Articles by Nick Whalen

A listing of all the articles written by Nick Whalen for the RotoWire Blog.

NBA Summer League: Wednesday Recap

In the minds of many, the NBA summer league is a mere afterthought – a collection of rookies, mysterious foreigners and former college standouts looking to use a glorified open gym setting to find a place in the league. In many respects that viewpoint is spot-on, but the summer league is more than a structured pick-up game – it’s a chance for players to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The challenge is to do so in ways that NBA franchises desire. Efficiency, outside shooting and defensive versatility are championed in today’s NBA, while volume scoring is not necessarily what teams are searching for in a potential training camp invitee. Frankly, if a team is combing the Orlando Summer League for a primary scorer, their fan base is in for a long, long season. Take Josh Selby, the co-MVP of last summer’s Las Vegas Summer League, for example. A 2011 second-round selection of the Grizzlies, Selby averaged a Vegas League-high 27.5 points per game but found himself in the D-League by early December and was traded and subsequently waived in early March. His one elite skill – scoring – may have set him apart in Las Vegas, but it failed to translate against elite competition. Let’s not forget that most summer league teams only have a handful of players with any NBA experience, and even fewer who have played meaningful minutes in the league.

Day four of the 2013 Orlando NBA Summer League wrapped up Wednesday afternoon with only three games on the slate. Still, a number of intriguing rookies and young players were on display once again:

Utah 98 Brooklyn 69

The first game of the day featured a Jazz team led by a pair of talented young guards in Alec Burks and Trey Burke, who in all likelihood will make up the team’s starting backcourt in October. However, Burke sat out Wednesday’s contest (non-injury related), turning the attention toward Burks, former dunk contest camp Jeremy Evans and promising young big man Rudy Gobert, whose 7-foot-9 wingspan set a draft combine record. The game was a blowout from the beginning, as Utah jumped out to a 20-10 first quarter advantage, eventually pushing the lead to 51-29 by halftime. While Gobert played just six minutes, Evans and Burks combined for 29 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Evans also added a game-high nine rebounds. Former Marquette standout Jerel McNeal started alongside Burks in the backcourt and contributed five points, four steals and three assists. Chris Roberts also added 15 points, while Slovenian center Rasid Mahalbasic scored four points and blocked three shots en route to posting a game-high plus/minus of +24.

Things were not quite as positive for Jason Kidd and the Nets, as just two players scored in double-figures and the team dropped to 0-3. Chris Wright led all scorers with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Tyshawn Taylor chipped in 10 points and three assists. Brooklyn’s big men struggled mightily, as Tornike Shengelia scored seven points to go along with four turnovers and five fouls in 18 minutes. Rookie Mason Plumlee took just four shots, while pulling down two rebounds and recording a -27 plus/minus rating. The loss drops the Nets into a tie with the idle 76ers for last place, and they will face the 3-0 Houston Rockets on Thursday. Meanwhile, Utah sits at 2-1 and will square off with the 1-2 Indiana Pacers in the first of four Thursday games.

Oklahoma City 74 Philadelphia 62

A mere 24 hours after Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson set the Orlando Summer League scoring record with a brilliant 35-point effort, his own teammate nearly set a new one. With Jackson sitting Wednesday’s contest out, Jeremy Lamb, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, scored 32 points on 10-of-14 shooting (3-5 3Pt, 9-10 FT). Despite committing eight turnovers, Lamb displayed the all-around offensive ability the Thunder coveted when acquiring him from Houston in the James Harden deal. With Oklahoma City losing Kevin Martin and remaining quiet in free agency, Lamb is expected to step in as one of the first guards off the bench. His versatility and size should allow him to see time spelling Thabo Sefolosha at shooting guard, as well as – less often – Kevin Durant at small forward. 2013 first-round pick Steven Adams put together a second consecutive solid game for the Thunder, scoring 13 points to go along with five boards and two blocks – though he did commit five fouls and four turnovers. Former Marquette star Dwight Buycks, who scored 13 points off the bench in Tuesday’s win over the Pistons, got the start at point guard in place of Jackson but was held to just two points on 0-of-4 shooting.

While the 76ers attempted 16 more shots than the Thunder, they were limited to 35.9 percent shooting. Former Minnesota star Rodney Williams was the lone double-figure scorer with 12 points in just over 24 minutes. Williams is a jaw-dropping athlete and an elite defender, but he’ll need to show he can shoot with consistency before any teams take a flier on his game. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams continued to struggle shooting the ball, going just 3-for-16 from the field after a dismal 4-for20 performance on Monday. It’s no shock that his jumpshots aren’t falling, as he experienced the same issues at Syracuse, but if he continues to have trouble against inferior competition, his first NBA season could be a major learning experience. Still, Philadelphia drafted him to be their starting point guard of the future, and a couple sub-par summer league games are nothing to be up in arms about. Carter-Williams’ teammate at Syracuse, James Southerland, connected on 1-of-6 three-point attempts and added seven points. Khalif Wyatt led the Sixers with 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting on Monday but was unable to duplicate that effort Wednesday, finishing with just four points on 1-of-3 shooting. Notably absent from Wednesday’s contest were Trevor Mbakwe for Philadelphia and Andre Roberson, Michael Snaer and Daniel Orton for Oklahoma City.

