• Welcome loyal Hoop Ball readers! This is The Week Ahead, where I will be dissecting the upcoming week in the NBA and helping you get one step closer to being prepared for the fantasy season.  The NBA season is only a few weeks away so who’s ready for some trades, drama, tweeting, posterizers, and some genuinely good basketball (except for the Warriors)? Although not many prominent players have changed locations this offseason, DeMarcus Cousins did join the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard and DeMar Derozan swapped places in San Antonio and Toronto.  Of course, no one can forget that LeBron James joined the Lakers and left his beloved home town of Cleveland as well.

    By now, you are likely preparing your fantasy league to draft and hopefully you decide to use the Hoop Ball Draft Guide.  The NBA season is lengthy, so even if you are a step ahead of the competition for the draft, you must try to remain ahead one week at a time. This column will help you take that “one week at a time” mindset and bring it to fruition with helpful tips and information that can help you dress a dominant fantasy team each week.

    PRE-SEASON WATCH LIST

    This is a list of players that I believe are slated to make a big leap this year.  Some players on this list might already be established talents that I think are making improvements in their game heading into next season.

    D’Angelo Russell –  I think Russell will have an entire season like the first ten games he had last season.  He was phenomenal early in the season for the Nets prior to getting hurt.  If he is able to return to that form, he has a real shot at becoming an All Star in the Eastern Conference.

    Dejounte Murray – Without Tony Parker taking minutes away, Murray will only have Patty Mills to fend off for minutes at the point guard position.  I believe he will have a great season and will play very well alongside new backcourt partner DeMar Derozan.

    Markelle Fultz – With a new jump shot that looks as smooth as it did in college, there is nothing standing in his way of becoming the player that the 76ers drafted at No. 1 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

    Jamal Murray – He has shown that his scoring ability is his best tool and that tool improved from his first season to his second season. I expect similar improvement from his second season to his third season and we might be looking at a 20+ points per game scorer next season.

    Kevin Love – Unlike the rest of the guys on this list, Love is on the older side.  Without LeBron in Cleveland, Love should become the man and take a huge step forward in the stat sheet next season.

    TRADE WATCH

    As you all probably know, Jimmy Butler is on heavy trade watch right now as he demanded a trade off of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 29-year-old averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals last year to help the T-Wolves reach the playoffs. He had decided that the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers were his top three destinations for trade where he would sign an extension. Butler believes that one of these three locations will be easy for him to recruit another max contract free agent such as Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving to next season. There have been countless rumors about Butler and Leonard teaming up in Los Angeles on the Lakers or Clippers, but there have also been plenty that have Butler and Irving teaming up on the Knicks. Therefore, there is no real truth behind these rumors and it is possible that wherever he lands is not one of these three desired locations.

    The latest rumors have a couple of teams that Butler did not include in the three team list trying the hardest to land him. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was seen meeting with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor at the NBA Board of Governors meeting last week. General Manager of the Miami Heat Pat Riley has been the most aggressive in pursuit of Butler. Butler and his agent Bernie Lee have since said that he was most interested in joining the Heat even though they were not one of the three mentioned teams. Wojnarowski reported that the Suns or Kings could potentially play a role in the trade as a third-team partner. The Sixers tried to make a push for Butler, but the asking price was reportedly 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons so they are no longer in the running. The last team that has been noted for making a run at Jimmy Butler is the Houston Rockets, but there has been no real traction on a deal thus far.

    This trade demand brought up a whole whirlwind of emotions from his current teammates and started a lot of drama.  Andrew Wiggins’ brother said “Hallelujah!” upon Jimmy Butler requesting a trade. Taj Gibson is upset that Butler was willing to quit on them so fast and same the demand hit him “like a right hook.” Also, Karl-Anthony Towns just received a lucrative extension from the T-Wolves of five years and $190 million.  Towns and Butler never got along, so when Towns signed the extension it was basically a guarantee that Butler was on his way out of Minnesota.

