Video: DAngelo Russell Talks Future with Warriors, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844789-video-dangelo-russell-talks-future-with-warriors-stephen-curry-klay-thompson

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell during a break in action in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in New York. The Nets won 110-96. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The Golden State Warriors confirmed Sunday they acquired D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets. However, Russell knows he may not see out his four-year, $117.3 million deal with the team.

Speaking with reporters, the 2019 All-Star said he’s aware Golden State could ship him out of the Bay Area at a moment’s notice, per The Athletic’s Anthony Slater:

With Klay Thompson likely to miss the 2019-20 season with a torn ACL, Russell and Stephen Curry will be the Warriors’ primary backcourt partnership. Russell also envisions a dynamic backcourt trio when Thompson returns to the court:

Perhaps Russell will be a better fit than anybody expects and work as a long-term piece for the Warriors. It’s good, though, that the 23-year-old isn’t operating under the belief he’s guaranteed to be in Golden State.

The assumption is that general manager Bob Myers capitalized on an opportunity to add a max-level free agent this summer in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s departure and will figure out the rest later. The Brooklyn Nets confirmed Durant’s signing Sunday.

Russell will also help to stabilize the Warriors’ playoff chances for 2019-20 with Thompson unavailable.

Myers and head coach Steve Kerr can use the season to see how Russell operates next to Curry. This time next summer, they can reevaluate the situation and determine whether they want to use Russell as a trade asset to address a different area of the roster.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

Impact Moves Contenders Can Still Make in NBA Free Agency

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844708-impact-moves-contenders-can-still-make-in-nba-free-agency

0 of 5

    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Hollywood has nothing on the NBA‘s 2019 summer blockbusters.

    Free agency has seemingly seen one superstar relocation after the next. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are Brooklyn Nets. Kawhi Leonard is a Los Angeles Clipper. Kemba Walker is a Boston Celtic.

    This is the Association’s new reality.

    Given the cannonballs that have splashed early and often this offseason, one might assume the free-agent market has been picked clean by this point. Shrewd shoppers, though, can still find value if they know where to look.

    We’ll help by lending a matchmaking hand to join specific contenders with these five still-available impact free agents.

1 of 5

    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala led the wing rotation for the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors. For the 2019-20 iteration, that responsibility will fall onbrace yourselves—Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks and Alfonzo McKinnie, at least until Klay Thompson returns from the torn ACL suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals.

    Suffice to say, this position group still needs work.

    Since Golden State is shopping on a strict budget, it can’t afford to be overly choosy. But if it squints its eyes, it could see 35-year-old Thabo Sefolosha as an undervalued three-and-D option.

    The perimeter portion of his game is rock-solid (career 35.2 percent from range) and sometimes much greater than that (four seasons at 38-plus percent). Put him in an offense with gravitational forces like Stephen Curry and D’Angelo Russell, and Sefolosha’s percentages could really spike. This past season, he hit 42.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes and 44.6 percent of his wide-open triples.

    He’ll probably make his biggest impact on the opposite end, which works since that’s where the new-look Warriors need the most help. In 2018-19, he ranked 31st overall and third among small forwards with a 2.33 defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.com.

2 of 5

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Unless the Houston Rockets can pull off a blockbuster deal for Russell Westbrook, it looks like this group will effectively be running it back next season.

    For the most part, that’s fine. Houston’s 173-73 record over the past three seasons is the NBA’s second-best during that stretch, and the team atop that list, the Golden State Warriors, lost Kevin Durant to free agency and Klay Thompson to an ACL tear. The Rockets shouldn’t need to do anything to be in contention for the crown.

    But they could increase their odds by fortifying the back line behind Clint Capela. They might already have someone in mind for the gig, too.

    Tyson Chandler is likely target for Rockets in their search for backup big,” ESPN’s Tim MacMahon tweeted. “Chandler, who turns 37 in October, was effective defender and rebounder as reserve for Lakers last year. He has a rep as a great locker room guy and strong relationship with [Chris Paul] from [New Orleans] days.”

    Chandler may not have as much bounce as he once did, but great size (7’1″, 240 lbs) and better instincts don’t age. This past season, his 18th in the league, he bettered his career average of 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes (12.6) and ranked fifth among centers with a 3.64 defensive real plus-minus.

3 of 5

    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    For the early portion of his NBA career, Justin Holiday may have been best known as Jrue Holiday’s older brother. But his activity, outside shooting and quick-strike scoring have helped the elder Holiday establish himself as a coveted three-and-D wing.

    He has started 149 of his 154 games the past two seasons while averaging more than 30 minutes and double-digit points in both. He’s more of a good shooter than a great one (career 34.9 percent from distance), but he launches enough that defenses must respect his stroke.