Houston 85 Boston 78

In a downright ugly contest between two squads whose NBA teams are headed in opposite directions, the Rockets prevailed behind a combined 33 points from Terrence Jones and Vander Blue. Though Jones shot just 3-of-13, he converted 10-of-14 free throws en route to a team-high 17 points. Blue also struggled shooting (5-of-15) but was able to knock down two 3-pointers and also grab six rebounds. The Rockets sat James Anderson, Patrick Beverly and Isaiah Cannon – arguably three of their top five players – allowing additional minutes for Blue, Casper Ware and Robert Covington, who recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.

Boston was led again by first-round pick Kelly Olynyk’s 19 points and 10 rebounds. He’s been the Celtics’ most consistent player by far this summer, utilizing his wide array of creative moves around the basket to clear space and finish in traffic. Olynyk also attempted (and missed) five 3-pointers. While Boston would likely prefer he remains inside of 17 feet, the early confidence in his outside shot is encouraging. Tim Abromaitis chipped in 14 points (6-13 FG, 2-7 3Pt) and five rebounds, while former Missouri point guard Phil Pressey scored six points and added a game-high 10 assists. Given his lack of size and inefficient shooting, Pressey is somewhat of a long shot to make an NBA roster this season. However, he’s an elite distributor who could make some noise in the D-League, should that be where he ends up. Following an impressive 19-point showing on Tuesday, Darius-Johnson Odom sat out Wednesday’s game. The former Marquette star asserted himself as clearly the best player on the floor and will almost certainly get some looks from NBA teams as a deep bench scorer.

Orlando Summer League Standings through Wednesday:

Oklahoma City: 4-0

Houston: 3-0

Utah: 2-1

Boston: 2-2

Miami: 2-1

Indiana: 1-2

Detroit: 1-2

Orlando: 1-2

Philadelphia: 0-3

Brooklyn: 0-3

NBA Free Agency: Sunday Wrap-Up

Dorrell Wright and the Trail Blazers agreed to terms on a two-year, $6 million deal on Saturday night that will bring the 6-foot-9 swingman to Portland. Wright was believed to be Oklahoma City’s top target after Kevin Martin signed with the Timberwolves, but the Blazers were able to swoop in and sign the 3-point marksman to a very affordable deal. After averaging 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for Golden State in 2010-11, Wright’s numbers – as well as playing time – have steadily declined over the past two years. Still, he averaged 9.2 points on 39.6 percent shooting off the bench for Philadelphia last season. Wright’s length and athleticism allows him to swing between the small forward and shooting guard spot, and he figures to play a vital role for a Portland team that ranked dead last (by a lot) in bench scoring last season at 18.5 points per game.

Timofey Mozgov received a four-year offer from Lokomotiv Kuban (Russia) on Sunday. He was stuck behind Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee in Denver last season, where he averaged less than nine minutes in 41 games. Mozgov hasn’t garnered much interest thus far, though with many top centers off the market, he could be seen as a viable bench option for several teams. He has never averaged more than 16 minutes per game in his four-year career and could give returning to play in his home country serious consideration – particularly if he is not offered a lucrative NBA deal.

Since the moment word got around that Dwight Howard had landed with the Houston Rockets, Omer Asik made it clear that he has no interest in backing up the big man. He officially requested a trade Sunday but is yet to see his wish granted. The Turkey native started all 82 games and posted career highs in points (10.1) and rebounds (11.7) last season and would almost certainly see his role greatly reduced in 2013-14 if he remains in Houston. The Rockets have expressed their interest in holding onto Asik, as he provides insurance should Howard get hurt and could even team with Howard in a "twin towers" lineup, as head coach Kevin McHale noted. However, the two seven-footers’ styles aren’t exactly complementary, and the Rockets likely would not prefer to pay a backup $8 million per season. While the team may publicly indicate they intend to keep Asik, the right offer could certainly pull him away. If he is not moved by the start of the season, he’ll be a hot name come February’s trade deadline.