    Prediction: Jimmy Butler and Iman Shumpert to the Miami Heat, Gorgui Dieng and Rodney McGruder to the Sacramento Kings, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and 2020 First Round Pick and 2022 Pick Swap (Best) to the Minnesota Timberwolves

    *Prediction is just a guess*

    Injury Report

    Lauri Markannen (high-grade lateral elbow sprain) will miss six to eight weeks for the Chicago Bulls. Markannen was a member of the 2017-2018 All-Rookie First Team, so this is a big blow for the Bulls to start the season.

    Gordon Hayward (dislocated ankle and fractured tibia) said he’s “basically 100 percent” and told reporters on Tuesday that he dunked off his left foot in practice. He played in the Celtics’ first preseason game and scored 10 points in 22 minutes.

    Wilson Chandler (strained hamstring) left Friday’s preseason opener for the 76ers during the first half and did not return.  He has battled hamstring injuries throughout much of his career. There will be more updates on the injury going forward.

    Kyrie Irving (left knee) said he feels great and is ready for the season to start.  Irving was sidelined for much of last season due to the knee injuries. He scored nine points in 22 minutes during the Celtics’ first preseason game.

    Denzel Valentine (sprained ankle) will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks. He suffered the injury in practice on Tuesday and had surgery on the same ankle in 2017. He averaged 10.2 points last season for the Bulls.

    Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) is making a slow recovery and has no timetable for return.  He said that there is no real protocol for a 7’3” guy with a torn ACL so it is very hard to speed this process up. “It’s already been 7-plus months so obviously I’m getting itchy and want to be back on the court as soon as possible, but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and I’m medically cleared,” Porzingis said.

    DeMarcus Cousins (torn Achillies) will do non-contact work for the Warriors.  Some believe that the Warriors will save Cousins for the playoffs, but General Manager Bob Myers said that he will play when he is ready. When Cousins is back, Golden State will have five 2018 All-Stars in their starting lineup.

    Russell Westbrook (knee surgery) will miss four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.  He will likely be ready for the first game of the season, but they will hold him out until he is 100 percent to ensure he is healthy for the long haul.

    Devin Booker (hand surgery) is set to be out until late October, which would indicate that he misses the first few games of the season.  His timetable from September 11th was six weeks and he is on track with that timetable thus far, so he should be ready by the end of October.

    Dwight Howard (back soreness) will miss the Wizards’ first preseason game.  Howard is losing time that he could get to know the offense and gain chemistry with his new teammates.  Unless there is a setback, he should be ready for the season opener.

    James Johnson (hernia) might miss the start of the season as he is not 100 percent recovered from his hernia surgery.  Johnson said on Friday. “I’m getting better every day. I’m getting stronger every day and I can’t wait to come back healthy.” The Heat will proceed with caution and allow Johnson as much time as it takes to be ready to return to the court.

    Isaiah Thomas (hip) has not fully recovered from his surgery in March.  His hip has become a major concern since the end of his days with the Celtics and he has not been nearly the same player he was with them.“If I could do it all over again, I wish I would have sat out a little longer for sure,” Thomas said.  He might have put his career in jeopardy by returning before he was fully recovered, but we will see which Isaiah Thomas is on the court when he returns for Denver.

Fantasy News

  • DeMarcus Cousins - C - Golden State Warriors

    According to Marc Stein, the Knicks will extend a short-term offer to Demarcus Cousins if they miss out on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard.

    They have been planning for quite some time to pursue the big-time names, but will pursue some short-term deals like Cousins if they strike out. Cousins' offer would likely be a considerable one-year offer, while other free agents may get the same as the Knicks have two max spots.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kevin Porter Jr. - PG-SG - Cleveland Cavaliers

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have announced that they have officially acquired the draft rights to Kevin Porter Jr.

