Thursday, December 7 2023

The San Antonio Spurs won’t need much deliberation to select French phenom Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. The franchise’s contingent in Chicago quite literally rejoiced when May’s draft lottery awarded the Spurs with the top selection and the chance to land a prospect who could shoulder a generation like Tim Duncan did for San Antonio back in 1997.

The Spurs’ offseason has plenty of questions to consider. San Antonio is slated to hold over $40 million in cap space and is devoid of absolute plans to compete for the playoffs next season — unlike so many other teams at the top of this year’s lottery. That combination could prove quite valuable in a summer where the upcoming second tax apron in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement has plenty of front offices plotting to avoid such a salary cap danger zone, with the fear of future draft capital becoming frozen from trade possibilities under these fresh rules, plus other penalties to boot.

Rival personnel are looking at San Antonio as one of the few landing spots for teams to offload salary ahead of these mounting tax complications going into effect July 1. For that reason, the Spurs are often mentioned by league figures as a potential destination for veteran floor general Chris Paul. Phoenix is searching for trade possibilities regarding the 12-time All-Star point guard before the last $15 million of his $30.8 million salary for the 2023-24 season becomes guaranteed June 28 — two days before the start of free agency. Any team acquiring Paul ahead of that deadline would inherit the same optionality the Suns face if they don’t move him: waiving Paul and avoiding a significant cap hit for the upcoming campaign.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul watches from the bench during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball Western Conference semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Phoenix. The Nuggets eliminated the Sun in their 125-100 win. (AP Photo/Matt York)Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul watches from the bench during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball Western Conference semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Phoenix. The Nuggets eliminated the Sun in their 125-100 win. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Suns would like to move Chris Paul and his hefty salary, but they don’t have a lot of draft assets to entice prospective teams. (AP Photo/Matt York)

But is San Antonio truly a possibility for Paul? It will have to spend that money somehow. Another facet of the new CBA will mandate all teams reach the season’s salary cap floor — 90% of the overall budget — prior to training camp. Yet no matter how tantalizing a partnership with storied head coach Gregg Popovich could be, plus the opportunity to pair with Wembanyama in his inaugural NBA season, there’s a general understanding among front offices that Paul would prefer to play in a contending environment, where the 38-year-old table-setter can compete for a championship. The Spurs have to expect that Wembanyama’s presence, particularly as a rim protector, could spark significant improvements next season. But there’s no sense among league figures with knowledge of San Antonio’s approach that the Spurs will be in any rush to expedite the team’s slow rebuilding process. Further, there’s a growing belief among league personnel that San Antonio will target starting centers this offseason, whether by trade or on the open market in free agency, to save Wembanyama from the brunt of battling against frontcourt behemoths in his first season. The Spurs are also said to be high on Zach Collins’ starting potential.

That could all, in theory, happen with or without Paul in the fold. In the NBA’s marketplace, such a trade for San Antonio would typically result in the Spurs taking back some type of draft capital for relieving a rival of a salary burden, but Phoenix is famously stripped of tradable first-round picks because of its mega-deal to acquire Kevin Durant at February’s trade deadline. That lack of assets has certainly dampened the Suns’ efforts to find trade avenues for Paul’s hefty contract, which has led Phoenix to start exploring three-team structures to move Paul, league sources told Yahoo Sports, just as the Suns considered with their attempts to deal Jae Crowder last season — nearly landing a three-team swap that would have sent Crowder to Milwaukee and Rui Hachimura back to Phoenix before the Wizards dealt the impending restricted free agent to Los Angeles.

Two names to keep an eye on in Phoenix’s trade pursuits: Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins and Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon. The Suns acquiring either of those veterans might require a third team to accept Paul’s outgoing salary — such as the Houston Rockets with their $60 million of cap space and counting — but Brogdon and Collins are a pair of players Phoenix has registered interest in during trade conversations with Boston and Atlanta, respectively, that date back to the trade deadline, sources said. There no longer appears a pathway for the Suns to bring in Kyle Kuzma, whom Phoenix has targeted for several seasons, sources said. Kuzma has said he intends to decline his $13 million player option for 2023-24 to test free agency. You can chalk up Kuzma as another forward who’s being connected of late to both Indiana and Houston as a potential free-agent target.

The Celtics have quite an obvious roster crunch in their backcourt, with four players in Brogdon, Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard who could rarely all find consistent minutes this season. Boston is considered active in pre-draft trade talks by rival front offices — as MassLive has reported — and the Celtics are evaluating trade avenues to upgrade a thinner frontcourt, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and could very well lose a valuable piece in Grant Williams as a restricted free agent this summer. They will surely search for upgrades on the wing, and Boston is of the belief that Danilo Gallinari, a key free-agent acquisition last summer who missed the whole season with a torn ACL, can provide a crucial lift next year. The Celtics also looked for center additions before the trade deadline, sources said, considering the inconsistent availability of big man Robert Williams III, with Jakob Poeltl standing out as one of their primary targets at the time.


