NBA Free-Agency Rumors Tracker: Analysis, Predictions for Players on the Move

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    While the potential impact of NBA free agency often outshines the actual process, the 2019 version seems it will live up to the hype.

    The supply of available superstars is rich. The demand for said stars from teams with one or more max-contract slots is even more abundant.

    The rumor mill is every bit as active as you would expect, and we are here to help you stay on top of it.

    Stay locked here for Thursday’s updates of legitimate information, smokescreens and everything in between. B/R’s crew of NBA experts will pass along all the latest buzz and, more importantly, analyze what it actually means.

            

    Stats via NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    It feels like the idea of Kyrie Irving joining the Brooklyn Nets has been solidifying for weeks. There have been occasional distractions, but the rumors always seem to steer Kyrie back to Brooklyn.

    On Thursday, we got, at the very least, another distraction.

    “Kyrie Irving remains as much a target for the Lakers as Kawhi Leonard, league sources say, now that the Lakers are sure they can open maximum cap space,” the New York TimesMarc Stein tweeted. “They are swinging for the fences despite all of the signals that have pointed Irving to Brooklyn.”

    This is, of course, a report on the Lakers’ thinking. There’s no indication here that the interest is reciprocal. And despite some midseason mea culpas from Kyrie to LeBron James over their time together with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the idea of those two reuniting still feels like a long shot.

    Kyrie seems to know he needs superstar help. But he’s been down that road with LeBron before. And the Kevin Durant rumors aren’t going away till we have concrete answers post-July 1.

    “I’m pretty much hearing it’s done,” Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN Radio (h/t FanDuel). “Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are going to Brooklyn.”

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    File this one away in the “long shot that depends on a hypothetical” folder.

    “Sources: If the Warriors don’t offer guard Klay Thompson a max $190 million deal on Sunday when free agency opens, he will listen to both LA teams, the Lakers and Clippers,” the Los Angeles TimesBrad Turner reported. “Lakers back in the runnings because they now have max slot of $32 million after today’s trade.”

    The Golden State Warriors allowing Thompson to walk almost feels like an impossibility. He’s one half of the Splash Brothers, second in franchise history in threes and top-10 in points and win shares. Oh, and there’s the whole “integral part of three championship teams” thing.

    Thursday on ESPN, Stephen A. Smith said the “deal’s already done” when asked whether the Warriors shooting guard would return to Golden State.

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    “There are some in the [New York Knicks] organization who wouldn’t regard [Terry] Rozier as too far a step down from Kyrie Irving because of his age—25,” the New York Post‘s Marc Berman wrote. “Rozier, who went to Louisville, also knows Kentucky’s Kevin Knox.”

    Wait, what?

    This probably isn’t necessary, but let’s put that thinking to the test. Here are Kyrie and Scary Terry’s numbers over the last two seasons, adjusted for pace and playing time:

  • Irving: 27.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 threes and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions, with a 60.0 true shooting percentage and a 6.3 box plus/minus
  • Rozier: 15.4 points, 4.4 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 threes and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions, with a 51.1 true shooting percentage and a 0.6 box plus/minus

Look, this really isn’t a fair comparison. In terms of on-court production, Rozier isn’t close to Kyrie’s level.

But if New York whiffs on all the big-name free agents like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker and Kyrie, it’ll have to talk itself into a less glamorous outcome.

And with reports that Kemba could sign with Boston, Rozier might become that outcome.

“If Walker flees Charlotte for Boston, there are reports the Celtics could renounce the rights to backup point guard Terry Rozier, who has long been an apple of Knicks GM Scott Perry’s eye,” Berman wrote. 

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Raptors have already reaped the rewards of their gamble on Kawhi Leonard with the organization’s first-ever NBA title.

    But they’re now coming face-to-face with the risks.

    Leonard, a Southern California native, intends to meet with both the Lakers and Clippers when free agency opens on Sunday, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. Leonard plans to meet with “a handful of teams” including the Raptors, with whom he is “seriously considering re-signing.”

    Toronto can offer him a longer, richer contract than anyone—five years, $190 million in all. It also just shared the experience of capturing a championship with him and earned high marks for him for its health maintenance strategy.

    Still, the threat of L.A. is significant, and it’s coming from both clubs. The Lakers just opened a max-contract slot, and they felt they were in the running long before that. The Clippers could create space for two max deals, and they’re mulling trying to fill them with Leonard and Jimmy Butler, a potential pairing believed to interest Leonard, per The Athletic’s Sam Amick.

    This could be at least a three-team race, which has to worry the Raptors. While they should be commended for staying in the discussion, there’s still a significant chance Leonard leaves and the team radically transforms without him.

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers’ exceptionalism is real, and it’s spectacular.

    Over the last 12 months, the Lakers have added two all-galaxy superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. On Thursday, they opened a path to adding a possible third star, which would grant them pole position in the 2019-20 title race.

    The Lakers found their necessary trade partner to expand the Anthony Davis deal and will send Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones to the Washington Wizards, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe. Davis also waived his $4 million trade kicker, per Wojnarowski, which means L.A. now has $32 million to spend in free agency.

    Could Kyrie Irving reunite with James? Is Kemba Walker coming? Does this get the Lakers in the running for Southern California native Kawhi Leonard? Maybe former Laker D’Angelo Russell is in line for a return?

    Or how about Jimmy Butler? A Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher that Butler “has interest in being the third star with the Los Angeles Lakers, even if it means accepting slightly less than a maximum salary.”

    If the Lakers sign any of these notable names, they’ll have next to nothing left to spend on their supporting cast. But when the foundation features James, Davis and insert-third-star-here, that’s a championship-caliber nucleus regardless of how the rest of the roster looks.

    James, meanwhile, is already trying to make sure Davis is as comfortable as possible in his new digs. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported James is “gifting…his No. 23” to Davis. It’s the only number Davis has worn during his NBA career. It’s unclear which number James will don next season. He’s worn No. 23 with the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers, and he wore No. 6 with the Miami Heat.

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    Zach Beeker/Getty Images

    Teams in need of another big man—here’s looking at you, Celtics and Sixers—should pay attention: Nerlens Noel is headed for the open market.

    It’s no surprise to see the No. 6 pick from 2013 turn down his $1.9 million player option to enter free agency, as Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Thursday. Noel once reportedly declined a $70 million offer from the Dallas Mavericks. Even if the market has humbled him since, he wasn’t going to accept a minimum salary out of the gate.

    Regardless of where he lands, he won’t blow up his bank account. He settled for a minimum one-plus-one pact last July and then averaged a career-low 13.7 minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Besides, the market for non-shooting bigs isn’t exactly booming.

    With that said, he can add length, athleticism and energy to any second-unit frontcourt. His per-36-minute career averages include 10.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.2 steals. Boston should give the Massachusetts native a look with Al Horford heading out, and Philadelphia should consider a reunion since it needs a reliable reserve behind Joel Embiid.

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    For all the focus on the point guards potentially joining or leaving the Boston Celtics, center Al Horford‘s exit could be the most significant development.

    He’s been the connective tissue of this team. He does all the things an elite glue guy should. He defends all over, sets strong screens, keeps the ball moving and hits open shots. Without him, the Celtics will struggle to keep their championship window open.

    While a source close to Horford says no final decision has been made, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, a league source insists “Horford’s time in Boston is over.”

    If the Celtics have reservations about meeting the big man’s asking price, that’s understandable. He is believed to have a four-year offer worth roughly $112 million waiting for him in free agency, per Marc Stein of the New York Times.

    That said, his departure would create a massive void on Boston’s interior, and filling it would be tricky if the Celtics throw major money at a point guard. In addition to Kemba Walker, Himmelsbach reported Boston could have interest in D’Angelo Russell depending on how free agency shakes out.

