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Sports

2022 NBA Free Agents Still Available

NBA free agency is without question the craziest free agency of all major sports leagues. What is normally a league of basketball professionals becomes the wild, wild west of player movement, sign-and-trades, and tampering. Nearly a full month into this summer’s free agency, we take a look the 10 best available NBA free agents.

10.) DeMarcus Cousins: Center – Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists
(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Boogie Cousins was on the trajectory to superstardom before injuries sidelined him in 2017. Cousins has bounced around from 5 different franchises since his initial injury with the New Orleans Pelicans. He still offers a lot in year 12, knocking down over 30% of his attempts from beyond the arc and pulling in nearly 6 rebounds per game. There is definitely a few teams that could use depth at the center position which Cousins could fill. There has been no news of teams with strong interest to sign Cousins yet, so it may be late into free agency once he is finally signed.

9.) Lou Williams: Guard – Atlanta Hawks – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 6.3 points, 1.9 assists, 1.6 rebounds
(Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The three-time Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams, remains unsigned after a month of free agency. Williams has made a living off his ability to score off the bench and has distanced himself as one of the greatest 6th men of all-time. He has seen a drop off in production as the Atlanta Hawks have significantly reshaped their roster and Trae Young has been given a bigger role at the guard position. Williams doesn’t plan to retire and will explore free agency this summer.

8.) Jeremy Lamb: Guard/Forward – Sacramento Kings – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 7.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists
(Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jeremy Lamb was on the rise with the Charlotte Hornets, posting a career high season average of 15.3 points. After signing with the Pacers, Lamb saw his production slowly drop off. He just finished the last year of his contract with the Kings and has entered unrestricted free agency. Lamb has proven he can be a viable option in the NBA over his 10 year career. You can never have too much depth at the wing position, so expect Lamb to be signed in the near future.

7.) LaMarcus Aldridge: Forward/Center – Brooklyn Nets – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 block
(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Even though LaMarcus Aldridge is 37 years old, he remains one of the most intriguing free agents on this list. Aldridge announced an early retirement in 2021 due to an irregular heartbeat. He was able to recover and be cleared to play, and was a great addition to the Brooklyn Nets last season.

Aldridge not only offers veteran experience on the court, he is an integral part of any locker room. Don’t be surprised to see LA on a championship contending team next season.

6.) Carmelo Anthony: Forward – Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 13.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

19-year NBA veteran Carmelo Anthony has built out quite the resume during his time in the league. He currently sits 9th all-time in points scored, and if he can score 307 points next season will pass Shaquille O’Neal for 8th. Melo has carved out a role as a capable scorer coming off of the bench, but his time on contending teams may be over.

Anthony could fit great in a mentor role on a young up-and-coming team, but he may hold out and try to sign with a team in the best position to win.

5.) Dwight Howard: Center – Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 6.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 61.2% from the field
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Dwight Howard’s future in the NBA was looking rather murky just a few years ago. After bouncing between six different teams in a nine-year span and only playing nine games in 2018-19, there weren’t many teams enamored with signing Howard. He was able to change that narrative with a great campaign off the bench in 2019-2020 with the Lakers. He even won a championship.

Howard brings a solid interior defender and championship experience to any team he signs with, so expect him to get signed in the near future.

4.) Blake Griffin: Forward – Brooklyn Nets – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 6.4 points, 4.1 rebound, 1.9 assists
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The ‘Lob City‘ Clippers were looking poised to be the next NBA dynasty in 2013 with budding superstar Blake Griffin. Friction with teammates and injuries would sour those expectations, and the Clippers would eventually blow the team up.

After reclaiming his spot as an all-star in 2019, Griffin has found a comfortable role coming off the bench. There is still some stuff left in the tank for Blake Griffin and I hope to see him on a contender next season.

3.) Dennis Schroder: Guard – Houston Rockets – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists
(Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dennis Schroder mystified the world when he passed on a $84 million contract with the Lakers to sign a $6 million deal with the Celtics. Schroder bet on himself, which unfortunately hasn’t panned out to this point.

He remains one of the best scorers on this list, however. The veteran guard rounded out last season with the Houston Rockets. Let’s see if he tries and find a spot on a contending team.

2.) Montrezl Harrell: Center – Charlotte Hornets – Unrestricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 13.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Montrezl Harrell will have to larger issues to work out this summer than his contract. However, he still remains one of the more touted free agents left this summer. The former 6th Man of the Year has one of the best motors in the NBA and can still be a spark for any team in the league. Harrell could be the missing piece needed to take a franchise to the next level.

