• Let the games begin.

    The biggest free agency period since LeBron James rocked the NBA years ago — the Kevin Durant sweepstakes has flown under the radar but now that the Finals are done and the draft is done it’s going to take center stage.

    ESPN reported the first set of teams that would get an audience with Durant and that included the obvious names.  The Spurs and Warriors joined the Thunder as early entrants in that report, and then Woj would come in and clean up the situation by naming the Celtics, Heat and Clippers as potential competitors.  Woj took it a step further and said that the Nuggets, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets and Wizards are “outsiders in the process now.”

    The Nuggets never had a shot and the Knicks lost whatever chance they had (none) by picking up Derrick Rose.  The Rockets don’t get laughed out of the room in this discussion, but it’s close.  Seeing the Lakers on the outside looking in confirms everybody’s belief that mere market size and franchise lore aren’t driving the discussion, and seeing the Wizards’ inclusion there so early sends an early message that going home doesn’t matter.

    Woj writes that Durant and his reps would like to be done with his free agency decision by July 9 and his trip to the Far East.  As the first domino to fall it will be interesting to see how much a delayed decision gums up the market.

    If we’re to take the report at face value he’s going to pick with “a singular focus,” which would be the chance to win titles immediately.

    Are we to believe that this is merely a basketball decision?  That his time with the Thunder doesn’t factor in on a different, non-basketball level?

    Most believe (as I do) that he’s going to stay in Oklahoma City and part of that is the basketball equation, especially after they fleeced the Magic to acquire Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova in exchange for declining Serge Ibaka.  In fact, it’s not hard to see them beating the Warriors a few weeks ago if they had this configuration of players in the fold, essentially omitting Sabonis from the equation.

    But that’s speculation that I’m not even willing to bet significantly on and after the Cavs shocked the Warriors, each of these top-tier teams can make a solid basketball case if Durant is merely using that as criteria.

    The Spurs boast Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Gregg Popovich and the NBA’s model organization.  The Warriors are going to be back hungrier than ever and they stand a great chance of improving this offseason, especially if they move on from Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli in exchange for any number of free agents that would love to go there.

    And then the Thunder, including the most electric player in the NBA in Russell Westbrook, and their Dothraki Warrior and Big Turkey combo at center.  They will probably pass on Dion Waiters but they have Cameron Payne in the fold to play behind Oladipo.  They have Andre Roberson to develop and then they have Ilyasova and Sabonis to give minutes where the key bigs and Durant can’t.

    Whether Ibaka’s decline occurred because of knee issues or not — it wasn’t a deployment issue and he just looked like a guy that lost his fastball.  So the team that pushed the Warriors right up to the point of breaking is going to get better.

    It’s hard to believe that non-basketball decisions are going to be completely off the table here.  Staying with one team, including all the good and bad that goes into one’s time with an organization, and whatever marketing value that has to him are obvious elements for him to sort out.  Does how he gets deployed matter at all?  In other words, is he alright with taking on a decreased role or simply a different role that he doesn’t like quite as much in order to improve his odds at a championship?

    Or what about the estimated $50 million gross loss he’ll take over a five-year span with another team that includes one more year with the Thunder and four after he changes his home court.  Or the estimated $25 million loss he’d take over a four-year span with another team if he leaves this summer.  And the kicker in that scenario is that the new team has to be able to absorb him into existing cap space, whereas the Thunder can use his bird rights to help build a better team.

    Durant will be able to function in any of these environments and all three of the remaining teams in the chase are good ones.  The Celtics, Heat and Clippers each add a unique pitch to the equation, too.  The Celtics boasts a dynamic perimeter lineup and if they can land Al Horford they pass the laugh test.  The Clippers seem more likely to trade Blake Griffin in an attempt to woo Durant with the proceeds from that trade rather than create some sort of super-team, but they also pass the laugh test.  And Pat Riley can do Pat Riley things so they round out an interesting second tier of teams.

    But back to what is the salient issue — the issue of whether or not this is truly a decision about the odds of winning a championship.  The more that talk appears to be real, the more credibility we all have to give to the idea that he could leave the Thunder in a few weeks.  It’s a proposition that most of us in the media have punted on.  Most of us believe that there’s a great basketball case to be made in OKC and there are compelling non-basketball reasons that tilt the scales toward the Thunder.

    But if we’re truly talking titles only, then we have to start playing mental war games between a trio of superstar-laden teams, a strong second tier of squads.

    In the end the Thunder’s chances simply have to decrease. If anything because we’ve all more or less penciled him into the Thunder’s starting rotation next season.

    Whatever the case may be, Thunder fans better hope the issues his camp is claiming don’t matter actually do matter.  They put Oklahoma City over the top.  But set them aside and the games are only getting started.

Fantasy News

  • Russell Westbrook
    PG, Houston Rockets

    The Rockets and Thunder officially completed their blockbuster trade of Chris Paul, first round picks in 2024 and 2026, and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025 for Russell Westbrook on Tuesday.

    Westbrook and Harden and now officially reunited and will be performing massive pre-game routines at the Toyota Center. Meanwhile, the Thunder officially have Chris Paul on the roster and are free to move him if they choose. Watching how Sam Presti begins this rebuild process will be interesting, to say the least.