    If the C’s don’t budget for a high-level big man, their title dreams may be dashed.

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    A major pay raise seems imminent for defense-first point guard Patrick Beverley.

    After making just over $5 million this past season, the 30-year-old is reportedly seeking “a deal in the three-year, $40 million-plus range,” per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

    If that seems steep for a point guard with career averages of 3.5 assists and 41.2 percent shooting, think again. The Mavericks, Lakers, Bulls and Clippers are all interested.

    What Beverley lacks in shot-creation, he compensates for with suffocating on-ball defense, a trusty three-point shot (career 38.0 percent) and playoff experience. He’s a two-time All-Defensive team selection and offers impressive versatility at that end despite standing only 6’1″ (just ask Kevin Durant).

    As Beverley’s list of suitors shows, he can fit as either a plug-and-play support piece for a contender or a tone-setter for a younger team.

    This seems like it could go any way. His low-maintenance style would seamlessly fit with LeBron James in L.A. or Luka Doncic in Dallas. He has two years of familiarity with the Clippers. He’s also a Chicago native, and his hometown team could use a veteran place holder while it grooms No. 7 pick Coby White.

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    For eight seasons now, the Warriors have seen firsthand the impact of Klay Thompson’s lethal long-range shooting and defensive versatility.

    They should know exactly what they think he’s worth and whether his ACL tear in the NBA Finals changed that perception.

    If they deem him worthy of the full five-year, $189.7 million max and offer it at the start of free agency, his market might close as soon as it opens. But if they hesitate at all, The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported Thompson could look elsewhere, starting with the Clippers.

    “[Warriors owner Joe] Lacob has shared his love for Thompson publicly at every turn, but a source with knowledge of Thompson’s situation said his private handling of the matter has still left the door out of The Bay open every so slightly—at least for now,” Amick wrote.

    Maybe something unexpected is happening behind closed doors, but this should be straightforward.

    Thompson has been a critical component of three championship runs and might be the perfect backcourt mate for Stephen Curry. Unless Golden State is suddenly pinching pennies, a max for Thompson feels like a no-brainer.

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The situation could be a little more nuanced than this, but Kawhi Leonard’s free agency seems like a two-team race between the Clippers and Raptors.

    Toronto’s pitch speaks for itself. The club spent the past year proving its strength to the superstar swingman, managing his workload, improving the roster and ultimately taking home the franchise’s first world title.

    L.A.’s strongest argument has tended to exist off the court. Leonard is a Southern California native, and he can’t get his hometown comfort or climate elsewhere.

    The Clippers could strengthen their on-court appeal by adding a second star to the mix—after a bit of money maneuvering—and might have a particular player in mind, as Amick reported:

    “There are many scenarios seemingly in play, but sources say one in particular looks increasingly possible: [Jimmy] Butler teaming up with Leonard on the Clippers. There are strong indications that Leonard is interested in having Butler as a running mate, and it’s the sort of powerful pairing that would certainly vault the Clippers into contention.”

    Leonard and Butler would immediately form one of the league’s top defensive tandems. They have nine All-Defensive team selections between them. Each can also run offense at a consistently high level, as the pair has seven combined seasons with a scoring average of 20-plus points per game.

    If Leonard needed basketball reasons to consider going home, a partnership with Butler could be as convincing as they come.

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    John Hefti/Associated Press

    For the last three years, Golden State has rostered one of the planet’s best players. In a week or two, that may no longer be the case.

    Losing Kevin Durant would be a crushing blow to any franchise, even one that had a championship nucleus in place before his arrival. But if the Warriors are forced to confront that fate, they’d like to soften the sting a bit by getting something in return.

    “The Warriors are wide open to considering sign-and-trade scenarios,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on Thursday’s Get Up.

    To be clear, Durant has not signaled his intentions one way or the other. Wojnarowski’s latest report had the superstar swingman mulling over several options, including a return to Golden State, which can make him a longer, richer offer than any other suitor.

    But if Durant goes, the cash-strapped Warriors would love to collect anything they can. Windhorst raised the possibility of a $35 million trade exception, which would allow Golden State to add to its roster despite having no real cap space. However, Windhorst added no team would be incentivized to help the Warriors, so maybe this goes nowhere.

    Still, add this to the growing list of possible outcomes to Durant’s hugely anticipated free agency.

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Are the Celtics about to go from one All-Star point guard to the next? The possibility has never seemed more likely.

    Wojnarowski reported the Shamrocks “have emerged as the front-runner” for Walker, who has been an All-Star each of the last three seasons. This #WojBomb comes on the heels of an update from Charania that stated Walker and the Hornets “have sizable gaps and [a] stalemate in talks so far.”

    While Walker and his current club have publicly prioritized each other, that commitment has always seemed fair to scrutinize. They have only made two playoff trips over his eight-year tenure, and this overpaid, underperforming supporting cast will only become harder to build once the point guard gets paid like the star he has become.

    To that end, Wojnarowski added Hornets owner Michael Jordan is “no longer determined to extend far enough financially to re-sign his franchise player.” The Celtics, on the other hand, are expected to have a four-year, $141 million offer ready when the market opens Sunday.

    Boston might be one of multiple suitors—New York and Dallas are among the others, per Charania—but its status as the favorite makes sense. The Celtics seemingly need a Kyrie Irving replacement, and plugging in the 29-year-old Walker could allow the club to maximize its competitiveness without him.

    Could Boston still contend without Irving and, perhaps more importantly, Al Horford? That’s debatable. Could the Celtics give Walker an exponentially greater chance of winning than the Hornets? Without question.

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    In a dream world, the Knicks leave this offseason with two freshly signed superstars in hand (most likely Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving).

    The likelihood of realizing that dream is unclear, but the Knicks must ensure they maintain the necessary wiggle room to pull it off. The need for maximum flexibility is apparently preventing Emmanuel Mudiay from getting a qualifying offer.

    Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported the Knicks will not extend a qualifying offer to Mudiay for financial reasons. Haynes added there is “mutual interest” in the point guard’s return.

    The seventh overall pick in 2015, Mudiay’s first full season in New York saw him set several career bests, including 14.8 points per game and 44.6 percent shooting. At 23 years old, he should still have ample room to grow.

    It would not be a shock to see him stick in the Big Apple, but it could depend on the franchise’s free-agency fortune. If the Knicks add Irving or Kemba Walker, that could spell the end of Mudiay’s tenure. If not, he could rejoin Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina in the Knicks’ lead-guard rotation.

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    The Clippers increased their spending power—and added to their asset collection—by trading then-leading scorer Tobias Harris to the 76ers at the trade deadline.

    L.A. now has the ability to create two max-contract slots, and the added flexibility could lead the Clippers…back to Harris?

    “One team that should express interest in Harris should they miss out on Kawhi Leonard: the Clippers,” Charania reported. “Harris and the Clippers had a good relationship, and Harris had an All-Star-caliber season before the trade to the 76ers in February.”

    At the time of the transaction, Harris, 26, was averaging 20.9 points per game and flirting with a 50/40/90 slash (49.6/43.4/87.7). He might be a tick below the elites the Clippers are hoping to add, but he would be quite the consolation prize.

    That said, Philly has prioritized keeping Harris, and at least seven other teams are expected to have interest. Odds are against a return.

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    When the New York Knicks cleared the deck with the Kristaps Porzingis trade, fans had visions of Kevin Durant hooping in their heads.

    Reality may not be quite as appealing.

    “The Knicks are weighing the prospect of extending a considerable one-year offer to Warriors free-agent big man DeMarcus Cousins if they miss out on top target Kevin Durant,” the New York TimesMarc Stein tweeted.