    Defensively, the 181-pounder can struggle against bigger forwards, but he wouldn’t be getting those assignments with the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George-led Los Angeles Clippers. Instead, Holiday could use his instincts and energy to be an expert roamer. This past season, he tied for 24th with 185 deflections.

    His plug-and-play ability should hold major appeal to a Clippers team suddenly locked into a championship pursuit.

    If he slots alongside Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell on the reserve unit, L.A. could have the league’s highest-scoring bench once again. When Holiday lines up with Leonard and George, he could increase the spacing on offense and either cycle through switches or cause off-ball chaos at the other end.

4 of 5

    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers have recovered nicely from being left at the alter by Kawhi Leonard. They have combined steady contributors with a handful of low-risk, high-reward players, and they’ve finally prioritized shooting.

    But they could still use another perimeter stopper. How well does that description fit Iman Shumpert? Well, we’ll let LeBron James answer that.

    “He probably has the best hands in the NBA along with Kawhi Leonard, as far as defensively,” James told reporters in 2015. “He just plays, it’s just very, very good basketball. His energy level is at an all-time high, he doesn’t go below 100, which is incredible. He brings something fierce, a competitive nature to our team.”

    Granted, James was speaking about his then-teammate, so the take is a bit biased and hyperbolic. That said, the 29-year-old Shumpert has the length, athleticism and instincts to guard all across the perimeter.

    The offensive fit is shakier, and it hinges on his ability to make shots. If he shoots like he did over 42 games with the Sacramento Kings last season (36.6 percent from deep), he’ll be an asset. If he struggles like he did in 20 games for the Houston Rockets (29.6 percent), he’ll be a liability. Provided he’s closer to the former, he’ll add value as both a spot-up sniper and part-time shot-creator.

5 of 5

    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    This past season, the Portland Trail Blazers had the Association’s third-best offense. Next season, they could prove even harder to handle.

    Swapping Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore upped their outside shooting. Adding Hassan Whiteside gave them an aerial finisher who can increase their vertical spacing. Retaining Rodney Hood ensures this attack has another slippery, off-the-dribble scorer. Unleashing Anfernee Simons might eventually yield the biggest impact of all.

    But offense wasn’t the issue for this team. The defense slipped from sixth to 16th in efficiency, and further regression could be coming now that Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have skipped town for the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively.

    David Nwaba could help prevent more slippage. He combines brute strength with mobility in a 6’4″, 219-pound package of defensive versatility. He has the quickness to keep in front of backcourt speedsters and the toughness to bang with bigs. He can comfortably check four different positions—or even all five against small-ball lineups.

    Offensively, he won’t provide much beyond downhill attacking, but that can make him a weapon on off-ball cuts (72nd percentile in 2017-18). Anything he gives on that end is merely found money, as Portland’s championship chances would continue trending up if it can sniff out a malleable stopper for cheap.


    Unless noted otherwise, statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

It Doesnt Matter: Even Best NBA Franchises Cant Compete with Superstar Whims

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844770-it-doesnt-matter-even-best-nba-franchises-cant-compete-with-superstar-whims

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard speaks at a news conference after Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Kawhi Leonard will soon be a Los Angeles Clipper, because the Los Angeles Clippers did everything right.

They assembled a roster of tenacious, talented young players. They built methodically, impressively—winning in the present while pocketing salary-cap room and extra draft picks for the future.

They sold their vision with a championship coach (Doc Rivers), the NBA‘s wealthiest owner (Steve Ballmer), a legendary executive (Jerry West) and one of the shrewdest front-office staffs in the league.

And when it came time to close the deal last week, the Clippers leveraged it alltheir acumen, their flexibility and a whole bunch of those picks—to acquire Paul Georgewhich clinched Leonard’s commitment and transformed the franchise.

The Clippers thoroughly earned this victory.

You could say the same for the Brooklyn Nets, who channeled three years of meticulous planning into a blockbuster twin transactionthe signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

You might reasonably conclude this is the moral of this dizzying, earthshaking, landscape-altering NBA offseason: The teams that do it right get rewarded.

It wouldn’t be wrong to think so. That moral gives hope to franchises and fanbases everywhere.

But the broader lesson here is a bit bleaker, drenched in existential angst: Sometimes, nothing you do actually matters. Nothing.

The Toronto Raptors did everything right—even winning a championshipand still lost Leonard.

The Golden State Warriors made three straight Finals with Durant, winning two titles…and lost him anyway.

The Boston Celtics surrounded Irving with veteran stars and bouncy young talent…and he coldly cut ties.

And the Oklahoma City Thunderwho were celebrating a new four-year contract with George last summer—just traded him at his request.

Those are four of the best organizations in the NBA, led by four of the league’s best executives: Masai Ujiri in Toronto, Bob Myers in Oakland, Danny Ainge in Boston and Sam Presti in OKC. They all just lost their best players in the span of six days.

