Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (June 29) -- Chris Paul, James Harden begin their era in Houston

Plus, a look at all the latest free-agent chatter and buzz from Wednesday night.

NBA.com Staff

This morning’s headlines:

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Paul makes his move, pairs up with Harden — The Houston Rockets made it to the Western Conference semifinals in 2016-17 thanks to the a yeoman-like effort from Kia MVP candidate James Harden. In 2017-18, the Rockets’ hopes for a deeper playoff run were buoyed yesterday by their mega-trade with the LA Clippers for All-Star point guard Chris Paul. As the dust settles on that move, our own David Aldridge takes stock of Paul’s L.A. legacy and what is next for him in Houston:

Paul is the latest superstar to dictate the terms of where he wants to go, and with whom he wants to play. It’s James Harden today; it may well be Carmelo Anthony tomorrow — and it may be Paul and ‘Melo and LeBron next year, in a city near you, or in Houston, who the hell knows?

The where isn’t as important now as the how.

Paul had no interest in remaining in L.A. with the current setup of the roster — and, maybe, the front office. ESPN’s Michael Eaves — very plugged into the Clippers as a former studio host and sideline reporter—wrote Wednesday that Paul came to “despise” Doc Rivers for what Paul considered favorable treatment by Doc Rivers toward his son, Austin. (Naturally, Austin Rivers denied there was friction on Twitter later in the day.)

Whatever the reason, Paul picked Harden, the runner-up for MVP and fellow superstar, to be his running mate. Anthony could well join them soon if the Knicks grant what is still his request — a buyout, per a league source, of the remaining two years of his contract.

That request could be tabled if there’s some clarity from the Knicks about what direction they plan to go in after Phil Jackson’s sudden departure Wednesday; are they planning to get vets who can help them win now (obviously, ‘Melo’s preference), or engage in robust rebuilding?

By agreeing to an opt-in and trade, of course, rather than simply signing with Houston as a free agent, Paul also kept his Bird Rights — and thus, kept open the possibility of a max deal in Houston next summer. (Whether the Rockets will be any more sanguine about giving him $200 million or so next year at 33 than the Clippers weren’t at 32 will be of interest.)

Or, Paul could walk and join LeBron and Dwyane Wade and a bought-out Anthony somewhere next year as the NBA’s Space Cowboys — old (by NBA standards) coots who just want one last ride together. There has been so much murmuring in league circles that the quartet is determined to find a home en masse in ’18. It was supposed to be with the Clippers, but the presence of DeAndre Jordan’s still-big deal, along with the possibility of Blake Griffin staying in the 310/213/818 (y’all got too many area codes) if he re-signs, likely made that impossible.

There was, frequently, drama. Paul is that kind of player, as most of the great ones are — never satisfied, always wanting more. He and Jordan got out of kilter a couple of years ago (as I wrote then, and they denied), igniting Jordan’s verbal deal with the Mavericks before an 11th-hour intervention of teammates and coaches and others with whom he’d grown close in the City of Angels changed his mind. The relationship improved enough for both to have a solid if unspectacular bond, about the same as Paul had with Griffin.

It rankled some way up in the Clips’ organization that Paul always seemed closer, more attuned, with players on other teams around the league than his own teammates. The injuries were no one’s fault, but they occurred with regularity the last few years — a separated shoulder, a broken right hand, a torn ligament in his left thumb.

But Paul’s talents, toughness and leadership made the Clippers a legitimate contender for the first time since they moved to the west coast. And, in a city where style matters, he brought panache and a little glitter to what had been a toad of a franchise for the better part of three decades. They never really replaced the Lakers as the city’s darlings, but they made significant inroads, further deepened by the billionaire pockets of Steve Ballmer.