    If New York ends up with DeMarcus Cousins and other lower-tier free agents, the Porzingis deal is going to be re-analyzed ad nauseam.

    Cousins may yet have something left in the tank, but he’s a far cry from Durant. And he’s not just coming off a torn Achilles; there’s also the torn quad to think about now.

    Sure, he came back from both those injuries, but that’s significantly more wear and tear than most soon-to-be 29-year-old NBA players have on their bodies. And at 6’11”, 270 pounds, he’s carrying more weight than most.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Theoretically, Stanley Johnson makes perfect sense for the modern NBA. At 6’7″, 245 pounds, he has that multi-positional frame that lends itself to switching on defense. He has, on occasion, shown some decent playmaking chops with 10 career games of five or more assists.

    But offensive consistency has generally eluded him. The league-average true shooting percentage over the course of Johnson’s career is 55.2. And among the 163 players who took as many shots over that span, Johnson’s true shooting percentage of 46.7 ranks 163rd.

    Now, Johnson is about to enter unrestricted free agency with that “theory vs. production” conundrum.

    Sources: The Pelicans have declined to extend a qualifying offer to forward Stanley Johnson, making him an unrestricted free agent,” Stadium and The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported. “Johnson, 23, is a strong defender and will receive interest from several teams. Allows Pelicans to now have upwards of $28M in open space.”

    Johnson may be worth a flier for a team that thinks it might be able to teach him how to shoot. As Charania pointed out, there is some defensive talent here.

    From the Pelicans’ perspective, wanting the extra cap space makes sense. They can now chase max-level players with no more than six years of experience. That bunch can get up to 25 percent of the projected $109 million cap ($27.3 million) as a starting salary.

    They could also position themselves as a landing spot for an unwanted big salary from another team. The incentive there is the chance for more asset accumulation. Taking on bad money is probably worthwhile if it comes with a future first-round pick.

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Derrick Favors is under contract with the Utah Jazz during the 2019-20 season for $16.9 million. But if the team waives him before July 7, it wouldn’t be on the hook for any of that money.

    And with the Jazz reportedly interested in other power forwards, they may go that route. “Nikola [Mirotic] is a possibility for the jazz,” The Athletic’s Tony Jones tweeted in response to a follower’s question.

    If Utah hangs onto Favors for next season, it would only have minimums and the $4.7 million room exception to use in free agency. Mirotic will almost certainly cost more than that.

    Favors and his camp presumably know all of this.

    “Utah Jazz forward/center Derrick Favors will enter the free-agency period fielding calls from interested teams as if he will be an unrestricted free agent,” Stadium and The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported. “Favors…will have a robust market as a free agent with several teams pursuing big men.”

    Even if Utah ultimately decides to keep Favors, exploring the market now makes sense for the big man. In the event he is waived, more information certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    After posting a below-average box plus/minus in each of his first six NBA seasons, Enes Kanter was comfortably above average over the last two seasons.

    In fact, among players who logged at least 2,000 minutes over the last two seasons, Kanter’s box plus/minus ranked 62nd. That’s a huge leap from where he was during those first six seasons.

    And it looks like he may have turned things around just in time. As Kanter enters unrestricted free agency, multiple teams may pursue him.

    Free agent center Enes Kanter is expected to receive interest from the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics on June 30,” Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes tweeted.

    Portland already has some idea of how Kanter fits after acquiring him in the middle of 2018-19. After Jusuf Nurkic went down, Kanter stepped into the starting center role for the postseason. And in those games, the Blazers’ net rating (net points per 100 possessions) was 3.3 points better with him on the floor.

    For the Lakers, the fit may not be quite as seamless. Anthony Davis is best suited to play the 5 in today’s NBA, and L.A. needs to be looking to surround its top two of AD and LeBron James with three-point shooting. For his career, Kanter is 42-of-143 (29.4 percent) from three.

    As for the Celtics, they’ll likely need a center to replace Al Horford, but they may go after bigger names like Nikola Vucevic at the outset.

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Two years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez.

    “D’Angelo is an excellent player,” then-Lakers executive Magic Johnson said at the time of the deal, per ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”

    Well, Magic was right about one thing. Russell did have the talent to be an All-Star. And he made the All-Star team with the Nets in 2019.

    And now, as Brooklyn potentially stands on the verge of signing Kyrie Irving, Russell finds himself available again. And Magic’s old team might be looking at a reunion.

    “The Lakers have serious interest in Nets restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell, L.A.’s former No. 2 overall pick and former starting point guard, league sources said,” Stadium and The Athletic’s Shams Charania wrote. “The Lakers’ interest in Russell is real, and has been described as something that the organization has had partly due to their familiarity with Russell.”

    There’s still some murkiness about just how much cap space the Lakers will take to free agency, but if Russell is willing to play for less than the max, this could be an intriguing fit.

    Alongside LeBron, Russell would almost certainly have to expect fewer possessions on the ball, but he did average 1.13 points per spot-up possession in 2018-19. The spot-ups accounted for less than 12 percent of the possessions Russell used, but his efficiency did put him in the 81st percentile.

    If he’s flanking pick-and-rolls between LeBron and Anthony Davis, defenses won’t be able to load up quite as intensely on the primary action. And of course, Russell can run plenty of plays himself, especially when LeBron is off the floor.

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Dallas Mavericks appear ready to commit to a long-term pairing of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

    “Restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis and the Mavericks will meet at the beginning of free agency on Sunday,” Charania wrote, “and there is momentum for the sides to work toward a full five-year, $158 million maximum contract, league sources said.”

    Theoretically, this is a duo that makes loads of sense. Doncic showed the potential to be a dynamic pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop creator during his Rookie of the Year campaign. And the 7’3″ Porzingis shot 39.5 percent from three in 2017-18, when he last played in an NBA game.

    A max contract for the big man could come with a bit of concern, though. If you factor in his missing all of 2018-19, Porzingis has averaged fewer than 50 appearances per season in the NBA. And durability has to be at least a small factor when doling out a contract this big.

    The other concern may be Porzingis’ actual production living up to the promise he’s shown or reputation he’s earned. A 0.0 box plus/minus is supposed to be representative of an average NBA player. For his career, KP’s box plus/minus season average is minus-0.1.

    Still, if he lives up to that promise—a center with above-average size, guard skills on the perimeter and an ability to protect the rim—that contract would age fine.

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    Kevin Hagen/Associated Press

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson looked well on his way to a long career as a rotation player after the 2017-18 season. He averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steals in just 28.2 minutes per game. And he was a sneaky decent option in the post, where his points per possession ranked in the 64th percentile.

    Then, in 2018-19, just about everything fell off a cliff. His points and assists per minute fell, he was in the 20th percentile from the post and he posted a career-worst minus-3.0 box plus/minus. A minus-2.0 box plus/minus represents a replacement-level player.

    As he enters free agency for the first time in his career, it appears at least some teams are more interested in his 2017-18 than they are in his 2018-19.

    “Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to receive interest from several teams as an unrestricted free agent,” Charania wrote, “including the Suns, Timberwolves and Rockets, league sources said.”

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    Julius Randle is coming off his best season in the NBA. He posted career highs in points (21.4), rebounds (8.7) and box plus/minus (1.4).

    It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise when he opted out of the $9.1 million he was owed in 2019-20. He should command a starting annual salary higher than that this summer.

    And now, we’re starting to get some indication of which team might pay it.

    The Bulls are expected to express early interest in free-agent forward Julius Randle, league sources said,” Charania wrote. “Randle is expected to receive interest from several teams, including the Knicks and Nets, according to sources.”

    Chicago could have a relatively crowded frontcourt with Randle there. It already has Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. on the roster. Randle could be in for a situation similar to the one he had in New Orleans, where he came off the bench for around a third of his appearances.