Monta Ellis is receiving heavy interest from several teams, most notably the new-look Hawks. However, there is little chance he gets the $12 million he would have received had he exercised his one-year player option to remain with Milwaukee. Atlanta is rumored to be willing to offer Ellis around $10 million per season, but no formal offer has been presented. The Nuggets, Kings and Lakers are also interested in his services, and Denver is shopping Andre Miller to free up cap space to sign Ellis. The 27-year-old averaged nearly 20 points last season, but he’s one of the league’s most inefficient and inconsistent players. Ellis shot just 28.0 percent from beyond the arc last season while failing to mesh with the similarly-styled Brandon Jennings. Should he land with Atlanta, Ellis would join Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, John Jenkins and rookie Dennis Schroeder in what would be one of the league’s smallest backcourt rotations.

With Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson committed to the Rockets and Bobcats respectively, Andrew Bynum is receiving interest from a number of teams, namely the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs see Bynum as their second option after striking out in the Howard sweepstakes, and the mercurial big man could potentially be had for a reasonable price given his injury history and enigmatic reputation. Bynum didn’t appear in an NBA game last season due to injury issues with both of his knees, but if he returns at even close to full strength, he’s easily one of the top five centers in the league. Teams will likely include an Exhibit 3 protection in a deal with Bynum, which would enable them to waive him should he be unable to play due to prior injuries (Minnesota used the protection with Brandon Roy). Aside from Dallas, the Cavaliers, Lakers and Hawks have all shown interest in Bynum, and his recruitment should pick up early this week.

Ryan Hollins signed a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum Sunday to remain with the Los Angeles Clippers. He signed a similar one-year deal last summer and averaged 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season. The arrival of Doc Rivers likely influenced Hollins’ decision, as he played under Rivers as a member of the Celtics in 2011-12. He’ll once again back up DeAndre Jordan at the center spot and – depending on the Clippers’ free agency plan – could see an increased role, as Jordan and Blake Griffin are currently the only other true big men on the roster.

Early last week, reports surfaced that the Wizards and veteran forward Antawn Jamison had mutual interest. Now, it appears the Clippers have thrown their hat into the ring and could look to offer the 37-year-old a deal this week. Los Angeles can only offer Jamison the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million, but he would not have to worry about relocating since he played with the Lakers last season. The Clippers also offer a much more appealing roster situation where Jamison would have minimal pressure and a much better chance at his first ring.

J.J. Hickson and the Denver Nuggets agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal. The recent additions of Robin Lopez and Dorrell Wright – along with the expected progression of 2012 first-rounder Myers Leonard – made Hickson expendable for the Blazers, who failed to succeed with him as their undersized center last season. Though he quietly averaged a respectable 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds on 56.2 percent shooting, he struggled defensively as a rim protector. With Denver, he might be able to return to his natural power forward spot, which should cut down on the defensive lapses. However, after starting 80 games last season, he’ll likely assume a bench role and will rival the recently-acquired Darrell Arthur for playing time.

The Blazers continued to bulk up their backcourt by adding veteran Earl Watson late Friday. Watson played 48 games in a reserve role for the Jazz last season and will provide depth and experience to a young corps of Blazers guards.

Chris Kaman
is receiving interest from several teams as the fallout from the Dwight Howard signing continues. The Lakers are thought to be the leaders in his recruitment, with the Warriors, Hawks, Kings and Knicks also interested. At 31 years old, Kaman would be more of a stopgap at the center spot than a long-term option, but a contender could look to ink him to a short-term deal to provide interior defense and rebounding. As a member of the Mavericks last season, Kaman averaged 10.5 points to go with 5.6 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game – both career lows.

After adding O.J. Mayo earlier this week, Milwaukee agreed to terms with Carlos Delfino on Sunday. The Argentinean swingman signed a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $6.5 million, with a third-year team option for more than $9 million. Delfino played for the Bucks from 2009-12, starting 159 of 178 games in a Milwaukee uniform. At this point in his career, he’s primarily a 3-point shooter, and he attempted over six threes per game last season with Houston. Still, Delfino has a chance to earn major minutes, as the Bucks are currently very thin at the small forward spot.

Anthony Morrow is receiving widespread interest from several teams including the Grizzlies, Warriors, Bobcats, Lakers, Suns, Spurs, Rockets and Knicks. All of the aforementioned teams could use the 3-point specialist who found himself buried on the Mavs’ bench for much of last season. A Charlotte native, Morrow could opt to stay home and sign with the Bobcats or look to link up with a contender, as he’s never been to the playoffs in five NBA seasons.

NBA Free Agency: Day One News and Notes

NBA free agency opened at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning, and a number of NBA teams are already busy meeting with and attempting to woo potential signees. Here at the RotoSynthesis Blog, we’ll provide a daily recap of each day’s transactions, news and notes.

Note: Transactions cannot become official until July 10 when the 2013-14 salary cap is announced.