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Report: Bogut will be on free-agent market — Andrew Bogut’s time with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season lasted all of 60 seconds before he fractured his left tibia. From there, Bogut — who was acquired by Cleveland off waivers from the Dallas Mavericks — was let go by the Cavs and has been on the rehab trail. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Bogut will enter the free-agent market on Saturday and is healed up to play:

Four months after suffering a broken leg in his Cleveland Cavaliers debut, Andrew Bogut will be back on the free-agent market Saturday, according to league sources, when the NBA opens for business at 12:01 a.m. ET.

Sources told ESPN that Bogut — felled by a fracture left tibia just one minute into his first game with the Cavaliers — is roughly two weeks from being cleared for full basketball activities after recently being cleared to resume running and jumping.

NBA teams have been receiving updates from agent David Bauman while Bogut, 32, rehabs in his native Australia.

The Cavaliers kept Bogut on their radar as a potential buyout candidate throughout the season and, in February, successfully signed both the 7-foot center and former All-Star guard Deron Williams when they secured their respective releases from the Mavericks.

But on March 6, less than 60 seconds after checking into a game against the Miami Heat, Bogut suffered the leg fracture, instantly ending his season and denying him the opportunity to face off against the Warriors in the Finals after playing for Golden State against Cleveland in the previous two championship series.

The Cavs tried to replace him with fellow veteran Larry Sanders late in the season, but ultimately wound up calling up Edu Tavares out of the D-League to try to fill their size void on the roster, only for Tavares to suffer a fractured hand in practice during the playoffs that ruled him out of the final two rounds.

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Hawks taking wait-and-see approach with roster — All-Star forward Paul Millsap and guard Tim Hardaway were two of the more important pieces to the Atlanta Hawks’ 2016-17 campaign. Both are also free agents this summer and will command interest on the open market. Whether or not they return to the Hawks, though, won’t be decided quickly. That’s the word from Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Schlenk said the team will take a wait-and-see approach to filling out the roster. While the priorities remain Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr., the good player at a good salary mantra is still the philosophy.

“Free agency you typically see deals at 12:01 (a.m.),” Schlenk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I don’t anticipate us being a team with a deal at 12:01 (a.m.). We’ll see what the market dictates.”

According to people familiar with the situation, Millsap could receive interest from as many as eight teams. With the salary cap now projected at $99 million, Millsap is eligible for a maximum contract of five years, $201 million from the Hawks and four years, $149 million. Schlenk has indicated the team won’t offer Millsap the maximum and that he may receive a better offer from another team.

Schlenk said where Millsap ends up, in Atlanta or elsewhere, will not affect the rest of the team’s free agency. In other words, the Millsap domino does not have to fall first.

“We are going to have our conversations with Paul,” Schlenk said. “He’s unrestricted. He could sign at 12:01 (a.m.). We’ve had conversations. Could (he sign immediately)? Sure. … Paul, we’ll sit down and talk to them. They will look at all their offers. I don’t know that he is in a huge hurry to move quickly. I don’t think something will happen at 12:01 (a.m.) but it might.”

Schlenk said the Hawks will sign a power forward in free agency – whether it’s Millsap or another available player.

The Hawks extended a qualifying offer to Hardaway this week to make him a restricted free agent. The move gives the Hawks the ability to match any offer sheet Hardaway may sign with another team. The Hawks could also sign Hardaway to a new deal. According to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Hardaway could sign an offer sheet during the league’s moratorium period from July 1-6. Schlenk said he expects that Hardaway is not in a rush to make a decision.

“He is a priority for us, just like Paul,” Schlenk said of Hardaway. “I don’t see (a quick offer sheet signing) coming. It could happen. I think they’ll give us a heads up.”

The Hawks have other unrestricted free agents in Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Muscala and Jose Calderon.

“We are not going to be the first people out of the gate making deals at 12:01 (a.m.),” Schlenk said. “We are going to see where the market goes. There are going to be guys who end up on good deals. There are going to be guys who you say that’s not a good deal. We want to be that team where they say they got a good player at a good salary.”