Of the four Celtics guards, Brogdon’s name has been mentioned the most among league executives this past week, although Phoenix has so far been the only team cited by several NBA voices as a suitor to have interest in the Sixth Man of the Year. Pritchard seems like another strong trade candidate for Boston. As the third-year guard becomes extension eligible entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract, Pritchard has communicated an openness to be traded this summer, as first reported by The Athletic. For what it’s worth, White has been described by opposing personnel as the least likely of Boston’s guards to be moved this offseason, particularly after a stellar playoff run.

In Atlanta, the Hawks will continue to explore trade scenarios for Collins. That has so far included preliminary talks with Dallas about swapping Collins and the No. 15 pick in the draft with the Mavericks for the No. 10 pick and Dāvis Bertāns. Those talks did not develop very far, sources said, and Dallas indicated it would be more willing to consider that deal if Hawks center Clint Capela was the returning player from Atlanta.

Like this framework, much of the NBA’s impending trade activity will depend on which players are actually left on the board come draft night, as there’s quite a bit of uncertainty among decision-makers about where prospects will land following the top three selections. All it takes, for example, is Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin and Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 teammate Bilal Coulibaly jumping into the top 10 to leave another team’s higher-rated player on the board when the Mavericks’ pick arrives. There are plenty of clubs in addition to the Mavericks, such as the Thunder at No. 12 and the Lakers at No. 17, sources said, that will consider trading down with teams that hold multiple picks near or in the 20s such as Utah (Nos. 16 and 28), Brooklyn (Nos. 21 and 22) and Indiana (Nos. 26 and 29), who are all considering options at trading up, sources said.


Maybe the Hawks end up trading down from No. 15 — as opposed to the aforementioned scenario with Dallas — in order to move Collins. The Hawks have told opposing teams Atlanta is open to conversations about all of its roster outside of Trae Young, league sources told Yahoo Sports. That does not mean the Hawks are actively shopping Dejounte Murray, whom the franchise sent three first-round picks to acquire from San Antonio last offseason, because Murray, in that respect, would cost quite a lot for Atlanta to part with. The Hawks are valuing their players in some form of tier structure, sources said, where Murray stands in his own realm after Young. Murray will be an interesting early example to see if he considers signing an extension this offseason under the more lucrative structure available in this new CBA, which will now allow Murray to receive a first-year salary that’s 140% of his $17.7 million earnings for the 2023-24 campaign, and with a richer bonus structure, a total agreement that could approach $120 million over four years.

The most inbound trade calls Atlanta has gotten, dating back to the trade deadline, have been focused on young center Onyeka Okongwu, sources said. Okongwu becomes extension eligible this summer after a decent emergence in Year 3. The same goes for Saddiq Bey, whom Atlanta sacrificed five second-round picks to acquire at the deadline and surely intends to retain long term. That has led opposing front offices to pinpoint Capela and De’Andre Hunter as logical trade candidates for the Hawks in addition to Collins. It is important to consider, though, how much Atlanta has valued Capela’s ideal pick-and-roll partnership as a lob threat for Young, not to mention his rim protection ability when he and the Hawks’ lead guard have to defend the opposition’s same action. Plus, Atlanta values Hunter’s two-way ability in a league that’s still placing heavy premium on wings.

One player believed to be on the Hawks’ radar of potential trade targets is Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, sources said, and Toronto marks another team front offices are closely monitoring for trade activity. Similar to the team’s position leading up to the trade deadline, the Raptors are said to still be deliberating various pathways to proceed with their roster. One North Star remains clear for the Raptors: The franchise views Scottie Barnes as the future engine of this offense under new head coach Darko Rajaković, sources said. From there, Toronto has to weigh decisions on Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr.


The Raptors have been repeatedly mentioned by league executives as one of the teams, in addition to New Orleans, Houston and Washington, that will continue attempting to move into the top three as the draft approaches. Toronto has also contacted Houston about the No. 4 pick, sources said.

To make a deal with Houston or Portland — the Blazers and Raptors have discussed both Siakam and Anunoby in the past, sources said — there’s some relevant context at play. With Siakam, any team acquiring the All-NBA talent would have to consider Siakam becoming eligible for a lucrative extension this summer, entering the final year of a $37.8 million contract. Anunoby has been a target of Portland’s for some time, although the Raptors have told rival teams they declined the Blazers’ efforts to swap the No. 7 pick in last June’s draft for Anunoby.

The Indiana product remains a buzzy trade name entering this offseason after the Raptors elicited various offers for Anunoby in February. According to multiple sources, the Raptors forward is very much welcome to remaining in Toronto if he’s able to obtain a larger role in the offense moving forward.

If VanVleet and Siakam are both back with the Raptors flanking Barnes, then that scenario could make Anunoby one of the most coveted players on the trade market. Sacramento has been increasingly mentioned by league figures as an Anunoby suitor, while the Kings consider the future of free-agent forward Harrison Barnes. Toronto, though, is expected to hold significant asking prices for both Anunoby and Siakam, as has been the Raptors’ practice.

There indeed remains the possibility that VanVleet will rejoin the Raptors after declining his player option to reach unrestricted free agency. Early indications are that any team hoping to land VanVleet’s services is going to have to surpass three years, $90 million. While Trent still considers what to do with his own player option, the Raptors guard is expected to command at least $20 million in average annual value, sources said.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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