Dwight Howard’s circus

In an era where seemingly every detail in the process of courting a player is leaked to the public, the summer’s hottest free agent – Dwight Howard – met briefly with Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak shortly after midnight before sitting down with Rockets brass. With Chris Paul intending to return to the Clippers on a five-year, $107 million extension, Howard is now undoubtedly the premier name on the market, and in addition to the Lakers and Rockets, the Mavericks, Warriors and Hawks have all shown strong interest. Even rapper – and proud Houston native – Slim Thug (remember that "Like A Boss" song?) took to Twitter Monday afternoon to try to influence Howard. Los Angeles offered the 27-year-old his own television show as part of their pitch, and Howard is expected to meet with Warriors officials Monday evening.

While Houston may make the most basketball sense for Howard – providing him the opportunity to play alongside rising stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons – the Lakers can offer him the most money. However, given Howard’s tumultuous 2012-13 season with the organization, it’s widely believed he’d prefer to play elsewhere. Golden State’s interest in Howard presents perhaps the most intriguing scenario, as due to cap reasons, the Warriors would need to execute a sign-and-trade for the big man (but could still only offer four years, $88 million). The team is reportedly willing to deal Andrew Bogut and either Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes – both very promising young wings – to Los Angeles. This scenario would most benefit the Lakers, who will not receive anything (other than cap relief) should Howard accept an offer from another team outright.

Only time will tell where Howard will inevitably end up, but he does not appear to be in any rush and will likely hear each of his suitors’ offers before making a decision.

Andrea Bargnani traded to Knicks

It was reported Sunday evening that the Knicks and Raptors have agreed on a deal to send embattled forward Andrea Bargnani (and the $23 million remaining on his deal) to the Big Apple in exchange for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-round pick and second round picks in 2014 and 2017. Richardson was added to the deal on Monday morning in a sign-and-trade needed to balance salaries.

On the surface, New York seems to be giving up an awful lot for a player who was routinely booed at home last season, but the former No. 1 overall pick has a unique combination of size and shooting ability that should bode well in the Knicks’ 3-point-happy system.

Bargnani had clearly worn out his welcome in Toronto, and moving his awful contact is a major accomplishment for the Raptors’ new regime led by reigning NBA GM of the Year (with the Nuggets) Masai Ujiri. Plus, obtaining Novak – one of the league’s premier shooters – can only help a Raptors team that ranked 25th in the league in 3-point percentage last season.

Camby unhappy with trade

Camby, who was drafted by the Raptors 17 years ago, expressed his displeasure with the deal stating, "I was really looking forward to the upcoming year as a chance to show the organization what they missed out on last year, and pushing our team toward the Finals." The 39-year-old is owed nearly $5.5 million over the next two seasons but could take a pay cut and accept a buyout from the Raptors in hopes of signing on with a contender.

Tyreke Evans and the absurd opulence

In the shocker of the day, the New Orleans Pelicans met with Kings restricted free agent Tyreke Evans and offered him a four-year deal worth around $44 million. It seems like a curious move for a team that appears to be set in the backcourt after trading for Jrue Holiday on draft night, but some reports surfaced that New Orleans would like to use Evans in a Manu Ginobili-type of role off the bench.

The Pelicans currently have about $7.3 million in cap space and would likely need to make some moves should Evans accept the deal. Robin Lopez has been tossed around as a possible candidate to be moved. Eric Gordon is another candidate, as he openly voiced his desire to play elsewhere last season. One potential option would be to swap Evans for Gordon in a sign-and-trade, but the team has so far said that they want to keep Gordon.

Rockets grounded

Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks were released by the Rockets on Sunday before their contracts became guaranteed for next season. The cap-clearing move opens up more room for a potential Dwight Howard deal. The New York Knicks are reportedly interested in signing Brooks.

Thomas Robinson traded to Trail Blazers

And in the final cap-clearing move before going all-in for Dwight Howard, the Rockets traded Thomas Robinson to the Blazers for two second-round picks and the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Todorovic. Portland will already be Robinson’s third team, after the Kings traded him to Houston at the deadline. It could be a healthy situation for the former fifth overall pick, as Portland is desperately looking for depth after having the worst bench in the league last season.

Josh Smith talks to Pistons, Hawks and Rockets

The Pistons  met with their top free-agent priority, Josh Smith, early Monday morning. Despite a lackluster 2012-13 season, Detroit has a nice young frontcourt in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to market to potential signees and plenty of cap room to offer a maximum deal. While they did not extend an offer to Smith on Monday, the Pistons are one of the top contenders to land the swingman, as they’re expected to propose a near-max deal. Smith also met with the Hawks and Rockets on Monday, as he looks to be each team’s backup plan if they’re unable to land Dwight Howard.