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    On Wednesday, starting center Marc Gasol of the reigning champion Toronto Raptors made a decision that should make fans of The North happy.

    “Gasol is exercising his $25.6M player option for next season,” Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. “… Gasol could’ve entered free agency.”

    During the regular season, Toronto’s net rating was 19.4 points higher when Gasol was on the floor, which was in the 99th percentile of swings, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    The playmaking (3.9 assists per game) and outside shooting (44.2 percent from three-point range) Gasol added made the Raptors offense more dynamic. And his instincts and IQ were critical on the other end.

    Now, the next step for the Raptors is to secure the return of Kawhi Leonard. If those two are back, Toronto should have a great shot at a successful title defense.

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kelly Oubre Jr. has received a qualifying offer from the Phoenix Suns and is a restricted free agent.

    Oubre has a $9.6 million cap hold, according to Early Bird Rights, and should garner plenty of interest.

    The Suns will have the first right of refusal on Oubre, who they acquired in a December trade with the Washington Wizards. He averaged 16.9 points on 45.3 percent shootingboth of which would be career-high marks for a seasonin 40 games for Phoenix.

    But considering their personnel, what’s the Suns’ spending limit?

    Already this offseason, they’ve agreed to trade for Dario Saric and drafted Cameron Johnson. That duo will join returning forwards Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges. Phoenix agreed to ship T.J. Warren to the Indiana Pacers, but there aren’t a ton of minutes available.

    If the Suns view Oubre as a legitimate need for playoff contention, they’ll be justified in matching a reasonable offer sheet. But the recent additions suggest Phoenix is preparing for Plan B.

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Kevin Durant will be an unrestricted free agent come June 30.

    ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the 30-year-old has declined the $31.5 million player option on his contract with the Golden State Warriors. This was the expected course all along for Durant, who is recovering from a ruptured right Achilles.

    Anthony Slater of The Athletic noted Durant “intends to demand” a supermax contract in free agency after two years of taking discounted deals. While the Warriors can offer five years and $221 million, the rest of the league is limited to $164 million over four years.

    Woj added Durant is in New York on Wednesday with business manager Rich Kleiman and is evaluating options. Both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks are expected to pursue Durant.

    But his Achilles injury may complicate this decision.

    Perhaps KD will make a complete recovery, yet history has generally been unkind to players with Achilles tears. The five-year contract Golden State can provide is suddenly a bit more appealing compared to the four-year terms from Brooklyn or New York.

    Durant is weighing long-term financial gain against a desire to create his own legacy, away from the star-studded Warriors.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    While acquiring a superstar is most critical, the Toronto Raptors showed the value of a deep bench in the NBA Finals. Tyus Jones will probably never be an All-NBA contender, but he’s an important member of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ second unit.

    And they’re hoping to keep him there.

    Wojarnowski reported Minnesota has extended a qualifying offer to Jones, who is now a restricted free agent. If he signs an offer sheet elsewhere, the Wolves have the opportunity to match it.

    Considering his efficiency last season, Jones is an attractive role player. He averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 assists while committing just 0.7 turnovers per game. Jones also ranked in the 19th among point guards in ESPN’s real plus-minus.

    What prevents Jones from earning more praise is a 31.7 three-point percentage last season and a career 33.3 percent mark. That’s a clear negative in today’s space-driven league.

    Minnesota understands his value and should attempt to keep him, but his offers could vary substantially.

27 of 29

    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has said he’s looking to add a third star alongside James Harden and Chris Paul. That player might be Jimmy Butler.

    Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets will try to acquire Butler via a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers: “Butler would be eligible to sign a four-year, $140 million contract on the way to the Rockets, but Houston likely would need to include two of these players—center Clint Capela, guard Eric Gordon and power forward PJ Tucker—to make the financial deal work.”

    Wojnarowski later reported the Rockets are offering each member of that trio individually to teams with the ability to take on their contract, hoping to add a first-rounder for a trade with Philly.

    The Sixers can offer five years and $190 million to Butler, who averaged 18.2 points after an early-season trade from Minnesota. So, it’s possible he’ll prefer to re-sign anyway.

    Philly, though, probably doesn’t want Capela.

    Since both Tobias Harris and JJ Redick are unrestricted free agents, the Sixers need all the money possible. Taking back Capela would reduce financial flexibility, and he’s an unnecessary piece because they already have a cornerstone center in Joel Embiid.

    If this transaction is to happen, the most likely result is a third team receives Capela. Finding that suitor will be the challenge.

28 of 29

    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Given the Achilles injury to Kevin Durant, no 2019 free agent is more impactful than Kawhi Leonard. After propelling the Toronto Raptors to their first championship, the two-time NBA Finals MVP is deciding whether to re-sign or head elsewhere.

    And by elsewhere, we basically mean Los Angeles.

    Frank Isola of The Athletic noted a meeting between Kawhi and the Clippers is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. Marc Stein of the New York Times said the Lakers “have believed for weeks” they’ll factor into Leonard’s final decision.

    Toronto’s appeal is obvious, while the Clippers have a roster seemingly ready to contend with a final superstar piece. Soon, the Lakers will officially have Anthony Davis alongside LeBron James.

    All three destinations are logical, but any projection about Kawhi’s landing spot is a pure guess. He doesn’t, and won’t, say much.

29 of 29

    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    While the Charlotte Hornets work to keep All-Star guard Kemba Walker, the identities of his free-agent suitors are becoming clear.

    Stein reports the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are “at the front of the line” to chase Walker.

    The three-time All-Star is eligible for a supermax extension, though he’s previously said he would accept less to help Charlotte build a title contender. The Hornets might not actually offer that max deal, but he’ll be an expensive signing regardless.

    Because the Celtics are bracing to lose Kyrie Irving, pursuing Walker is sensible. The question B/R’s Sean Highkin explored is whether it’s a good decision: “He has a sterling reputation as a teammate and locker-room presence, has gotten better every year of his career and is a relentless competitor. He’ll also turn 33 before the end of his next long-term contract, which isn’t in line with the age curve of the rest of the Celtics’ mainstays.”

    Dallas owns plenty of cap space and is likely looking at a future with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis (restricted free agent), although Walker is also not on the same timeline as Dallas. Still, adding him would provide the Mavs a legitimate Big Three.

    But they’ll need to convince Walker to leave Charlotte first.

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Growing political fears for Alek Sigley after disappearing in North Korea

Updated

June 28, 2019 13:49:46

An expert on North Korea believes missing Perth man Alek Sigley may have been silenced amid heightened tensions in the country in the lead-up to US President Donald Trump’s planned visit to the demilitarised zone in coming days.

Key points:

  • Scott Morrison says he’s concerned about a Perth man missing in North Korea
  • Alek Sigley’s family and friends haven’t had contact with the 29 year old for days
  • The Prime Minister says limited information is emerging into the disappearance

Australian National University North Korea expert Leonid Petrov, a friend of Mr Sigley, said his disappearance and silence on social media channels and in response to messages from family and friends was very uncharacteristic.

“I think that North Koreans potentially might have decided to shut down his blog … because the information was coming out of North Korea, which is unprecedented,” Dr Petrov said.

“But in the context of what is going on in the Korean Peninsula today — President Trump on Sunday will go to the demilitarised zone and I believe tensions and security measures are heightened both in South and North Korea.”

A family spokesperson confirmed Mr Sigley’s social media accounts had been shuttered since his disappearance by his family to limit unnecessary speculation and commentary by the public on those channels.

Dr Petrov said Mr Sigley’s regular blogging on North Korea, where he is studying at Kim Il-sung University and also runs a tour business for foreign visitors, could have been viewed as a security risk.

“Normally North Korea is a closed book,” he said. “Information is protected, journalists are not permitted or very carefully scrutinised.