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Reports: Hayward visiting Heat on Saturday,will meet with Jazz on Monday — Perhaps the prize of the 2017 free-agent class is Utah Jazz star forward Gordon Hayward. After he logged a career-best season, made his first All-Star team and led the Jazz to a division title and first-round playoff series win, Hayward is on several teams’ radar. According to multiple reports, he will meet with the Miami Heat on Saturday, and will talk with the Jazz come Monday and has a meeting with the Boston Celtics scheduled soon, too.

First, here’s ESPN.com’s report on Hayward’s scheduled date with the Heat:

Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that.

An earlier version of this story stated that Hayward would meet with Boston on Sunday, then Utah on Monday.

Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.

Jody Gennesy of the Deseret News confirms the Hayward meeting with the Jazz on Monday, as well:

All-Star forward Gordon Hayward will meet with the Utah Jazz on Monday to discuss his future, sources have confirmed to the Deseret News.

Hayward will opt out of the final year of his contract before free agency begins and will also meet with the Miami Heat — on Saturday, according to reports — and the Boston Celtics.

Re-signing Hayward is the top priority for the Jazz this offseason, so this weekend and Monday’s meeting have huge implications for the organization. To that point, Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey reiterated on Wednesday that trying to bring back the team’s incumbent free agents — namely Hayward and point guard George Hill — is precisely what the franchise hopes to do.

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Reports: Griffin top target now for Clippers — In the wake of trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets yesterday, the LA Clippers amassed some young talent and future assets. Yet they also have the question of Blake Griffin’s free agency on their minds and whether or not he’ll return to the only NBA team he’s ever known. Per ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Michael Eaves, once free agency begins Griffin will be target No. 1 for the Clippers’ brass:

With Chris Paul headed to the Houston Rockets, the LA Clippers will turn their attention to keeping Blake Griffin, a source told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

Griffin notified the team last week that he will not pick up his option for next season.

The Clippers are of the understanding that it will take a five-year deal to keep Griffin, a source told Shelburne.

Complicating the matter however, sources told ESPN’s Michael Eaves, is that Griffin may not be ready for the start of the next season and could possibly be out until December due to a toe injury that cut short his postseason.

A separate source told Shelburne the team believes Griffin’s toe will be healed and he’ll likely be ready for the start of the season.

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Pistons will have to pay to keep Caldwell-Pope — Even though they stumbled last season in the standings after a solid 2015-16 season, the Detroit Pistons have a solid cast of young talent. One of the key pieces in that group is guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is a free agent this summer. Where Pope lands is unknown right now and while he has his suitors, Rod Beard of The Detroit News writes that the Pistons must be prepared to pay up for him if they want to keep him:

All roads have been leading toward a tough decision for the Pistons for more than a year. It’s been one of the biggest topics around the team, looking to determine their long-term path, beyond giving Andre Drummond a max contract.

Now, it’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s turn.

Maybe for a max contract, maybe to become the second-highest-paid player on the team — but certainly to get a hefty raise over his salary last season: $3.7 million. How much, though, is the question.

As a restricted free agent, Caldwell-Pope, 24, can field offer sheets from other teams — and the Pistons will have the ability to match any offer and retain him — but that’s where things start to get tricky.

What’s the number? $18 million? $20 million? A max deal?

Caldwell-Pope was a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, taken eighth overall. In four seasons, he’s averaged 11.7 points, 3 rebounds and 1.6 assists. His best season came in in 2015-16, when he posted career highs of 14.5 points and 3.7 rebounds. Last season, he shot a career-best 35 percent on 3-pointers, the biggest question mark about his development.

All indications are that the Pistons would be willing to match any terms from another team, including a max offer, should that happen. Many reports have the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings as teams potentially looking to make Caldwell-Pope an offer, but it’s not clear whether one would reach the max threshold.

In some ways, the Pistons have painted themselves into the corner of having to pay Caldwell-Pope, having not groomed a suitable replacement. Stanley Johnson played the reserve minutes behind Caldwell-Pope last season, but he doesn’t appear ready to take on the starting role.