Andre Iguodala talks to Pistons, Nuggets and Kings

Andre Iguodala, who opted out of his $15.9 million player option with the Nuggets, also met with the Pistons on Monday. He’s believed to be their second choice behind Josh Smith. Iguodala met with the Nuggets and Kings on Monday as well and will reportedly speak with the Warriors, Hawks and Pelicans in the near future. There’s a decent chance Iguodala re-signs with the Nuggets, as they likely can offer the best basketball situation, but another franchise may be willing to shell out more money for the nine-year veteran.

Jose Calderon back to Detroit?

Detroit is also reportedly very interested in bringing back Jose Calderon, whom they acquired in a mid-season deal from Toronto. If the team is able to do so, and reach an agreement with either Smith or Iguodala, the Pistons could be in good shape heading into next season with a potential lineup of Calderon, rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Iguodala/Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Of course, this is all speculative.

AK-47 wants a longer contract

The San Antonio Spurs are interested in Andrei Kirilenko, who spent last season with the Timberwolves. The unrestricted free agent opted out of his deal with Minnesota but did not rule out a return to the team, stating, "I was really happy with everything… everything except for the term of the contract." While Minnesota may look to bring back the 32-year-old, they appear to be more interested in upgrading the shooting guard position. Kevin Martin, O.J.Mayo and Chase Budinger are all targets. Plus, the addition of 14th overall pick Shabazz Muhammad gives the Wolves some flexibility at the small forward spot.

Kevin Martin pursued in the North

The Thunder’s Kevin Martin is receiving interest from several teams, including Milwaukee and Minnesota. The Thunder likely will not have the cap room to bring back Martin next season and have set their sights on Dorell Wright as his replacement. Wright is not the offensive threat that Martin is, but he’s a much better defender and capable 3-point shooter (36.7 percent career).

Where, o’ where will Bledsoe be at the end of free agency

The Clippers’ Eric Bledsoe has been named in a number of speculative sign-and-trade deals, two of which would send him to either the Bucks or Mavericks. With the Clippers in need of a shooting guard, Bledsoe would likely be exchanged (along with other contracts to balance out the deal) for packages centered around J.J. Redick or O.J. Mayo, respectively. The Clippers also have interest in the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan and the Magic’s Arron Afflalo – both native Californians and members of teams in dire need of a point guard

J.J. Redick sign-and-trade?

As noted above, several teams would likely entertain offers for Bledsoe, but a meeting with the Bucks regarding a sign-and-trade for J.J. Redick is reportedly "imminent."

O.J. Mayo sign-and-trade

Like Redick, O.J. Mayo is a top target of the Clippers in what would likely be a sign-and-trade for a package centered around Eric Bledsoe. Though the Mavericks drafted Shane Larkin last week, Bledsoe is an established commodity who thrived in a bench role last season. The way things are shaping up, the Clippers may have their choice of up to four shooting guards to potentially exchange for Bledsoe.

Martell Webster key in D.C.

The Wizards have reportedly made re-signing Martell Webster their top priority. Webster averaged a career-high 11.4 points per game and shot 42.2 percent from 3-point territory last season. Though the team recently drafted a similar player in Otto Porter, Webster could start at small forward if he opts to return.

Antawn Jamison back to Washington?

Washington is also interested in bringing back veteran Antawn Jamison, who spent this past season with the Lakers. The two sides are mutually interested, though Jamison, 37, may look to sign on with a contender if the opportunity arises.

C.J. Watson signs with Pacers

C.J. Watson and the Indiana Pacers agreed to a two-year deal. The six-year veteran spent last season backing up Deron Williams in Brooklyn and will play the same role for Indiana, this time behind George Hill. Watson is a capable perimeter defender and 3-point threat but does not offer much else offensively. Still, he looks to be an upgrade from D.J. Augustin, who shot a career-worst 35.0 percent from the field last season.

Eric Maynor signs with Wizards

The Washington Wizards agreed to a multi-year deal with Eric Maynor. Details of the contract have not been released yet, but it appears the Wizards finally have a consistent backup behind John Wall. Coming off of ACL surgery, Maynor got off to a slow start with the Thunder last season before being shipped to the Blazers at the deadline. If he can regain his pre-injury form, Washington should have a strong rotation at point guard.

Al Jefferson to meet with Bobcats

Unrestricted free agent Al Jefferson will meet with the Bobcats on Wednesday. While Charlotte is the only team to show strong interest in the big man thus far, expect several other teams to jump into the fray in the coming days. The Jazz have not been clear about whether or not they intend to attempt to re-sign Jefferson (or Paul Millsap), but they own the advantage of having two young bigs – budding stars Derrick Favor and Enes Kanter – waiting in the wings. There is little doubt that either Jefferson or Millsap (possibly both) will for sure be in another uniform next season.