Welcome to the new NBA, where it isn’t enough to be bold or smart. Where even championships and max contracts sometimes aren’t enough to sate the modern player.

Bob Myers and Masai Ujiri each had superstars walk away from their teams weeks after they competed for the NBA title.

Bob Myers and Masai Ujiri each had superstars walk away from their teams weeks after they competed for the NBA title.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Leonard just became the first NBA superstar to leave his team immediately after winning a title. Durant departed just a year after being crowned Finals MVP. Jimmy Butler just left a contender in Philadelphia to join a non-contender in Miamiand for less money.

“I think at the end of the day, no matter what teams do, it doesn’t matter,” said a prominent player agent who doesn’t represent any of the aforementioned players. “It just doesn’t.”­

In today’s NBA, no single force binds a team and a player.

Once upon a time, it was a sense of loyaltya quaint concept that mostly benefited the teams. In more recent times, players stayed for money, taking advantage of Bird rights and other measures that induced stars to stay put. Or they stayed because their team was winning.

When LeBron James kicked off this era of player empowerment in 2010, leaving Cleveland to form a superteam in Miami, his goal was simple: win championships. He got two. The goal was the same when he returned to Cleveland four years later with a new, younger superteam. He won another title.

But when James jumped to the Los Angeles Lakers last year, he did so without a co-star. The Lakers were far from a contender. Indeed, they missed the playoffs. (James finally got a co-star, Anthony Davis, this past week.)

What drove James to L.A. was some combination of peripheral factors: lifestyle, family preferences, business interests, proximity to his media empire. Agents and team executives see the same motives behind much of this summer’s movement.

Leonard and George want to win, sure. But they chose to team up in L.A. because both are from Southern California. Irving, who grew up as a Nets fan in New Jersey, also framed his move as a homecoming. Durant wanted to play with Irving, a close friend. He also wanted to be in New York to be close to his own burgeoning business empire, Thirty Five Ventures.

“To me, it’s beyond basketball,” the agent said. “It’s where can they impact things beyond the court.”

Another point: Leonard, Durant and Irving have the luxury of leaving elite teams because all three have won championships.

“These guys are now saying, ‘Well, I’ve already achieved what I need to achieve,'” the agent said. “‘Now, what are the outside factors that can influence my life? I want to be home, I want to do movies, I want to be in music, I want to be in venture capital,’ whatever the case may be. And I think at this point, those are factors that you can’t determine.”

They also are factors some teams can’t satisfy.

“Masai can’t change the fact that Toronto is not Southern California,” the agent said. “I mean, Kawhi had an entire country that was behind him, and he chose to go close to home. … You can’t compete with that.”

Each having already won a championship, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had the freedom to choose where to play this summer based on friendship and marketing opportunities as much as their fit with the Nets' roster.

Each having already won a championship, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had the freedom to choose where to play this summer based on friendship and marketing opportunities as much as their fit with the Nets’ roster.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Of course, it helped that the Nets and Clippers did a lot rightgiving them a distinct advantage over their more storied (but often dysfunctional) intracity rivals, the Knicks and the Lakers.

And it must be noted that the teams that snagged the biggest stars were either in major markets (New York, L.A.) or glamour markets (Miami). That includes the big-market Celtics, who replaced Irving by luring Kemba Walker from Charlotte.

So maybe the moral of this summer is: Do everything right and do it in a top-10 Nielsen market or a desirable city. Oh, and if you do have a superstar, get him a co-star before his eyes start to wander.

“What it really does is it scares you if you have one of these guys and you don’t have a path for another one,” a longtime team executive said. “If you’re the rest of the NBA, how do you build, given this reality?”

Just a year ago, the league was praising the Raptors for making the bold move to acquire Leonard despite the risk of him leaving. Two years ago, everyone praised the Thunder for doing the same with George. These franchises bet on themselves and, at least initially, appeared better for it. George signed a four-year deal. The Raptors won a title.

Now, both are gone. The teams did benefit—the Thunder flipped George for a massive cache of players and picks, and the Raptors got that banner—but the on-court payoff was fleeting, to say the least.

That’s the new reality teams are confronting. In an era of shorter contracts and ultimate player freedom, the window to build and sustain a contender is frightfully brief.

“The theme is the players are going to change teams,” the executive said. “What you need to do is focus on building an elastic, opportunistic franchise that is able to function successfully in the landscape. You have to be able to pivot quickly. You have to be able to draft well. You have to develop players. Can you put together a run? Can you get beyond an aging core? Can you see into the future and make the big decision necessary?”

He paused.

“I don’t know,” the executive said. “I don’t think you can count on the fact that you’re going be able to sustain a long run.”

As the agent noted, teams today need to be “as prepared for [a star] staying as much as you are prepared for them leaving. Because nothing is guaranteed at all. At all.”

Even a contract guarantees nothing. George forced a trade with two years left on his deal, following the precedent set by Irving (two years), Butler (one year), Chris Paul (one year) and Davis (one year).