The Pistons picked Luke Kennard with the No. 12 pick in the NBA draft last week, but like the Johnson situation, he’s not prepared for an increased role. At this point, the Pistons already are over the salary cap and would be using their right as his current team to exceed the cap and likely would get near the luxury-tax line.

There are indications that Pistons owner Tom Gores would consider going far over the cap — and into the luxury tax — to retain Caldwell-Pope, as they see him as an integral part of their long-term plan.

But for a team that went 37-45 and missed the playoffs, it’s a tough pill to swallow to have one of the top payrolls in the league and not have the production in the win-loss column to justify it.

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Raptors play waiting game on Ujiri — When the New York Knicks officially parted ways with team president Phil Jackson yesterday, word began to circulate the Knicks were eyeing Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to fill the spot. While Ujiri has faced suitors in the past, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star explains why this time around might be different:

And for the first time since he assumed control of the Raptors, Ujiri’s future is actually a question. The organization is quietly projecting confidence that Ujiri won’t leave, but that’s either overconfidence or naiveté. Last year, Brooklyn inquired through intermediary parties about Ujiri, but it never reached any formal stages, bottomless resources be damned. A second team called last year and was politely rebuffed. Those weren’t serious.

This is. Yes, the Knicks are a mess, in perpetuity. The Jackson era in New York mashed as many hilarious buttons as possible, culminating with multiple reports that the hall of fame coach fell asleep during a draft workout. Seinfeld hasn’t been on the air since 1998, but Jackson with the Knicks was like watching George Costanza, the sitcom’s hapless idiot, trying to get fired from the Yankees.

Still, Phil got rich, and the final two years of his five-year, $60-million U.S. deal were guaranteed in April of this year. Ah, Zen.

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York. When Ujiri came to Toronto from Denver he was lured by the city, the geography — it is easier to get home every summer to Africa, where Ujiri pours his soul every summer into his Giants of Africa charity — the resources, and the challenge of fixing a franchise that had never been fixed.

Any of that sound familiar? New York has stubbornly buried a lot of good basketball men, made them laughingstocks. But Ujiri loves a challenge.

Ujiri is still considered one of the few executives in the NBA with real aura, star power and deep connections, and that’s why the Knicks will chase him. Where MLSE would go to replace him is an open question, too. Before you dismiss them as the stumbling, bumbling Knicks, remember: Leiweke is the man who built MLSE’s current competitive structure: its rising hockey team, its stellar soccer team, the Raptors. He knows the owners, knows Ujiri and what pushes his buttons. Ujiri loved working for him. Leiweke pried Ujiri out of Denver in the first place, and as one MLSE official put it, “don’t forget that (Leiweke) wants to stick it to these guys.”

The idea of New York is a powerful one, as is the idea of bigger dollars when you have a charitable organization that can use every penny. As well, the NBA would love to see the Knicks fixed: commissioner Adam Silver and Ujiri are on excellent terms, despite past wrist-slapping fines, and you can bet the league is interested in this.

But if Ujiri decides that he can handle Dolan, dig out that culture and fix the Knicks … well, that might be insane hubris, but it’s possible. It wouldn’t be the end of the Raptors, but it would leave a 32-year-old rookie GM in charge, and in all likelihood a dive into a rebuild, with franchise-changing decisions everywhere.

Free agency opens July 1. As of Wednesday evening sources indicated the request had not been made, but that can change with a phone call. Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

So Ujiri has a decision to make, and the tall foreheads at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment do, too. They could try to cut this off by asking Ujiri what else it would take to end all speculation, and delivering it. They can hope he loves it here and distrusts Dolan enough to stay. That is all possible.

Or they can find out what Masai Ujiri is worth to the Toronto Raptors, after he leaves.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks’ stadium renovation will include the NBA’s first bar a few feet from the court … Mo Williams may be considering an NBA comeback … Los Angeles Lakers GM Rob Pelinka dispels the notion 2017-18 will be a rebuilding year for the team … Dirk Nowitzki’s former teammates chime in on what it’s like playing and working alongside him

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