Brandon Jennings unfinished business with Bucks

Brandon Jennings’ status still appears be up in the air after day one of the free agency period. The Bucks recently extended him a $4.3 million qualifying offer, allowing them to match any offer Jennings may receive. Still, it is unclear whether Milwaukee really wants to bring Jennings back, or if they simply want to prevent potentially losing him, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick without receiving anything in return. If the Bucks receive a tantalizing sign-and-trade offer, it would not be a surprise to see the organization cut ties with the enigmatic point guard. If not, Milwaukee will be combing the market for a shooting guard. O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen and J.R. Smith are three names linked to the Bucks.

Mike Dunleavy signs with Bulls

Former Bucks’ forward Mike Dunleavy will reportedly sign a two-year, $6 million deal with the division-rival Chicago Bulls. Dunleavy averaged 10.5 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 42.8 percent from beyond the arc last season. He’ll provide a much-need outside shooting threat for the Bulls, who may lose Marco Belinelli this offseason.

Andray Blatche re-signs with Nets

In possibly the most Andray Blatche move of all-time, the 26-year-old reportedly agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.4 million to return to the Nets next season. After being amnestied by the Wizards, Blatche enjoyed the best season of his career (by far), averaging 10.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting with a 22.0 PER.

What makes this deal so Blatche-y is that he deliberately accepted a smaller deal to stick it to the Wizards (yes, this is actually happened). After a semi-breakout season, he almost certainly would have been able to earn a more-lucrative deal from a team other than the (extremely) cash-strapped Nets. However, under the NBA’s amnesty provisions, the Wizards still owe him about $16 million over the next two seasons. While this does not count against Washington’s cap, they are obligated to pay him the difference between his new deal and the remainder of what he’s owed (for example, if he had signed a $10 million deal, Washington would only owe him $6 million). Thus, he’ll receive $1.4 million from the Nets and $7.5 million from the Wizards in 2013-14.

Kyle Korver pursued by Nets

Kyle Korver is receiving heavy interest from the Brooklyn Nets, as one league executive said a deal is "in the bag." Brooklyn can only offer Korver the mini-mid-level exception (about $3 million), but given their recent blockbuster moves, the team may be Korver’s best option to win a ring in the near future.

Gal Mekel signs with Mavs

The Mavericks secured a verbal commitment from Israeli point guard Gal Mekel on a multi-year contract at the league-minimum. The deal is reportedly worth $2.3 million over the next three years. Mekel, 25, will play for the Mavericks’ Summer League squad.

Boylan takes over for Skiles in Milwaukee: Ilyasova back in starting lineup

In a somewhat-surprising move, the Milwaukee Bucks and head coach Scott Skiles decided to “part ways” late Monday night. While Skiles and GM John Hammond both denied a Yahoo! report alleging that the coach of four-plus years “hated his team,” clearly some tension had been building between the two sides for quite some time. It was widely assumed that the starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings (who took to Twitter shortly after the news broke to thank his only NBA coach) and Monta Ellis frustrated the efficiency-focused Skiles with their sporadic and inconsistent play, and rumors surfaced that Skiles and Hammond did not see eye-to-eye on some of the team’s recent roster moves. The breakup was short and sweet, with Skiles and the Bucks organization both appearing to be content with the decision.
And just like that, the Scott Skiles era is over in Milwaukee. The Bucks have turned the reins over to veteran head assistant Jim Boylan for the remainder of the 2012-13 season. The 57-year-old served as Skiles’ head assistant since taking over the Bucks’ job in 2008 and has memorable ties to the city, starting at point guard for Marquette’s 1977 national championship squad. This is not Boylan’s first head coaching gig, as he (ironically enough) stepped in for Skiles when he was fired by Chicago 25 games into the 2007-08 season. Boylan went 24-32 as the Bulls’ head coach and was dismissed at season’s end.
In many ways, Chicago’s 2007-08 roster was quite similar to Milwaukee’s current group, particularly in the frontcourt. The team was – much like Milwaukee – very, very average. Lacking a true superstar (unless we’re counting Larry Hughes), Boylan utilized a deep bench with eleven players averaging at least 20 minutes per game. They finished near the middle of the pack in both scoring (18th) and scoring defense (16th) and never had a winning or losing streak of more than three games. Boylan played a declining Ben Wallace, current Buck/cheerleader Drew Gooden, Joe Smith, Tyrus Thomas and a young Joakim Noah in a five-man frontcourt rotation that will likely mirror his plans for Milwaukee’s flexible group. While the Bucks’ big men (Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova, Sanders, Dunleavy, Udoh and (possibly) Dalembert) are more versatile and athletic than Boylan had in Chicago, none command extensive minutes on a nightly basis and each are prone to foul trouble.
In an interview with Bucks.com Tuesday, Boylan spoke optimistically about the team’s future, reiterating his affection for the roster and emphasizing what he learned from his previous stint with Chicago. Boylan was adamant that mercurial forward Ersan Ilyasova would play a more prominent role with the team going forward. After a breakout second half in 2011-12, the 25-year-old Turkey native signed a five year, $40 million deal and was expected to provide much-needed scoring and rebounding for Milwaukee. However, after a slow start to the season, (35|PERCENT| FG in November), Ilyasova appeared to have landed in Skiles’ proverbial “doghouse” and soon found himself coming off the bench and struggling to justify his new contract. Having started less than half of the team’s games, the soft-spoken forward’s confidence was clearly lacking. The change at the helm is likely to benefit Ilyasova more than anyone on the Bucks’ roster. Given Boylan’s forthright confidence in the fifth-year man, his minutes and role within the offense will likely increase.
Since the coaching change, Milwaukee has appeared revitalized in two victories over Phoenix and Chicago. Given Skiles’ business-like, stern disposition, Boylan’s more relaxed attitude certainly has to be refreshing for a Bucks team much maligned for their poor offensive efficiency (27th overall). Ilyasova has been solid, but Brandon Jennings has stepped up with two of his best games of the season on back-to-back nights, including a 35-6-6 performance in Wednesday’s 104-96 win over the Bulls – his most complete line in quite some time. Meanwhile, Monta Ellis continues to struggle from the field, but if he can regain his touch from outside the paint, this Bucks team (18-16 overall) could be playoff bound in the top-heavy East for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

