift into “rebuild mode.”
Bogdanovic and Clarkson were late-round (in standard leagues) players, as they didn’t offer much beyond points and 3-pointers. And in the case of Clarkson, he shot just 41.9% from the field. The importance of Bogdanovic and Clarkson to Utah’s rotation would make them players worth picking up if Utah’s roster remained as is, but neither is worth a top-100 pick in fantasy.
– Pelicans included a “weight clause” in Zion’s new deal
Offseason “Muscle Watch” took on a different tone last week, as some of the details in Zion Williamson’s new contract came to light. According to Will Guillory of The Athletic, the Pelicans have included a “weight clause” of sorts, with Williamson now facing the task of having to produce a combined weight and body fat number no higher than 285. Listed at 284 pounds throughout his NBA career, Williamson was reportedly over 300 at times last season as he recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him for all 82 games. Failure to meet the weight requirement in his new deal would cost Williamson some guaranteed money, but this would not be a case in which the Pelicans fined him for not hitting those 285 numbers.
Given the power that Williamson plays with, getting to a lighter playing weight would do wonders for him, considering the injury from which he’s working his way back. Many big men over the years, be they traditional centers or power forwards, have been limited due to lingering foot injuries. When healthy, Williamson is an incredible athlete that many teams struggle to keep in check, even without a consistent perimeter shot. He was a 6th-round player during the 2020-21 campaign (61 games played) as part of a rotation that wasn’t anywhere near as good as the one he’ll join in the fall. Brandon Ingram has improved, the addition of CJ McCollum has given the Pelicans a scoring guard who can also run the show, and Jonas Valančiūnas is a double-double waiting to happen at the center position. And this doesn’t even touch on the additions of players such as Herb Jones, Larry Nance Jr., and Jose Alvarado.
Williamson averaged 27.0 points per game despite teams loading up to stop him during that 2020-21 season; New Orleans’ improved roster will make it more difficult for opponents to do this in 2022-23. First, he has to stay healthy.
– Lakers’ Westbrook hires new agent
Another name that has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason has been Russell Westbrook. There was a report that the Lakers and Nets could work together on a deal that would feature Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, but things seem to have gone quiet on that front. Last month Westbrook parted ways with longtime agent Thad Foucher due to “irreconcilable differences”; seeing the market (or lack thereof) for his client. Foucher stated that he believed Westbrook’s best option is to stay with the Lakers and try to bounce back from a disappointing 2021-22 season under new head coach Darvin Ham. Westbrook disagreed, so the two parties decided to part ways in mid-July. Westbrook has since found new representation, with it being announced on Monday that he’s hired Jeff Schwartz to be his agent.
Unless Schwartz has the power to improve the trade market for Westbrook on his own, this move is unlikely to have much of an impact fantasy-wise. Even so, Westbrook’s poor shooting makes him a tough sell in a situation where he isn’t the unquestioned first option on offense. Appearing in 78 games for the Lakers, he wasn’t even a top-200 player in the 9th cat, averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists per. Westbrook remaining a starter would get some fantasy managers to bite come draft time, but not me. Unless it becomes apparent during the preseason that he’s made significant strides as a shooter and is a good fit within Ham’s system, there’s no need to take the risk of drafting Westbrook in most leagues.
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– 76ers and Knicks are the focus of tampering investigations, reportedly
Given the nature of NBA free agency, with new deals being announced right after the 6 PM Eastern starting point on June 30, it’s a bit surprising that we don’t have more instances of alleged tampering. Two Atlantic Division teams are reportedly the focus of the league office, with Philadelphia under the microscope due to its re-signing of James Harden and New York due to the addition of Jalen Brunson.
In the case of Harden’s contract, the league is reportedly questioning if there was a handshake agreement between him and the 76ers well before the start of free agency. Harden took less money to re-sign, with this move freeing up additional cap space for the 76ers. Ultimately, the 76ers were able to add PJ Tucker and Danuel House to the mix before finalizing the Harden contract, adding a likely starter (Tucker) and improving the team’s wing depth. Neither Tucker (Heat) nor House (Jazz) were great fantasy options with their respective teams last season, but both have the potential to offer more than Philadelphia’s reserve wings did last season.
Matisse Thybulle’s defensive chops aren’t up for debate, as this was essentially the only reason he provided top-100 value last season. But the poor shooting has undoubtedly impacted how he’s viewed, and he’ll face a tough battle for rotation minutes once the preseason begins. This could be a case in which the arrivals of Tucker and House make all three (including Thybulle) untouchable in standard leagues.
As for New York, before free agency began, there were reports that Brunson agreed to his deal, worth $104 million over four years. Add in the Knicks’ front office being run by Brunson’s former agent (Leon Rose) and Tom Thibodeauhiring Rick Brunson (Jalen’s dad) to serve as an assistant, and there were bound to be some questions asked. Previous tampering investigations have led to teams losing a future draft pick (usually a second-rounder), so unless the NBA decides to get strict and start voiding transactions, these probes won’t have any impact fantasy-wise.
– Multiple teams add vets to their rosters
There were some transactions in the NBA over the last week, but none are moves that will have an impact fantasy-wise. Toronto signed Juancho Hernangómez to a one-year deal for a shade under $2.3 million, going on to waive Armoni Brooks two days later. Hernangomez appeared in a total of 40 games for the Celtics, Spurs, and Jazz last season, with his most extensive run coming in Utah. Unless the Raptors were to be hit hard by injuries, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Hernangomez becomes a relevant fantasy player next season.
Matthew Dellavedova is back in the NBA after spending last season in his native Australia, as he signed a one-year deal with the Kings. De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell being on the roster means that Delly will provide deep roster depth at most when those two are healthy. The move to Sacramento reunites Dellavedova with Mike Brown, who coached him with the Cavaliers. Detroit’s backcourt became a bit more crowded on Monday, as it was reported that Rodney McGruder was re-signed to a one-year deal. He doesn’t move the needle in fantasy unless the Pistons are shorthanded, but it’s clear that they want more competition on the back end of the team’s perimeter rotation. McGruder, Kevin Knox, Saben Lee, and Hamidou Diallo are likely in that competition, as Detroit now has 16 guaranteed contracts with training camp less than two months away.
Recently, the Celtics have signed Noah Vonleh and Bruno Caboclo to training camp deals. Vonleh is a former lottery pick who never panned out during his first stint in the NBA, most recently playing in China for the Shanghai Sharks. As for Caboclo, who was famously described as being “two years away from being two years away” by ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla on his draft night, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 26 years old. Caboclo was the MVP of Brazil’s top professional league last season and played with Utah’s Summer League squad in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Boston only has 12 players signed to standard contracts, so there may be room for one of these two on the roster if they perform well during training camp. But even if that were to happen, neither Vonleh nor Caboclo would be worth the gamble in any fantasy league.