    Source: Royce Young on Twitter

  • Jarrell Brantley
    PF, Utah Jazz

    The Jazz have signed rookies Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman to two-way contracts.

    Brantley was selected 50th overall in this June's draft after putting up big numbers in four seasons at the College of Charleston. He averaged 4.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in two games at Summer League, though he also missed time with right hamstring soreness. Wright-Foreman, the 53rd pick out of Hofstra, fared a little better with 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals, though he also battled right knee/hamstring issues and left the team for personal reasons at the end of their Vegas run. There's not much fantasy impact here.

    Source: Utah Jazz

  • Lonzo Ball
    PG, New Orleans Pelicans

    Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Lonzo Ball (left ankle) said he'll be ready to go in "a week or two."

    Ball missed the final 35 games of the season because of a Grade 3 left ankle sprain and bone bruise that he suffered in January. Last season also started off slowly as a preseason groin injury cost him a chance to open the year as a starter, and he was forced into sharing point guard work with Rajon Rondo and LeBron James when healthy. A fresh start in New Orleans, where Ball can play an up-tempo game as a franchise building block, should do him wonders. There's some injury risk here considering he's logged only 99 games through two seasons, but Ball's stat set — even with the poor efficiency — could support middle-round numbers. It sounds as though he'll be good to go for training camp.

    Source: Andrew Lopez on Twitter

  • Brandon Ingram
    SF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Brandon Ingram (right arm DVT) said that he's "really close" to resuming normal workouts.

    Ingram underwent surgery on March 16 and the Pelicans have been consistent in saying they have no long-term concerns about Ingram's health. We're fully expecting him to be ready for training camp, though you'll want to keep an eye out for further updates as camp approaches. Ingram's stat set has the same holes as always, but it's possible that this season he'll become a featured player and bludgeon his way to enough volume to make up for his weak spots. His outlook improves on what it would've been with the Lakers, but Ingram still looks like a player that will be overdrafted.

    Source: Andrew Lopez on Twitter

  • Richaun Holmes
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    The Kings have announced the signing of Richaun Holmes.

    Holmes is set to make $10 million over the next two seasons. He'll push for minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but if it's a true meritocracy then he should quickly rise to the front of the pack. Last season he was able to deliver standard-league value in only 16.9 mpg, so he's someone to target late in drafts on the expectation that he gets more burn in Sacramento. It's a potentially messy situation but we have faith that Holmes will make the most of it for fantasy purposes. For the Kings, it's a straight up steal.

    Source: Sacramento Kings

  • Marcus Morris
    PF, New York Knicks

    The Knicks have announced the signings of Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock.

    Morris is on a one-year, $15 million deal while Bullock is coming in on a two-year deal worth less than $4.7 million annually, with a second season that isn't fully guaranteed. While both players began the offseason as potential standard-league targets, there's not much to see given the sudden depth of the Knicks roster. Morris will be one of five players who should mostly be playing power forward, while Bullock will slot into a busy backcourt and is already expected to miss at least a month of the season. New York's rotations are going to be a mess and we'd steer clear.

    Source: New York Knicks

  • Reggie Bullock
    SG-SF, New York Knicks

    Reggie Bullock is expected to miss at least one month of the regular season, per SNY's Ian Begley.

    Bullock, who initially agreed to a two-year deal worth $21 million, re-worked his contract to clock in at two years (with a second year that isn't fully guaranteed) for under the $4.7 million exception. There's no word on what exactly Bullock is dealing with, though he suffered from neck stiffness and plantar fasciitis in his right foot late last season. There's no need to monitor Bullock in standard leagues to open the year.

    Source: Ian Begley on Twitter

  • Markelle Fultz
    PG, Orlando Magic

    Speaking to Sirius XM, Steve Clifford said that although there remains no timetable for Markelle Fultz (shoulder), he is making good progress.

    Clifford said, "You know, right now we don't have a timetable for when he'll be back, but he's really doing a great job." Fultz simply wasn't ready to suit up, and even though we haven't really had any concrete updates on him since his last game on November 18, we're still expecting him to be ready to start the season. Fultz will make for a late-round flier on the chance that he finally gets healthy and puts it all together.

    Source: Sirius XM NBA Radio on Twitter

  • Blake Griffin
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Blake Griffin (left knee) has been cleared to start light basketball activities after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in late April.

    Griffin dealt with left knee soreness in the season's final games and missed the first two games of the playoffs. His issues were dealt with quickly after the season ended and he should be ready for the start of the season. Look for Griffin to come off draft boards in the early-middle rounds after he put up a career season last year, though there might not be much profit margin at that price. There's a definite 8-cat lean as well.

    Source: Rod Beard on Twitter

  • Nicolo Melli
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli underwent knee surgery and will not participate in Italy’s training camp at the end of July, ahead of the FIBA World Tournament.

    This comes out of nowhere and the only relative information we have is that Melli will be re-evaluated on a week-to-week basis. The Italian big should be fine for the Pelicans training camp where he will compete for the backup power forward minutes as long as the surgery is not anything too serious.

    Source: Sportando