A handful of small-market teams—Milwaukee, Indiana, Denver and Utahare defying the odds and building potential contenders with solo superstars. But what if they can’t win it all? What if they never obtain that second star?

The race to figure out how to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo when he becomes a free agent in 2021 likely has already begun, but if this summer is any indication, that criteria may remain a mystery for some time.

The race to figure out how to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo when he becomes a free agent in 2021 likely has already begun, but if this summer is any indication, that criteria may remain a mystery for some time.Morry Gash/Associated Press

“Those teams probably aren’t good enough to really win,” the executive said. “And their best players are going to leave and go to other destinations. … How do you function in this environment if you’re not at a place that realistically thinks they can [acquire] two of the absolute best [players] in their prime, together?”

The events of the last week are sure to stoke old tensions among NBA owners over the power of big markets, the drawback of shorter contracts, the failure of the so-called supermax, the fear of a star-controlled league. It could all manifest in the next round of labor negotiations, perhaps as soon as 2022.

There is a silver lining for the league in this whirl of All-Star migration: the end, for now, of the superteam eraand the sense of inevitability that came with it. For the first time in years, there’s no clear favorite in either conference.

No team has four All-Stars (as the Warriors did) or three (as the Cavaliers, Heat and Celtics previously had). Instead, the league has become a galaxy of two-star constellations: James and Davis, Leonard and George, Durant and Irving, Chris Paul and James Harden, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. (The Warriors still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but Thompson will miss most or all of this coming season while recovering from ACL surgery, and Green is in the final year of his contract.)

Suddenly, there’s a sense of equilibrium across the league. No dynasty to fear. No basketball Voltron threatening to crush all challengers.

A half-dozen teams could contend for the Western Conference title next season. Four teams have a plausible chance to win the Eastand that isn’t including the Nets, who probably won’t have Durant at all this season as he recovers from a torn Achilles.

A new sensation will sweep the NBA next fall: suspense.

We will almost certainly see two new teams in the Finals next June, and a new champion dancing under the confetti. And, soon after, another class of stars agitating to play together in some new city.

No NBA team, not even the best of the best, can feel secure now. No champion is assured of a sustained run. What’s the modern GM to do?

“Have a Plan B,” the agent said.

               

Howard Beck, a senior writer for Bleacher Report, has been covering the NBA full time since 1997, including seven years on the Laker beat for the Los Angeles Daily News and nine years as a staff writer for the New York Times. His coverage was honored by APSE in 2016 and 2017, and by the Professional Basketball Writers Association in 2018.

 Beck also hosts the Full 48 podcast, available on iTunes.

 Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.


Zach Lowe and Rachel Nichols of ESPN join Howard Beck to discuss the NBA offseason’s power plays, what Kawhi’s move to the Clippers means for the league and who has the worst team name in the game. All that and a lot more on The Full 48.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

Undrafted Free Agents with the Best Chance of Making NFL Rosters

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844562-undrafted-free-agents-with-the-best-chance-of-making-nfl-rosters#slide0

0 of 8

    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Undrafted free agents are the wild cards capable of making NFL training camps more entertaining than they arguably have any right to be.

    The top players who weren’t among the 250-plus selected in April’s draft hit the open market and were able to field offers before going to teams of their choosing. That alone makes them interesting because, if they chose wisely, they have already put themselves in the best possible position to make the final rosters.

    In fact, it isn’t uncommon to hear that late-round prospects would rather slip into undrafted free agency.

    But not all undrafted free agents are the same. Some simply have better chances than others. A mixture of upside, athletic ability, draftable traits—perhaps they fell off the board for other reasons—and better depth-chart positioning make some stand out.

    The following prospects boast a combination of those factors and are thus the most likely to make the final rosters by the end of training camps.

1 of 8

    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    It was a bit of a surprise to see former University at Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson fall out of the draft.

    Passers who check in at 6’7″ and 249 pounds don’t come around often. Jackson also has some high-upside traits such as a huge arm with plenty of velocity, though it was clear he was a developmental prospect who would need a few years, largely because of his accuracy.

    He landed in a smooth spot with the Buffalo Bills, though. He won’t have any pressure to break into actual playing time thanks to the presence of second-year signal-caller Josh Allen as the starter. He can sit back and focus on the long-term picture while also serving as a capable fit in the team’s offense should Allen get hurt. 

    In the shorter term, Jackson shouldn’t have any problems beating out a journeyman like Matt Barkley for a spot or at least convincing the Bills they need to roster three quarterbacks. 

2 of 8

    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Stanley Morgan was another shocker of a late-draft slide. 

    Normally, a depth chart as stacked as the Cincinnati Bengals’ at wideout would disqualify Morgan from a list like this—but he is that talented. 