    This trade was confirmed on draft night but it has now officially gone through. Porter Jr. figures to see opportunities off the bench as a score first guard for a Cleveland team in desperate need of bench production in his first season. He'll get his first look with his new team in Summer League.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Stanley Johnson - SF - New Orleans Pelicans

    The Pelicans have opted to not extend a qualifying offer to Stanley Johnson, making him an unrestricted free agent according to Shams Charania of the Athletic.

    This doesn't come as much of a surprise. Johnson struggled to make much of an impact both in Detroit and in New Orleans this season, despite possessing defensive upside that has been mired by his inconsistencies elsewhere throughout his career. He's still 23, and should find an offer elsewhere for next season. Wherever that may be, he will have a long way to go before he will become fantasy relevant.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Derrick Favors - PF - Utah Jazz

    According to Shams Charania of the Athletic, Derrick Favors will field calls from several interested teams and act as if he will be an unrestricted FA, a sign that he doesn't expect the Jazz to pick up his team option.

    Favors has gone on the record indicating that he'd love to return to Utah, but it appears that they are interested in allocating the 17 million he would have made, elsewhere. Favors has always struggled to maximize his fantasy potential playing next to Rudy Gobert, and perhaps a situation with a less clogged paint could do more for his value.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Thomas Bryant - C - Washington Wizards

    Thomas Bryant has been given a qualifying offer from the Wizards, making him a restricted free agent.

    Bryant surprised last season, coming from obscurity to finish with top-125/100 value (8/9-cat). That despite Scott Brooks toying with his minutes. If the Wizards can keep Bryant around last season's workload he'll easily be a steal in fantasy leagues, though we're obviously hoping he takes hold of the starting job.

    Source: Fred Katz on Twitter

  • Romeo Langford - PG - Boston Celtics

    The Celtics start Summer League practice this weekend but first-round pick Romeo Langford will not be cleared for full contact.

    Langford is recovering from right thumb surgery, which is not expected to have any significant long-term effects. This is just the Celtics taking it easy on their new rookie. Hopefully he's cleared before Summer League ends, otherwise we'll get our first look at him in preseason.

    Source: Adam Himmelsbach on Twitter

  • Enes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers

    The Blazers, Lakers and Celtics are among the teams that will be interested in free agent Enes Kanter, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

    Portland knows Kanter well and would surely like to have him back after his admirable work filling in for an injured Jusuf Nurkic, while playing through his own serious ailments, in the playoffs. The Celtics could use a ferocious rebounder to replace Aron Baynes and are barren at the center spot with Al Horford's departure, while the Lakers are lining up cost-effective depth with their roster almost completely empty. Kanter might not replicate his Knicks numbers, but he'll be a standard-league asset no matter where he lands.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Cheick Diallo - PF - New Orleans Pelicans

    Cheick Diallo will be an unrestricted free agent after the Pelicans decided not to extend him a qualifying offer.

    Diallo has solid per-minute output but the playing time has never been there for him in New Orleans. He's got talent and good work ethic, but the league is flooded with available big men at the moment. Hopefully Diallo lands in a spot where he can continue his development.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Nikola Mirotic - PF - Milwaukee Bucks

    Nikola Mirotic is another player on the Mavs' list of free agent targets, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas News.

    Mirotic is not as high on the list as Patrick Beverley, but the Mavs see the stretch forward as a potential fit. While Mirotic ended the postseason out of the rotation for Milwaukee, he's going to be a hot commodity given his floor-spacing and should hold solid standard-league value no matter where he ends up.

    Source: Dallas News

  • Tobias Harris - SF - Philadelphia Sixers

    The Clippers, Mavs, Nets, Nuggets, Wolves, Kings, Grizzlies and Pelicans are expected to be interested in Tobias Harris once free agency opens.

    The Clippers are the most surprising team on the list, but only because they dealt Harris unexpectedly last season. Even so, the team and player had success together and the relationship wasn't necessarily damaged by the deal. Harris is one of the top second-tier free agents available and should have his pick of competitive offers. The Sixers are said to be confident about re-signing him, but they won't be able to do so without a fight.

    Source: The Athletic