D-League Checkup: CDR, Varnado impressive through first month of season

The D-League is generally an afterthought for most NBA fans, but with an increasing number of NBA teams sending valued prospects to their affiliates this season, the league undoubtedly has its share of talent.  While the D-League certainly does not provide the same competition or fanfare of its parent league, it’s an excellent setting for young players to develop skills and gain valuable professional experience.  Former-first round picks John Jenkins, Kendall Marshall, Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lamb have already seen significant D-League minutes, as their NBA affiliate’s rotations have been tough to crack. With the first month of the season complete, a number of NBA-caliber players have made their mark on the league.

No player has made more of a splash thus far than former Memphis great Chris Douglas-Roberts.  CDR is making his first appearance in the D-League after three semi-productive seasons with the Nets and Bucks, during which he started a total of 53 games and averaged nearly eight points per game.  Through seven games with the Texas Legends, he appears determined to make it back to the big show as soon as possible.  Douglas-Roberts leads the D-League in scoring (min. three games played) at 24 ppg, to go along with four assists per game and just over five rebounds per game.  In his preseason debut, the 6-7 guard tallied 49 points (16-30 FG, 15-17 FT), eight assists and seven rebounds in a loss to Santa Cruz.  He has been shooting well from the field (49 percent) and behind the arc (44 percent), and can expect a call from an NBA team in the near future.

Micah Downs has showed off his all-around game so far in seven games for Maine.  The former Gonzaga star is averaging 20 ppg, seven rpg and 3 apg for the 6-2 Red Claws.  A once highly-touted high school recruit, Downs has bounced around considerably throughout his career, playing in Europe for three seasons and participating in several NBA training camps.  His last NBA action came with Maine’s NBA affiliate, the Boston Celtics, during the 2012 pre-season.  If Downs can continue to show teams he can play efficiently, he may earn a call-up.

Two more free agents and former college stars, Sioux Falls’ Jarvis Varnado and Rio Grande Valley’s Jeff Adrien, have also shown flashes of NBA potential.  Undrafted out of UConn in 2009, Adrien has bounced around Europe and NBA training camps for much of his young career.  He appeared in eight games for the Houston Rockets last season, and was recently called up by the Charlotte Bobcats on Dec. 9th.  In five games with Rio Grande Valley prior to the call-up, Adrien averaged 18 ppg, 11 rpg while shooting 56 percent from the field.  Despite the Bobcats’ downright atrocious frontcourt (looking at you, DeSagana Diop), he is not likely to see many minutes and could end up back in Rio Grande Valley before long

A 2010 second-round selection of the Heat, Varnado played the last two seasons overseas.  In seven games for the Skyforce this season, the three-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year has been remarkably efficient on both ends of the court.  He’s shooting 61 percent from the floor and grabbing eight rebounds per game, to go along with a D-League-leading 4 blocks per game.  While at 6-9 he’s a bit undersized, Varnado is certainly on the radar for NBA teams in need of an athletic, shot-blocking presence off the bench.