    Morgan, 6’0″ and 205 pounds, was Nebraska’s all-time leader in catches and yards at 189 and 2,747, respectively, not to mention his 22 touchdowns. He might not have ideal size, but he fights for every catch all over the field. 

    The Bengals don’t have a ton of wiggle room for someone to break into the rotation, not with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Alex Erickson atop the depth chart. Projects like Josh Malone and Auden Tate will provide Morgan some serious competition too. 

    But Morgan’s talent and the fact that Green and Boyd are entering contract years should mean he makes the final roster.

3 of 8

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It almost seemed counterintuitive for Brett Rypien to pick the Denver Broncos. 

    After all, the team punched the reset button under center, trading with the Baltimore Ravens for veteran Joe Flacco, re-signing Kevin Hogan for one year and drafting Missouri’s Drew Lock in the second round. 

    Even so, Rypien has a better chance than one might expect. He is more than a capable-looking backup with 49 starts in four years at Boise State, and he did so in a pro-style offense. 

    During the draft process, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein put it best:

    “What has a chance to save him is his football intelligence, accuracy and consistency. He stepped right in as a freshman and proved he could not only survive, but thrive and grow. A troubling number of interceptions were due to lack of arm strength so he needs to find a timing-based passing game in order to find a home as a back-end backup.”

    Given Flacco’s age (34), the fact that Hogan is a career 59.4 percent passer and Denver’s shoddy recent history at finding quarterbacks, Rypien to the Broncos is quietly a better idea than it seems. If he can get down the timing of the offense, he’ll stick and perhaps climb the chart in the coming years. 

4 of 8

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Jake Browning is an experienced college starter who didn’t seem to have enough upside to come off the board but could still stick for a long time based on the application of his talents and resume. 

    Browning started 53 games for the Washington Huskies and reeled in a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2016. That he slipped into the undrafted realm wasn’t the best sign, but it isn’t a disqualifier from making an NFL roster. 

    It seems Browning and his reps targeted the Minnesota Vikings. His competition behind Kirk Cousins is Kyle Sloter and Sean Mannion. The former has played only in the preseason, and the latter has attempted just 53 passes since entering the league in 2015.

    Provided Browning likes and executes the Vikings’ system well, he shouldn’t have a problem winning the backup gig. Minnesota’s long-term outlook isn’t 100 percent clear, as Cousins (age 31 in August) is only under contract through 2020. The balanced look in Minnesota should permit a steady developmental process for Browning as opposed to hinging everything on the quarterback alone. 

    Keep in mind another factor: Trying to stash players like Rypien and Browning on the practice squads probably won’t work given the valuation of the position leaguewide. If Browning shows flashes in training camp, the Vikings aren’t likely to risk losing him on waivers. 

5 of 8

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Saivion Smith was one of the more interesting prospects during the draft process.

    He was all over the place during his collegiate journey, starting as a reserve at LSU before going to JUCO and then landing on coach Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide and tallying three interceptions in 2018.

    His resume never felt like it was enough, but it’s hard to complain about a big defensive back with coverage skills. Smith hit the combine at 6’1″ and 199 pounds and has huge 33¼-inch arms. Onlookers weren’t thrilled with some of his drills, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Smith was fighting through an ankle issue.

    Either way, Smith to the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t much of a surprise. He’s a natural fit there and can use his frame to his advantage in a scheme wherein he’ll be turned loose to play aggressively at the line. Upside alone should have him making the final roster, and the Jaguars have to consider the fact that their depth chart might take a major hit soon if they can’t work out a long-term future with superstar Jalen Ramsey, who’s signed through 2020.

6 of 8

    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Beau Benzschawel won the Detroit Lions sweepstakes, and those Lions won the Benzschawel sweepstakes. 

    According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Benzschawel had more than 20 offers once he hit undrafted free agency, so unless he bombs, he’ll stick on the final roster. 

    And Benzschawel made the right choice because the Lions desperately need the help. 

    The 6’6″, 309-pound rookie started 49 consecutive games for the Wisconsin Badgers, who are known for churning out pro linemen, and he was first-team All-Big Ten two years in a row.

    The Detroit offensive line allowed 41 sacks in 2018 (tied for 17th-most in the NFL), and the Lions are crossing their fingers that Taylor Decker bounces back and perhaps that Frank Ragnow would benefit from a move inside. 

    At worst, Benzschawel will stick as a guy who isn’t active often as a rookie. But he has long-term starter potential in this situation, which is why the Lions won’t let him walk. 

7 of 8

    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Devine Ozigbo was one of the more notable names who ended up going undrafted. 

    The Nebraska running back was snubbed throughout the draft process, not even getting a combine invite. That was odd, considering he finally broke free of a committee in 2018 and rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 scores on an average of seven yards per carry. 

    Maybe teams pigeonholed Ozigbo as a battering ram because of his 5’11”, 222-pound frame. But his quick feet and good testing numbers at his pro day hint at something more, which reinforced by what an NFC scout told NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.