1.) Collin Sexton: Guard – Cleveland Cavaliers – Restricted Free Agent
2021-22 Stats: 16.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists
(Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

Colin Sexton was on a superstar trajectory after averaging nearly 25 points in 2021 for the Cav’s. Cleveland went in a different direction this year, however, giving Darius Garland the green light to run the offense.

Sexton still remains an extremely interesting free agent, as he’s only 23-years-old and has a career points average of 20. Rebuilding teams could find a gem in Sexton if he can improve on the defense end.

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Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves Are Betting Big On Large Ball

Laocoon came screaming down from the temple, the priest begging his fellow Trojans to burn the mysterious gift horse that they were looking in the mouth. Something very strange is happening, very strange. He was mocked, ignored and then eaten by snakes; his pain—and prophecy—immortalized as public spectacle.

Jack Tien-Dana’s Eight Years of Latin Class in High School And College

And so the Utah Jazz, with the eyes of Brian Windhorst and the rest of the NBA world upon them, traded Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves, kickstarting a rebuild—or maybe rejiggering—of a kinda-stale kinda-contender. Since the start of free agency last Thursday, the Jazz have entered the deal zone twice, swapping two long-time starters for six-ish first round picks. But while all the dot connecting and Pepe Silvia-ing has been focused on the Jazz, Minnesota is now actually the NBA’s most interesting team. Having emptied their cache of draft picks to pair Gobert with fellow All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves are placing a big bet on Large Ball. 

Way back in 2015, the Golden State Warriors upended the NBA and basketball at large by playing their five best players, regardless of said players’ size. Installing Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala as the nominal bigs in their vaunted “Death Lineup,” the Warriors boat-raced the rest of the league and birthed a dynasty. Here was a brave new world where center was less of a position than a frame of mind; if the 6 ‘6 Draymond Green could be a credible five, similarly proportioned guys like PJ Tucker or PJ Washington or Robert Covington or Jeff Green or Marcus Morris could too. As such, skill took precedence over size and yadda yadda yadda—if you’re still with me, you know this all already.

Lost in all the eulogizing of big men, though, a counter-revolution has formed: the rise of Large Ball. Paradoxically, the birth of Large Ball is the result of small ball’s undeniable success—teams targeted a certain kind of lubberly big so precisely and effectively that it excised them almost entirely from the NBA. Now, though, small-ball represents a solution to a problem that no longer exists; the motivating force for its creation (to attack Jahlil Okafor-types) has evaporated now that there are barely any Jahlil Okafor-types left to attack. 

Instead, all that shooting and skill has trickled up into tomorrow’s—and increasingly today’s—crop of big men. For evidence, just check last month’s NBA Draft; the top four picks were all power forwards with perimeter chops. Similarly, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers buffaloed their way to titles in 2021 and 2020 respectively by being massiver than any team they faced.

Alongside low-waisted pants and Oakleys and Brittney Spears, towering frontcourts are yet another naugthy aughties mainstay that’s come back in style—the Boston Celtics snapped out of their early-season funk once they turned Robert Williams loose on the rest of the league; the Memphis Grizzlies won 21 of their 27 games without Ja Morant in large part due to their big man depth; the resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers went 26-14 when Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley played together. Now is the NBA’s age of monsters, a place where unicorns are bred like thoroughbred stallions. 

Or at least that’s what Minnesota is hoping for. Anchored by Towns and Gobert, the Timberwolves are suddenly the biggest and spookiest team in the league. The average wingspan of their projected starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Towns and Gobert is over seven-feet long. 

Crucially, the addition of Gobert should fortify a defense that was undone by their downy rim protection last season. While last year’s Timberwolves had to rely on a frantic scheme to compensate for Towns’ interior shortcomings, Gobert is the most dominant defensive player of the last 20 years. During Utah’s recent postseason crap outs, Gobert has earned an unfair and counterfactual reputation as a bootless drop coverage merchant who annually gets unmasked as a fraud like a Scooby Doo bad guy in the postseason. With the Timberwolves, though, Gobert will be fully unleashed, supplementing his usual shot-blocking with shifts as the low-man or blitzing pick-and-roll ball-handlers as Minnesota is wont to do. Playing alongside another center in Towns and another defensive genius in McDaniels, Gobert can be a proactive destroyer rather than a reactive crisis manager. 