“So an international student studying at the university for more than a year and constantly bringing information about the reclusive country could have been seen as a potential distraction factor on the eve of a potential third summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.”

Prime Minister expresses concern

There is growing political concern for the welfare of Mr Sigley with the Prime Minister saying no new information has emerged into his disappearance since it was reported earlier this week by friends.

Scott Morrison said other world leaders had raised the plight of the Perth man, who has not made contact with his family for days, since the Australian delegation arrived in Japan for G20 meetings.

“It is troubling to me and I’m sure his family as well,” Mr Morrison told the ABC.

“The expressions of support and assistance that have come from other nations I have met with here has been very welcome.

“We will continue to focus sharply on that and seek to clarify what exactly has occurred and then take steps from there.”

Doubts over danger posed to Australian

Dr Petrov said he did not think Mr Sigley was in immediate danger, due to the protection usually offered to foreign nationals in North Korea.

“International visitors and students are usually safe in North Korea because they are permitted to study there, they are trusted,” he said.

“But [he] is not controlled and not censored by the North Korean Government — we know it is a police state.

“[So he] may be considered by the North Korean regime as uncensored and potentially harmful.”

Dr Petrov said it could well be that Mr Sigley re-emerged once the G20 was over and Mr Trump left the Korean peninsula.

“I don’t think there is any danger to his wellbeing,” he said.

“Perhaps he is being deliberately cut off from means of communication. It is a normal practice.”

Diplomatic channels limited

Australia’s diplomatic presence is limited in North Korea, but officials have been making urgent inquiries through Swedish diplomats.

Mr Sigley speaks fluent Korean and began studying for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang last year.

He married his Japanese wife Yuka Morinaga in a ceremony in Pyongyang last year.

He is believed to be the only Australian living in North Korea and sources have told the ABC that friends of Mr Sigley reported him missing earlier this week.

Australian spoke of safety in North Korea

In 2017 Mr Sigley told ABC Radio Perth he felt safe in North Korea.

“It’s very safe,” he said.

“I know lots of people who live there … expatriates, students, businesspeople and they all say it’s very safe, they’re not afraid to walk around at night and things like that.

“I’ve taken quite a few tour groups there and never really had any problems.”

Asked whether he thought escalating tensions between the US and North Korea would affect tourism, Mr Sigley said he understood why people were apprehensive, but said it was “a cycle which happens almost every year … it’s nothing really.”

“There’s also been a bit of an element of media hysteria and sensationalism as well, because some of these stories that are coming out are actually unsubstantiated,” he said.

In a 2016 interview with ABC News Radio, Mr Sigley was asked whether he was concerned about what he could or could not say in North Korea.

“When I go there I’m always so prudent not to cross the line and I think it’s quite clear where the line is drawn,” he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) yesterday said it was “urgently seeking clarification” about his disappearance.

A spokeswoman for the Sigley family yesterday said it had not been confirmed if Mr Sigley had been detained, but said his social media silence was “unusual”.

Topics:

government-and-politics,

foreign-affairs,

scott-morrison,

world-politics,

australia,

korea-democratic-peoples-republic-of

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June 28, 2019 09:22:22

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G20 Summit 2019: All the latest updates

Leaders from the Group of 20 nations are meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka for their annual summit. At the top of the agenda is the ongoing trade war between China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economies.

The G20 is an international leaders’ forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union.

Collectively, the grouping represents more than 80 percent of the world’s economic output and two-thirds of its people. Its primary aim is to promote international financial stability.

Here are the latest updates:

Friday, June 28:

‘A fantastic woman’

After his meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump had a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he called “a fantastic person, a fantastic woman.”

Subjects discussed included Iran. Libya, supporting the economy of Ukraine, trade negotiations with China, and global trade standards more generally.

After the meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greeted each of the G20 leaders one-by-one.

Mason Richey, Professor of international relations at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul tells Al Jazeera: 

“I think that Trump is going to be interested in playing up the positive side of the relationships that the US has with allies and strategic partners whether that be Japan, or whether that be NATO or whether that be India.

“And I think in some ways he’s perhaps playing good-cop-bad-cop with himself. He’s played bad cop with Japan and India on security issues and on trade issues. And now he’s a there playing up the positive side of the relationship, talking about how close the US relationship is with India and Japan.”

Trump, Modi and Abe meet

US President Donald Trump arrived at the G20 Summit venue by car and was greeted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the host.

“We’ll be discussing trade, we’ll be discussing military,” Trump told reporters, praising Japanese auto companies building plants in the US.

“The car companies have been terrific. They’re coming in and they’re building magnificent plants. We haven’t had that, and we very much appreciate it.”

North Korea, Iran, and bilateral trade were issues raised in the discussions, though few details were offered.

Later, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined for a trilateral meeting. Abe described the grouping as “the foundation of peace and prosperity in the region.”

As for US-India trade talks, Trump declared, “It’ll be very positive … I think we will just continue to get along with India … I think we are going to have some very big things to announce. Very big trade deal.”

In a tweet on Thursday, Trump said Indian tariffs on US products were “unacceptable.”

Earlier this month, India imposed higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US goods such as walnuts, almonds and apples.

That was in retaliation for Trump’s move to scrap trade privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for India, the biggest beneficiary of a scheme that allowed duty-free exports of up to $5.6bn a year.

Speaking of Iran, Trump stated, “We have a lot of time – there’s no rush they can take their time. There is absolutely no time pressure. Hopefully in the end it’s going to work out. If it does, great, if it doesn’t, you‘ll be hearing about it.”

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Folau wants rugby bosses to say sorry, claims he was offered cash to remove Insta post

Updated

June 28, 2019 13:20:48

Israel Folau says he is “very disappointed” after failing to reach a settlement with Rugby Australia at his Fair Work Commission hearing, paving the way for a protracted Federal Court battle.

The former Wallaby — who was sacked on May 17 for breaching his contract — posted a video online last night in which he called for RA to say sorry.

Folau’s $4 million deal was torn up after he told his 366,000 Instagram followers that “hell awaits” homosexuals.

RA described the post as a “high-level breach” of the Professional Rugby Players’ Code of Conduct.

However, last night the 30-year-old claimed in a TV interview that the sport’s powerbrokers had offered him money to take it down.

“Hopefully Rugby Australia will accept that my termination was unlawful and we can reach an agreement about how they can fix that mistake,” Folau said in the video.

“First and foremost I am hoping for an apology from Rugby Australia and an acknowledgement that even if they disagree with my views, I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or exclusion.”

Shortly after he made the comments, RA issued a statement saying: “Any suggestion that Rugby Australia offered Israel Folau money to remove a post made on April 10, 2019, is completely untrue.”

More to come.

Topics:

sport,

rugby-union,

community-and-society,

religion-and-beliefs,

christianity,

sydney-2000

First posted

June 28, 2019 09:15:03

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Deal or No Deal: MLB Trade Predictions 1 Month from the 2019 Deadline

0 of 16

    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

    With MLB trade season set to kick into high gear as July approaches, it’s the perfect time for a round of predictions.

    We’ve highlighted 16 players who will hear their names mentioned often in the rumor mill and broken them into two categories:

  • Deal: We think these players will be on the move. We’ve also proposed destinations. One way or another, expect them to be dealt.
  • No Deal: We expect these players to stay put. Whether it’s because of a high asking price or an unwillingness by their teams to make them readily available, these guys will not be dealt.

Easy enough, right?

Let’s get to it.

1 of 16

    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The value Jose Abreu brings to the Chicago White Sox stretches beyond his on-field contributions.

    The 32-year-old is one of the few veteran voices in a young clubhouse, and by all accounts, he’s the leader of a team on the rise.