    “I had him alive as a triangle prospect [height, weight, speed] who we might look at as an undrafted [free agent], but he really helped himself with how explosive he was and how hard he ran [in 2018],” the scout said.

    Ozigbo landed with the Saints for a good reason—the team lost Mark Ingram II this offseason. This isn’t to suggest the rookie will climb into a role in which he spells Alvin Kamara right away. But he has more upside than Javorius Allen, a career 3.7 yards-per-carry rusher who turns 28 next month, and the ho-hum presence of 29-year-old veteran Latavius Murray. 

8 of 8

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Lost in all the drama surrounding the Oakland Raiders this offseason was the fact that they slyly added Te’Von Coney in undrafted free agency. 

    Yet another “small” linebacker, Coney was a stud in coverage at Notre Dame, where he started his last three years, had seven sacks overall and led the team in tackling two years in a row. A 6’1″, 234-pound frame isn’t too small for an off-ball linebacker these days, to say the least. 

    Meanwhile, in Oakland, the Raiders have been tripping over themselves as they try to patch up a bad linebacker unit, even adding veterans like Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict whom nobody else seemed to want. 

    Provided Coney’s coverage skills translate quickly, it’s easy to see him excelling on special teams as a rookie after making the final roster. And it’s worth taking into account that he seems to have a better chance than most on this list to become an eventual starter down the road.  

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

Kevin Durants Injury Timeline, Free-Agent Process Discussed by Nets Sean Marks

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844892-kevin-durants-injury-timeline-free-agent-process-discussed-by-nets-sean-marks

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Kevin Durant made his commitment to the Brooklyn Nets before he even formally met with the team, Nets general manager Sean Marks said during a press conference Tuesday:

Marks declined to offer a recovery timeline for Durant’s ruptured Achilles, suffered during Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals.

However, he didn’t rule out Durant for the 2019-20 season.

Durant and Kyrie Irving changed the landscape of the NBA when they decided to join the Nets together this summer. It was the biggest move of the offseason until Kawhi Leonard successfully recruited Paul George to join him on the Los Angeles Clippers (and successfully convinced the Clippers to sell the farm to bring George aboard).

For the Nets, who rebuilt from the ashes of one of the most infamous and crippling trades in recent NBA memory—giving away a criminal number of draft picks to the Boston Celtics in a 2013 swap—it was the culmination of a multiyear rebuilding plan.

“We planned a couple years out that we could have an opportunity here,” Marks told Chris Mannix of SI.com, referring to this year’s free agency and the number of available superstars. “I think when you have a window or you have an opportunity to swing for it and take a chance, take a challenge, and you can do it with the right people, that’s when you have to do it.”

Not that Irving and Durant didn’t bring their own challenges. Irving is coming off a season that saw his leadership qualities come into question with the Celtics. Durant suffered a major injury that will likely cost him the season. But for the up-and-coming Nets, taking on that risk was an easy decision.

“Whenever you can add this type of talent, you probably should jump at the chance to do it,” Marks told Mannix. “Especially guys that want to be here. Especially them.”

And if a player of Durant’s caliber wants to join your organization, who really cares if he announces it on Instagram first?

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

49ers Jimmy Garoppolo Expected to Be Ready for Training Camp After Knee Injury

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844894-49ers-jimmy-garoppolo-expected-to-be-ready-for-training-camp-after-knee-injury

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws a pass at the team's NFL football headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is optimistic he’ll be available for the start of training camp as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL.

Garoppolo discussed his situation Tuesday with reporters, per Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams:

“The rehab process has gone really well. Knock on wood. We haven’t had any setbacks. OTAs went about as well as I could have hoped for and now for training camp hopefully we’ll be full go with team drills and all that stuff. We’re moving in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep going day by day and keep stacking them together. It’s a long process, but we’ve come this far, so why stop now, right?”

Garoppolo also said he doesn’t think he’ll have to open the 2019 season on the physically unable to perform list and will be back to 100 percent for Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 8.

His 2018 campaign ended in San Francisco’s Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the worst-case scenario for the team after it had re-signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million extension.

The Niners were clearly positioning Garoppolo as their franchise quarterback by giving him such a large contract despite him having played only six games for the team to that point.

Although San Francisco clearly isn’t looking to move on from Garoppolo, the 27-year-old might have something to prove following his injury.

Nick Mullens performed well in his absence, throwing for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year. Getting off Garoppolo’s contract becomes much easier next offseason as well. The 49ers would save $22.4 million with $4.2 million counting as dead money toward their 2020 salary cap, per Over the Cap.

Assuming he’s available, Garoppolo will almost certainly be San Francisco’s starting quarterback in Week 1. Should he suffer a setback in his recovery, it could open the door for Mullens to further assert himself as a viable long-term option under center.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

Miamis $171 Million Question: Should the Heat Trade for Russell Westbrook?