If his permissive rim protection is what makes trading for Gobert necessary, Towns’ scoring is what makes Minnesota’s new elephantine set-up feasible. The best big man shooter of all time, Towns grants Minnesota the spacing to absorb Gobert without sacrificing any oomph. Beyond the fact that he doesn’t miss jump shots, Towns is the rare big who can attack closeouts and get frisky off the dribble. Cherry-pick the right stats and Towns is as flawless an offensive center as there has ever been. Last year, Towns was a better three-point shooter than Kevin Durant, a more prolific driver than Lebron James, a more efficient isolation scorer than Devin Booker, and a better roll-man than Bam Adebayo

Averaging 23.9 points on 64 percent True Shooting, Towns is a purely additive offensive presence. Although he lacks that certain physical charisma to be Him, he’s amongst the best at headlining a cast of thems. He does nearly everything and excels at nearly everything despite handling the ball less than Patrick Beverley; this is how he can accommodate a pick-and-roll specialist like D’Angelo Russell and a bucketeer like Anthony Edwards.

And yet, the Towns-Gobert partnership isn’t necessarily the most natural on-court pairing, even divorced from the team-building implications of trading away three unprotected future first round picks (and then another very lightly protected one for good measure). Defensively, it’s hard to imagine Towns and Gobert vacuum-sealing the paint because Towns just isn’t that level of a defender—in fact, McDaniels will probably inherit the low-man/free-safety role that Robert Williams pioneered in Boston while Towns decamps to the worst player on the other team.

Offensively, neither of them truly necessitates opponents to match their size; the Clippers defanged Towns in the play-in game by guarding him with mobile big wings while Gobert famously struggles to punish mismatches. In this sense, the two of them don’t so much amplify each other’s strengths as much as they mitigate each other’s fatal flaw. Think: less peanut butter and jelly, more peanut butter and life-saving epi-pen. 

Still, the Timberwolves are an undeniably better team now than they were last week; there’s a world where they muscle their way to 55 wins and a Western Conference Finals berth, if not a Finals one. Boxed in by the fact that no superstar would ever brave a midwestern winter by choice, Minnesota swung the most ambitious and ideologically outré trade in years. By doubling down on their gigantitude, the Timberwolves have ripped away their sheep’s clothing. 

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Sports

Can John Wall Reinvent Himself With the Clippers?

It’s easy to forget that John Wall is only 31 years old. He headlined an era that ended three eras ago. Back in 2009, he was John Calipari’s first major recruit at Kentucky, kicking off the wave of one-and-done moral panic. In 2010, an entire Reebok ad campaign was anchored by his signature shoe deal. Later that same year, he taught everybody how to Dougie and then tried to make the John Wall catch on too. To anybody older than, like, 17, this is probably all acutely incomprehensible; Wall’s cultural importance is like a scarab scavenged from ancient ruins—sure, you know it was once important, but it belongs to a culture that doesn’t exist.

On the court, he justified all the hype. When healthy, Wall was among the best point guards in the league, a proto-Ja Morant who breathed momentum into one of the NBA’s most stagnant franchises. He existed in the half-space between stardom and superstardom, making an All-Defense team in 2015 and an All-NBA one in 2017. With Wall at the helm, the Wizards were hugely successful by their standards, coming within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017. 

Then Wall functionally disappeared, his prime robbed by a ruptured Achilles tendon and the Houston Rockets. Since December 2018, he hasn’t played a single truly meaningful NBA game—his sole appearances on an NBA court took place in 40 memory-holed games during the surreal pandemic season. Last year, he was paid $41 million to not play basketball; the Rockets put him on mandatory paid leave so they could lose as much as possible. During his should-be prime, Wall barely played—and when he did he was blah. From ages 29 to 31, Wall appeared in roughly a half-season of games and played the worst since he was a rookie. He—and, most of all, his situation at large—stunk. 

But now, with Wall slated to join the Clippers once free agency begins on July 1, he’s back, literally if not figuratively. The fit is fairly obvious—the Clippers have no guards and Wall is the best guard they could conceivably acquire. If the Clippers are awash with highly-coveted mid-sized wings, they’ve long lacked a steadying backcourt presence; their infamous collapse against the Nuggets in the bubble can largely be chalked up to the fact that nobody could mellow out their fraying nerves. While Reggie Jackson spent last year manifesting his destiny as a “SGP,” he over-dipped his chip, belching forth the lowest effective field goal percentage of any guard in the NBA.  