    He’s also not particularly valuable from an outside standpoint.

    While he has tallied 18 home runs and 55 RBI on the year, Abreu has a dismal .295 on-base percentage, which stems from a downturn in his walk rate (-1.5%) alongside a career-low .255 batting average.

    He’s also making $16 million in his final year of arbitration, so acquiring him would represent a significant financial commitment, especially for teams that face the luxury-tax threshold.

    The most likely outcome would seem to be that he re-ups with the White Sox this offseason at a discounted rate. As we’ve seen in recent years, the market for one-dimensional sluggers is virtually nonexistent.

2 of 16

    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The health of Justin Smoak might determine whether he’s moved this summer.

    The 32-year-old recently landed on the injured list with a left quad strain, and he has not played since June 14 while nursing the injury. Even if he returns in short order, it’s reason enough to give teams pause if they might pursue him.

    Still, with a 114 OPS+ and 12 home runs on the year, there should be a market for Smoak’s services. The Toronto Blue Jays will be motivated to deal; his free agency is looming, and their young players are looking for playing time.

    The Boston Red Sox swung a deal with the Blue Jays last season to acquire Steve Pearce, which worked out well. However, with Pearce and platoon partner Mitch Moreland both currently on the injured list, the Red Sox have shifted rookie Michael Chavis to first base and used a combination of Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez and Eduardo Nunez to man second base.

    Adding Smoak would allow them to return Chavis to the keystone and Holt to the super-utility role where he has thrived in recent seasons. And as a pure rental, it won’t cost much in terms of prospects, which is ideal given the state of the Red Sox farm system.

3 of 16

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Miami Marlins are still a long way from contending and on pace for another 90-loss season.

    However, the young starting rotation has provided some reason for optimism, and a breakout performance from left-hander Caleb Smith has been the biggest story.

    The 27-year-old has a 3.41 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 82 strikeouts in 66 innings. While he’s currently on the injured list with a sore hip, there would no doubt be an outpouring of interest if he were made available.

    It doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen.

    According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, the Marlins have “no intention” of trading Smith or any of their “controllable, core starters.”

    Teams will no doubt inquire, and the Miami front office would be wise to at least gauge the market, but it doesn’t sound like Smith is going anywhere.

4 of 16

    Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    John Lott of The Athletic recently highlighted the strides Ken Giles has taken since the Houston Astros traded him to the Blue Jays last summer, emerging as a leader in the clubhouse and a force in the late innings.

    The 28-year-old came to Toronto in the deal that sent Roberto Osuna to the Houston Astros. He’s been lights out this season, converting 12 of 13 save chances with a 1.33 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a career-high 15.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 27 appearances.

    It sounds like Giles would prefer to stay put.

    I love it here,” Giles told Lott. “If I had the choice, I would stay here. But that’s out of my hands. All I can do is do my job and help the younger guys as much as possible. Whatever happens, I’ll always be rooting for these guys.”

    For a rebuilding team like the Blue Jays, though, a standout closer is more of a luxury than a necessity, and selling high makes a ton of sense.

    The closer’s role has seemingly been in flux for the Atlanta Braves since they traded Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres prior to the 2015 season.

    With another year of arbitration remaining, Giles would be more than a Band-Aid solution. The Braves have a loaded farm system at their disposal and a glaring need; he seems like the ideal target for the NL East leaders.

5 of 16

    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    The Baltimore Orioles lack controllable talent to build around at the MLB level.

    To that point, it would seem counterproductive to deal Trey Mancini, who has been arguably the team’s best player this year and is under control through the 2022 season.

    The 27-year-old is hitting .303/.362/.557 for a 142 OPS+ with 17 home runs. An uptick in his fly-ball (+6.8%) and hard-contact (+4.1%) rates lends some credibility to his breakout performance.

    “I don’t know if it’s even arguable. He’s the best player on our team right now,” general manager Mike Elias told reporters. “A .900 OPS, he’s a sure-fire All-Star in my eyes, great in the clubhouse, home runs, hitting for average. You name it. So we’re not looking to part with Trey. That said, as I’ve said all along, we’re open to anything.”

    It sounds like the O’s would have to be blown away to consider moving Mancini. Even if they do make him available, there’s a good chance Baltimore will value him higher than the market, and he’ll wind up staying put as a result.

6 of 16

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    An offensive threat at the plate and a defensive liability in the outfield, Nicholas Castellanos rejected the idea of a move to first base down the stretch last season. Earlier this month, he expanded on his reasoning.

    I told them, if you offer me an extension and show me that I’m a piece of the future, I’ll play first. I’ll even throw bullpens for you. But give me that security,” Castellanos told reporters.

    Fair enough.

    It does not appear the Detroit Tigers have taken any recent steps toward an extension with the soon-to-be free agent, and Castellanos can be counted among those who don’t think it’s going to happen.

    I don’t have a college education. But I can pick up the pieces and put a puzzle together. I’m not saying that this is 100 percent what it’s going to be, but if I’m a gambling man, I don’t see [the Tigers] offering me an extension at this point in time,” Castellanos said.

    With that in mind, there might not be a more sure-fire candidate to be moved this summer, and the Cleveland Indians have a glaring hole in the outfield.

    The left field position has produced a .672 OPS that ranks 28th in the majors, ahead of only the San Francisco Giants (.584) and Miami Marlins (.548), and the team has used four different starting left fielders in the past six games. Castellanos has a .788 OPS with 35 extra-base hits in 315 plate appearances.

    The Tigers have little leverage in negotiations, and the market could be limited given his defensive shortcomings, so the Indians could get a deal done for pennies on the dollar.

7 of 16

    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    As the best player on a rebuilding Kansas City Royals team, Whit Merrifield is inevitably going to see his name pop up in the rumor mill.

    However, general manager Dayton Moore did not mince words on the subject of his availability: “He’s, I believe, one of the best players in all of baseball right now, so the ask would be just crazy.”

    The 30-year-old signed a team-friendly four-year, $16.25 million extension during the offseason that arguably makes him even more valuable than he was at this time a year ago.

    He’s hitting .304/.351/.507 with 39 extra-base hits and 11 steals, and he’s been worth 11.7 WAR since the start of the 2017 season.

    There’s a case to be made that the Royals’ best move would be to flip him for prospects, especially considering his age and their time frame for contention, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen.

8 of 16

    Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    The St. Louis Cardinals were dealt a major blow when flame-throwing closer Jordan Hicks was lost for the season to a torn UCL that will require Tommy John surgery.

    Starter-turned-reliever Carlos Martinez will fill the closer’s role for the time being while John Gant and Andrew Miller serve as the primary setup options.

    However, Martinez is probably best utilized in a multi-inning role, so the Cardinals could be in the market for a late-inning addition.

    Considering Hicks will likely miss a good chunk of the 2020 season as well, targeting someone with control beyond this season makes sense, and Detroit Tigers standout Shane Greene fits the bill.

    The 30-year-old has been virtually untouchable this year, posting a 0.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 while converting 21 of 22 save chances in 30 appearances.

    His 3.48 FIP and an unsustainably low .184 BABIP are good indications that there is some regression coming, but after a 32-save season a year ago, he has proved himself as a late-inning option.

    He’s making a reasonable $4 million this season and has one year of arbitration remaining, so this summer might be Detroit’s best opportunity to sell high.

9 of 16

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Early on, Mike Minor looked like a valuable trade chip for the Texas Rangers, who were not expected to contend for a playoff spot.

    Now he looks like the indispensable ace of a team very much in the hunt for a postseason berth.

    The 31-year-old was solid in his return to a starting role last season, but he’s taken things to another level this year, emerging as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He ranks in the top 10 among all qualified starters in ERA (2.52, third) and innings pitched (103.2, seventh), and his 197 ERA+ is tops among AL starters.