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844866-miamis-171-million-question-should-the-heat-trade-for-russell-westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 121-112. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Pat Riley‘s spidey senses started tingling the second Paul George was shipped out of Oklahoma City.

While that deal rocked the basketball world at large, it reverberated with the Miami Heat president for a different reason: His latest star pursuit was underway.

Russell Westbrook, an eight-time All-Star owed a metric ton of money over the next four seasons, was suddenly out of place in the only NBA home he’d ever known. Before the next step for the Brodie and the Thunder was certain, the Heat had already surfaced as a potential landing spot, per The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Brett Dawson.

It’s the Riley way of doing business. In the official announcement of the club’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler, Riley said simply, “Any time you can add a four-time All-Star to your roster, you make that move.”

When it’s an eight-time All-Star, you move twice as fast, right? And when it’s an All-Star seeking a scenery change—Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway—Riley doesn’t let the opportunity pass him by.

So, might the decorated executive be closing in on his target? It’s definitely trending in that direction. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Westbrook “welcomes the idea” of a trade out of OKC, Miami has interest and South Beach appeals to the former MVP.

But how would a Westbrook blockbuster take shape? And is a Brodie-Butler pairing the best way for the Heat to handle their future?

Let’s dig in.

                   

The Initial Offer

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 03: Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat is guarded by Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a game  at American Airlines Arena on December 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In Oklahoma City, Westbrook is an icon. He not only lasted longer than any other member of the 2012 finalists—who, you may remember, dropped the championship round to the Heat—but he also provided a glimpse of post-Kevin Durant hope by initially convincing George to stick around.

In Miami, Westbrook could serve as hope and perhaps the final reminder never to bet against Riley. The Heat entered their first post-Dwyane Wade offseason with no cap space and limited assets. They might leave it having added a pair of All-Star regulars.

Around the Association, though, the prolific point guard is polarizing. Yes, he piles up triple-doubles, but he’s an inefficient scorer and a turnover machine. Yes, his relentless approach puts constant pressure on opposing defenses, but how much longer can the 30-year-old play that style if he starts losing some athleticism to Father Time?

Those are tricky dynamics to deal with, especially once you factor in his cost. He still has four years and $171.1 million left on his contract. In 2022-23, his age-34 season, he’ll hold an enormous $47.1 million player option.

The contract alone is burdensome enough that some have pondered whether Miami should be getting an asset to take it off OKC’s hands:

Sorry, Heat fans. This doesn’t mean you should expect Westbrook and assets to be heading your way. That said, it suggests Miami would be smart to start with a reasonable low-ball offer like this:

Miami Heat Receive: Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Duncan Robinson

Not many will find an asset headed OKC’s way here, save for the believers in Robinson’s potential as an outside shooter.

But rather than being on the hook for all of Westbrook’s deal, the Thunder would be out of Dragic’s after 2019-20 and both Waiters’ and Johnson’s by the next offseason. Dragic is good enough to potentially bring back an asset if he’s flipped between now and the deadline, while the others might have value as expiring contracts the following year.

The real question is whether the Thunder could sell this to their fanbase as a sufficient return for their last remaining star. Our crystal ball isn’t buying it, but trade talks are easier to negotiate once a starting point has been reached.

                 

The Compromise

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Westbrook’s desire to head southeast will help the Heat’s cause. As ESPN’s Royce Young put it, the Thunder “want to do right by Westbrook” and “make sure that he goes to a destination that he prefers.”

That gives Miami a bit of leverage, but not nearly enough for an outright fleecing.

Thunder fans just watched their club net two players (including high-level prospect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), five first-round picks and a pair of pick swaps from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for George. They added another future first from the Denver Nuggets for Jerami Grant.

They can’t shed Westbrook without getting some type of pick or notable prospect in return.

Miami can’t provide draft compensation without involving a third team since previous deals prevent it from dealing a first-rounder before 2025. That puts the focus on the club’s shallow prospect pool, where it’s tricky to find one the Heat would give up and the Thunder would covet.

But let’s try:

Miami Heat Receive: Russell Westbrook, Patrick Patterson, 2024 second-round pick (via Memphis Grizzlies)

Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Herro

Losing Herro less than a month after adding him with the 13th pick would be tough. The Heat have long needed a lights-out shooter, and that would be true more than ever if Butler and Westbrook are running the show.

Still, Miami is sacrificing the unknown with Herro for the stardom of Westbrook. If Herro doesn’t hit (a lot of 13th picks don’t; for every Donovan Mitchell, there’s a Georgios Papagiannis), history may remember this deal as first-degree larceny.

As for OKC, the club would have a shiny new prospect to parade in front of its fans and a highly intriguing potential backcourt partner for Gilgeous-Alexander.