For the first time, Wall will not be the best player on his team the next time he suits up. With the Wizards, Wall was their animating force, making an All-Defense team in 2015 and an All-NBA one in 2017. With the Rockets, he was their star by default—he was the best player because that other 11 guys were all worse. Accordingly, he now finds himself in the same situation that late-stage point guards often find themselves in, grappling with the fact that he can no longer do what he’s always done. This rupture between the past and present is what abruptly harpooned Allen Iverson’s career and has turned Russell Westbrook into a tragic figure, but Wall’s game has always mostly resisted their kind of mega-usage. 

In this sense, Wall is a necessary addition because he provides an additive skillset. Even when he was at his absolute apex, Wall was something more interesting and opaque, an ace playmaker and defender who was pressed into lead duties by necessity; Wall’s greatest achievement isn’t his individual awards so much as the fact that he single-handedly paid for Martell Webster’s and Marcin Gortat’s great-great-grandchildren’s college tuition. Ultimately, success in Los Angeles will be determined by whether John Wall embraces the idea of reinvention or if he clings to the hope of resurrection.

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Sports Strength

The Suns Screwed DeAndre Ayton

In a vacuum, the Phoenix Suns probably made a good decision to not offer DeAndre Ayton, the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, a $172 million extension. Ayton is the kind of low usage center that’s commonplace in the NBA; there’s hardly a shortage of tall guys who can jump high, catch lobs and clean up the stray offensive rebound—Daniel Gafford and Robert Williams signed contracts that, combined, total about half of what Ayton wanted from the Suns.

In reality, though, it’s organizational malpractice to let the October extension deadline pass without delivering Ayton the bag that was promised.

During last year’s charmed romp to the Finals, Ayton was solidly Phoenix’s third best player, providing the interior physicality that Chris Paul and Devin Booker lack. Over the course of their playoff run, Ayton shot 65.8 percent from the field and had nearly as many offensive rebounds (67) as he did missed shots (80). Even if he doesn’t possess the on-ball wattage of Paul or Booker, Ayton sneakily acted as the Suns’ offensive fulcrum; his screen setting and gravity as a roller provided the Suns with a new dimension of rim-ward oomph. 

Defensively, he’s proven to be shockingly adaptable for a player who leans closer to “traditional center” than the “space-age anthropod” archetype that’s now in style. Against the Nuggets, Ayton troubled Nikola Jokic, holding him to 53 percent true shooting (down from 64.7 percent true shooting mark in the regular season). Against the Clippers, Ayton ably held his own against a five-out offense designed to target players like him. 

More, Ayton represents one of the last avenues for easily attainable improvement on an old, capped-out Suns team; the Suns’ best chance at repeating as Western Conference champs is dependent on Ayton’s steady growth. For Ayton, very-goodness is simple—he’s so massive and athletic and coordinated that reconfigures opponent’s gameplans and lineups simply by standing in the right place with his hands up. Although he’s clearly a step below the NBA’s best big men at the moment, it’s not hard to imagine Ayton progressing towards eliteness, whether that’s by evolving into a fearsome interior defender or by becoming an anti-small ball union buster who forces teams to guard him with a center. 

By entering the season without a new contract, Ayton will become the first number one pick since Anthony Bennet to reach restricted free agency. And while Bennett went contract-less because he was lumpy and apneic, Ayton’s deal was sabotaged by a factor beyond his control: Robert Sarver. A miserly real estate bigwig who can’t even stock his arena with warm nacho cheese, Sarver is possibly the worst owner in sports, offering all of James Dolan’s oafishness but with none of the largesse. 

In this sense, letting the extension deadline lapse is a transparent attempt to squeeze Ayton so that the Suns can save some money on their luxury tax bill—Ayton will probably sign a lengthy extension to stay in Phoenix over the summer, but the Suns are trying to get a discount on it by matching an offer from another team next summer rather than making a competitive one of their own. The Suns’ whole approach to the situation reeks of parsimony and bad faith; first, they artificially suppressed Ayton’s statistics by shoehorning him into a circumscribed role that inherently limited his value (his 10.0 field goal attempts per game last year was by far the lowest mark of his career) and then punished him for not posting gaudier stats.

There’s a difference between being correct and being right.