    With a 15-9 month of June, the Rangers have pulled to seven games over .500, and they are currently part of a three-way tie for the No. 2 wild-card spot in the American League.

    How they play over the next month will determine how they approach the deadline, but they may have already made up their minds to hold on to Minor.

    A team seemingly destined for a rebuild now looks to be on the rise with the potential to make legitimate noise this year and in the immediate future. With a budget-friendly $9.8 million salary for next season, Minor figures to be a big part of the Rangers’ plans for 2020.

10 of 16

    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Depending on how you feel about the current iteration of Madison Bumgarner, there’s a strong case to be made that Zack Wheeler is the best rental starter on the market this summer.

    Of course, the New York Mets will first have to decide to sell.

    According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Mets would still prefer to be buyers. But if they do sell, a lot of teams are already showing interest in Wheeler, including the New York Yankees.

    That’s not surprising.

    The Yankees were linked to Wheeler at the deadline last year, via Marc Carig of The Athletic, and there’s a clear need for starting pitching help on a staff that has battled the injury bug all season.

    Wheeler, 29, has posted a 4.69 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with 108 strikeouts in 101.2 innings, but his 3.73 FIP indicates there is some positive regression to come.

    The Yankees and Mets don’t match up on trades often, but it’s not unprecedented. With the Yankees’ deep farm system of high-ceiling talent and the Mets’ thinned-out system, the move could prove mutually beneficial.

11 of 16

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Kirby Yates took over as the San Diego Padres closer last year when they traded Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians. He’s been phenomenal in his first full season in the ninth-inning role this year.

    The 32-year-old leads the majors with 26 saves in 27 chances, to go along with a pristine 1.36 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and an overpowering 54-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 innings.

    The Padres are clearly a team on the rise, so they might be hesitant to part with any players who could help them beyond this season. Yates has one year of arbitration remaining, so he fits the bill.

    According to AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, it would take an “overwhelming offer” for the Padres to trade Yates. Unless they’re blown away, there’s really no reason to move him.

    Yates seems happy to stay in San Diego as well.

    I’d prefer to stay here,” he told reporters. “I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to win here. I’ve built a lot of strong relationships here with staff members and my teammates. My family likes it here, my wife likes it here, and the way the Padres organization has treated me and my family has been awesome.”

    Don’t be surprised if he signs an extension similar to the three-year, $19.75 million deal that Hand agreed to prior to the 2018 season.

12 of 16

    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs team president Theo Epstein knows the value of a strong bullpen.

    In his time steering the ship on the North Side, he has pulled off a blockbuster deal to acquire Aroldis Chapman, traded young slugger Jorge Soler for Wade Davis, completed another major trade to acquire lefty Justin Wilson and spent big to sign Brandon Morrow in free agency.

    Those moves have produced a mixed bag of results, but they show a consistent willingness to aggressively pursue high-end bullpen help.

    This summer, San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith looks like the best bullpen upgrade available.

    The 29-year-old is now all the way back from Tommy John surgery after missing all of 2017 and the early part of 2018, and he’s been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

    Aside from converting all 21 of his save chances, he also has a 1.95 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, and a stellar 49-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.1 innings for a career-high 13.6 K/9.

    He’s struck out 17 of the 32 left-handed batters he’s faced, allowing just five hits. The ability to keep Milwaukee Brewers slugger Christian Yelich in check in the late innings might be reason enough for the Cubs to justify the acquisition cost.

    A deal built around Ian Happ could hold some appeal for the Giants given their need for controllable offensive talent and outfield help. It would take a solid prospect or two as well, but Happ would be a good starting point.

13 of 16

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    According to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, the Detroit Tigers are “open to moving virtually any veteran” on the roster this summer.

    While Nicholas Castellanos and Shane Greene look like obvious trade candidates, the Tigers face a considerably tougher decision on whether to move Matthew Boyd.

    The 28-year-old is enjoying a breakout season, posting a 3.61 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 94.2 innings, and his 118 strikeouts rank 10th in the majors. He’s employing a more fastball-slider-heavy approach while throwing his changeup and curveball less, and the result has been a significant spike in his strikeout rate from 8.4 to 11.2 per nine innings.

    With team control through the 2022 season, the Tigers certainly don’t need to move him now.

    They could shop him during the offseason when Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler will headline an extremely thin market for starting pitching. Or they could hold on to him and slot him alongside Casey Mize and Matt Manning at the top of the rotation once those two highly touted prospects arrive.

    Unless someone blows Detroit away with an offer, Boyd will be wearing a Tigers uniform Aug. 1.

14 of 16

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    For many of the players mentioned in this article, the overarching question is whether they will be traded at all this summer.

    Madison Bumgarner is going to be traded.

    The question is where the battle-tested veteran will wind up and how soon the San Francisco Giants will pull the trigger on dealing him.

    The 29-year-old struck out a season-high 11 batters in six strong innings against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night. While he is no longer the same front-line pitcher he was in his prime, he’s still managed to tally 12 quality starts in 17 outings this year.

    The Minnesota Twins have already been linked to Bumgarner. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Wednesday that the AL Central leaders are showing “strong interest,” and they could potentially make a play to get ahead of the market.

    The Twins have a solid one-two punch atop the rotation in Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, and free-agent-to-be Kyle Gibson is a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm. Adding Bumgarner to the mix would solidify the rotation and bring some welcome playoff experience to a green team.

    It would also take Bumgarner out of the equation for the Yankees, who figure to be one of the Twins’ biggest competitors in the AL.

15 of 16

    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    The Washington Nationals hovered around the .500 mark long enough to decide against trading Bryce Harper last summer, and he wound up leaving in free agency for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.

    It’s hard not to envision some impending deja vu with Anthony Rendon.

    The Nationals enter play Wednesday at 38-40, but they’ve been playing well of late with a 14-7 record in June. Plus, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets are both falling short of expectations, so the NL East is not the battlefield it was expected to be this season.

    Will that be enough to convince the Nationals to once again cling to their most valuable trade chip?

    While the two sides have talked extension, there was reportedly still a “decent-sized gap” in negotiations in April, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

    In an appearance on 106.7 The Fan in May, general manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals are still “aggressively trying” to sign Rendon, but nothing has come of that to date.

    The star third baseman could command a haul similar to what the Baltimore Orioles received in exchange for Manny Machado last summer, which would go a long way toward bolstering a top-heavy Nationals farm system.

    Still, based on the recent track record of this front office and the Nationals’ middling play, there’s a good chance Rendon will stay put for the stretch run.

16 of 16

    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Last summer, the Pittsburgh Pirates pulled off a surprise deal to acquire Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays despite sitting six games back in third place in the NL Central.

    While they were on a nice roll at the time and had an outside shot at a wild-card spot, the trade was largely made with the following season in mind. A similar approach by the San Diego Padres this summer to bolster the starting rotation for 2019 and 2020 makes a lot of sense.

    The Toronto Blue Jays discussed a Marcus Stroman trade with the Padres during the offseason, according to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, and they could revisit it this summer.

    The 28-year-old has returned to form this season after a trying 2018 campaign, posting a 3.04 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 100.2 innings, and he’s been on a roll of late with a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts.

    The Padres have the No. 1 farm system in baseball and can put together an offer no team could top if they have their sights set on landing Stroman.

    A similar trade for Cleveland Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer would also make sense, though he seems far less likely to be moved, which could make Stroman the team’s top priority.

            

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted, and accurate through June 25.

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Nearly 250 arrested in Ethiopia after foiled coup: State TV

Nearly 250 people have been arrested in Ethiopia‘s capital Addis Ababa and the city of Bahir Dar since a coup attempt was foiled, the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday.