A number of recently-drafted players who are still under contract with an NBA team have enjoyed successful stints in the D-League this season, including Houston’s Terrence Jones and Oklahoma City’s Jeremy Lamb.  The 18th and 12th overall picks in the 2012 draft, respectively, were both selected by Houston before Lamb was sent to the Thunder in the James Harden deal.  Jones has played just two games for Houston’s affiliate, Rio Grande Valley, but was nothing short of dominant in both.  All the 6-9 forward out of Kentucky did was put up 23 ppg on 45 percent shooting and grab 18 rpg, earning a recall from Houston.  Since then, however, he’s seen very limited minutes and was sent back to Rio Grande Valley Friday (expected to play Saturday). 

Lamb has played six games for Oklahoma City’s affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, and exhibited the scoring ability that was so often on display at UConn (23 ppg).  He is not likely to crack the streaking Thunder’s rotation any time soon and could spend significant time in the D-League this year.  If he continues to improve his confidence and efficiency (42 percent FG), as well as add weight to his 6-5, 180-pound frame, Lamb has future NBA starter written all over him.

Both Canton’s Jon Leuer and Maine’s Shelvin Mack have NBA experience, but find themselves assigned to the D-League to refine their games. Mack appeared in 64 games for the Wizards last season but struggled to find his niche within the team.  After John Wall‘s injury this summer, Washington signed Shaun Livingston to assist with point guard duties and sent Mack to the D-League.  He has performed well through six games, averaging 19 ppg and 7 apg, and has shown off his ability to get to the foul line (27-27 FT his last three games).  Given Washington’s struggles this season, it’s somewhat surprising they have not given the former Butler star a chance in the backcourt yet. 

In four games for the Canton Charge, the Cavs’ Jon Leuer has been even more impressive than Mack, putting up 21 ppg and 11 rpg in 34 minutes per game.  He leads the D-League in efficiency amongst players who have played more than two games.  The former Wisconsin star started 12 games for the Bucks last season, but needs to add weight and improve his interior defense before he’ll have a major influence in the NBA.

Turning now to some prospects who have not lived up to their team’s expectations, we first take a look at former North Carolina star Kendall Marshall.  Sure, no one expected Marshall to step in and be the next Steve Nash for Phoenix, but his unimpressive start must have Suns fans concerned.  We knew he was the best facilitator in college basketball last year, but it was how his limited offensive game would translate to the NBA that was the biggest question.  In six D-League games so far, Marshall has done little to silence the doubters.  In 33 mpg, he’s shooting a brutal 32 percent from the field and 19 percent from outside.  Though he is dishing out seven apg, he’s also turning the ball over at a fairly high rate (3.5 per game).  It’s waaay too early in his young career to question whether he’s a bust, but Marshall will have to use his time with the Bakersfield Jam to show the Suns he can be more of an offensive threat if he’s going to crack their guard-heavy rotation.

Tony Wroten, the Grizzlies’ 2012 first round selection, has also been a bit of a disappointment.  Wroten is an extremely raw guard prospect in terms of his offensive game, but has the size (6-6, 210) to be a matchup nightmare in the future.  Through five games with Reno, Wroten is shooting 32 percent from the field (including 7-31 over his last three games) and just 52 percent from the free throw line.  He is very much a project player at this point for the 14-6 Grizzlies, but with his size, he could develop into a valuable piece for the franchise down the road.

Jamario Moon burst onto the NBA scene in 2007, coming out of seemingly nowhere to start 75 games for the Raptors.  Since then, he’s spent time with the Heat, Cavaliers, Clippers and Bobcats, before landing with the Los Angeles D-Fenders at the end of last season.  So far this year, Moon has not played like himself and, at age 32, may be nearing the end of his NBA career.  Through seven games for the D-Fenders, his averages in almost every category are way down.  Most notably, his field goal percentage has plummeted to an ugly 38 percent and his scoring is down nearly ten points per game.  Moon has always been more of a defense/energy guy, but he’s going to have to show teams he has more left in the tank if he hopes to earn a call-up.

Damion James, the Hawks’ first round pick in 2010, has done little to warrant his draft position since being assigned to the Bakersfield Jam.  In his rookie season, James started nine games for a bad Nets team and was largely unimpressive.  After appearing in just seven games last season, James has resurfaced with the Jam, but is shooting a lowly 39 percent from the field (27 percent from deep).  His all-around talent and prototypical size have always intrigued teams, but James has never quite lived up to his potential.  However, in nine games, James leads the team in scoring (14 ppg) and is second in rebounding (7 rpg).  If he can improve his efficiency, a call-up is certainly not out of the question.

Contact Nick Whalen via email (nwhalen@wisc.edu), or follow him on Twitter (@RealNickWhalen).