The state broadcaster did not give any more details on who was arrested or when. But a party based in the northern region – the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) – earlier said 56 of its members had been detained in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

Ethiopia has been on edge since twin attacks at the weekend in Addis Ababa and the city of Bahir Dar killed the army chief of staff, the region’s president and three other senior officials.

The violence, which the government says was part of a plot by a rogue general and his militia to take over Amhara, exposed how ethnic tensions are threatening the reform agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Ethiopia’s 42-year-old prime minister has won praise abroad for opening up one of the continent’s most closed nations, but analysts say the rapid changes have fuelled uncertainty and insecurity.

As a result, ethnocentric parties like NAMA are gaining increasing support and their rhetoric is stoking serious interethnic violence, global think-tank Crisis Group said this week in a briefing note.

Since its founding last year, NAMA has emerged as a rival to the Amhara party in the ruling coalition, which has held power in Ethiopia since 1991. NAMA has condemned the weekend violence and denies any link to it.

Party spokesman Christian Tadele told Reuters he had also received reports of arrests of Amhara people in four towns in the Oromia region. These, and the arrests of the party members, “were perpetrated against the Amharas because of their identity,” he said. He did not elaborate.

‘Anti-terrorism law’

Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The prime minister’s office told Reuters it was collecting information on the arrests and would respond later.

Also on Thursday, prominent journalist Eskinder Nega said that five fellow activists in a pressure group opposed to what it saw as the domination of the Oromo ethnic group in the capital had been arrested.

A judge on Wednesday granted the police 28 days to investigate those detained in connection with the alleged coup plot, Eskinder told Reuters.

A local journalist in the courtroom confirmed his account to Reuters and said that the judge ordered the 28-day detention under the country’s anti-terrorism law.

Police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“This is a return to the past, this is exactly what the government was doing before the reforms began a year ago,” said Eskinder. “In that past era, the anti-terror law was used to clamp down against peaceful opposition and the same thing is happening.”

Access to the internet, blocked since Saturday, was restored across Ethiopia on Thursday morning and Ethiopia analysts say the prime minister must tread carefully to restore security.

“It will damage the government’s reputation if it is widely perceived as engaging in anything that looks like a purge of rivals or a crackdown on opponents in the aftermath of these assassinations”, said William Davison, from Crisis Group.

Ethiopia mourning

Ethiopia held a memorial on Tuesday for the army chief of staff who was assassinated along with four other senior officials during a failed coup bid at the weekend [Michael Tewelde/AFP]

SOURCE:
Reuters news agency

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Conservatives blast Roberts as turncoat

John Roberts

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ stance on citizenship in the 2020 census has frustrated many on the right. | Mark Humphrey/AP Photo

legal

In 5-4 decisions on federal rules and citizenship question, chief justice joins court liberals and frustrates the right.

Chief Justice John Roberts just keeps on breaking conservatives’ hearts.

On two consecutive days this week, Roberts sided with the court’s liberal wing to deliver 5-4 rulings that deeply disappointed right-leaning lawyers and pundits who had been counting on near-certain victory from a court now stocked with a pair of Trump-appointed justices hand-picked by conservative legal activists.

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On Thursday, Roberts stunned many courtwatchers by invalidating a Trump administration decision to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census.

Adding to the sting was the fact that the chief justice wasn’t just along for the ride on the closely-watched ruling: He penned the majority opinion, which essentially accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of lying about his reasons for seeking to add the query on citizenship.

“Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision,” Roberts wrote, backed by the court’s four liberals. He goes on to rip the government’s claims in the case as apparently “contrived” and “a distraction.”

A day earlier, Roberts was the sole GOP appointee to side with the liberal wing in a case many legal conservatives were hoping would deal a major blow to the much-loathed administrative state by overturning decades of precedent allowing federal agencies wide leeway to interpret their own regulations.

Among some conservatives close to Trump the sense of anger and betrayal was palpable, with some on the right suffering painful flashbacks to Roberts’ 2012 decision to join with the court’s Democratic appointees and uphold Obamacare’s individual mandate even as all of his Republican-appointed colleagues dissented. The anger seemed especially acute with possible abortion-related cases on the horizon for the next term.

“I’m for impeaching the Chief Justice for lying to all of us about his support of the Constitution. He is responsible for Robertscare and now he is angling for vast numbers of illegal residents to help Dems hold Congress. Enough Deception from GOP judges on the Constitution,” American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp tweeted shortly after the Thursday ruling.

“I want to Impeach Roberts and Trump would get another pick. Sounds good to me,”’ Schlapp added. “Chief Justice John Roberts ‘fixed’ Obamacare and now he found an I significant [sic] excuse to allow those here illegally to help Dems keep the house majority. He lied to all of us and under oath in the Senate. It’s perfectly legal to ask citizenship ? on census.”

Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka also weighed in to express his disgust. “Chief Justice Roberts of the #SCOTUS betrays the US Constitution again,” Gorka said on Twitter.

Conservative pundit and former GOP Senate candidate Dan Bongino echoed recurring conservative complaints that Roberts is looking to curry favor on the Washington dinner party circuit.

“John Roberts is terrified of the liberal op-ed columnists. They know they hold him captive. They can easily sway his opinions by issuing their ‘warnings’ to him through their columns,” Bongino wrote. “He’s not a judge anymore, he’s a politician.”

Not all conservatives were up in arms about Roberts’ perceived defection Thursday on the census case.

Former Reagan White House lawyer and radio host Hugh Hewitt noted that on the same day the census case came down, Roberts joined with the court’s conservatives in a 5-4 decision that decisively rejected any role for courts in remedying political gerrymandering. The chief justice also took the pen for the majority in that fight, flatly dismissing the idea of courts resolving such disputes.

Hewitt declared the gerrymandering decision to be far more consequential.
“Conservatives coiled to condemn Chief Justice over citizenship question need to focus on this incredibly important, far reaching and absolutely correct decision,” Hewitt tweeted. “Would anyone preferring that #SCOTUS clearly uphold census question and at same time continue the decades of absurd ambiguity about the clearly-delegated-to-political-bodies re-districting power please raise their hands? I know you’d like both, but if you had to choose either?”

There is a degree of selective outrage at Roberts. Trump’s newest nominee to the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, sided with liberals in a series of 5-4, late-term decisions this year, but they were less high-profile. As Gorsuch ruled in favor of criminal defendants—including a child pornography convict—in a pair of cases related to sentencing, there was no outcry from the right that Trump’s pick was abandoning his backers.

Still, Roberts’ tendency to side with liberals in some cases embraced by many Republican activists seems to grate on many conservative lawyers, including some who helped lead the fight to confirm him.

“I still haven’t fully psychologically accepted the truth about Roberts,” said Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice in an interview.

“He may in his heart think he’s a conservative, but he’s not going to be what conservatives want and liberals fear….With each passing year—maybe this doesn’t happen every year, but we’ve seen enough of it, we kind of have to accept he’s roughly another Kennedy,” Levey said, referring to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Reagan appointee who dismayed conservatives by upholding abortion rights and leading the court to declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Levey said the political polarization in the country may be prodding Roberts to go further than he otherwise would in trying to ensure that the court is viewed as moderate and not being buffeted by the political winds. Last November, when President Donald Trump made derisive comments about “Obama judges,” Roberts shot back with a statement declaring “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. . . What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

“At the end of the day, Roberts wants the court to be well respected,” Levey said, calling the chief justice “a compromiser and people pleaser.”

“I think the hysteria on the left about an ‘arch conservative’ court is having an effect,” the legal activist said. “At the end of the day, [Roberts] wants the court to be well respected and a highly divided nation is a threat to the legitimacy of the court because with every decision the half the public is convinced the court is acting for political reasons.”

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