If a two-team deal goes down, this is probably close to how the final version would look. So, does it make sense for the Heat to take such a plunge?

              

Risky But Worthy Gamble for the Heat

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 26: Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, addresses the crowd during the jersey retirement ceremony for Chris Bosh at halftime of the game against the Orlando Magic on March 26, 2019 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE T

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Miami has been without a clear succession plan to move out of Wade’s larger-than-life shadow.

Bringing in Butler only solidified so much. The Heat will still have bad money on the books the next two seasons, and none of their prospects is an obvious star in the making.

That can make Miami’s perpetual drive for maximum competitiveness feel claustrophobic. The ceiling may not sit higher than a one-round playoff appearance, but the floor will never fall too far below the postseason race. The Heat are functionally trapped on the treadmill of mediocrity. Over the last five seasons, they’ve only made two playoff trips and enjoyed a single postseason series win.

Adding Westbrook would be a path to something different—and maybe something substantially better.

The Westbrook-Butler pairing isn’t perfect. Butler doesn’t take many threes (career 2.7 per game), and Westbrook doesn’t make many of them (career 30.8 percent). Spacing could get especially tight when the two share the hardwood with Bam Adebayo, who’s 3-of-22 from distance over his first two seasons.

That said, this roster would go from having no obvious offensive focal point to suddenly having two. It would also get a couple of grinders who play the no-nonsense style Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra prefer. Surround them with the likes of Adebayo, Justise Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr., and this group could obliterate opponents with toughness, tenacity and a tornado of athleticism.

“They would be a contender,” ESPN’s Chauncey Billups told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “… The tenacity of those two guys, the heart, the will, and effort of those two guys … I feel they will have a chance every single night.”

Granted, they might be a contender in the sense of needing everything to break right in order to escape the East. But why couldn’t they climb as high as No. 3?

The Toronto Raptors look ready to free-fall without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Boston Celtics smartly replaced Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker, but moving from Al Horford to Enes Kanter is a massive decline. The Indiana Pacers still don’t have a second star for Victor Oladipo (who still isn’t healthy). The Brooklyn Nets probably won’t have Kevin Durant all season.

Led by Westbrook and Butler, the Heat would have enough to reach the conference semis. While some might argue that’s not worth the cost, the championship-or-bust mentality glosses over the significance of winning 50-plus games and playing multiple rounds of postseason hoops. Catch a couple of bounces here, someone gets injured there and you’re suddenly looking at a conference finals berth.

That’s not a better reality than what Miami has now? The Heat could continue waiting for their books to clear while cutting into the remainder of Butler’s prime, and they may never find a player of Westbrook’s caliber.

Riley’s way is simple. If a star is available, grabbing him is the important part. You can figure out the rest later.

Trusting his instincts has taken this franchise a long way. So why stop now?

                     

Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

NBA Approves Coaches Challenge Flags for 2019-20 Season

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844922-nba-reportedly-approves-coaches-challenge-flags-for-2019-20-season

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Friday March 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 131-130 in overtime. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

The NBA announced, per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, that it’s officially taking a page out of the NFL rulebook by allowing coaches to use challenge flags during games.

Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic first reported the league’s board of governors approved the measure Tuesday and will implement “in-game challenge flags for head coaches” in the 2019-20 season.

Per Reynolds (via NBA.com), each coach will get one challenge per game and can contest “a personal foul charged to their team, a called out-of-bounds violation, a goaltending violation or a basket-interference violation.”

“As with other replay reviews, in order to overturn the event as called on the floor, there must be clear and conclusive visual evidence that the call was incorrect,” NBA Basketball Operations President Byron Spruell told teams in a memo, per Reynolds.

While one challenge per game might not seem like a lot, this past postseason demonstrated how incorrect calls could change the outcome of a game. The Last Two Minute Report was a big story in the series between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, with the Rockets benefiting from a missed charge in Game 3 after the Warriors won Game 1 thanks in part to some missed foul calls.

Coaches will now be able to call timeout and signal a review to the officials.

Additionally, the replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey, will now be allowed to trigger a review of a possible shot-clock violation or whether a shot was a two- or three-point basket, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This might slow down games, but it will help to get things right and keep the focus on the players.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

Shane Bieber Named 2019 MLB All-Star Game MVP

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844958-shane-bieber-named-2019-mlb-all-star-game-mvp

American League pitcher Shane Bieber, of the Cleveland Indians, reacts after striking out National League's Ronald Acuna Jr., of the Atlanta Braves, to end the top of the fifth inning of the MLB baseball All-Star Game, Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

John Minchillo/Associated Press

Cleveland Indians fans saw the American League win the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star Game 4-3 on Tuesday and one of the hometown heroes capture the MVP.

Pitcher Shane Bieber was named the game’s MVP at Progressive Field thanks to his impressive performance in middle relief. He entered the game in the fifth inning and proceeded to strike out Willson Contreras, Ketel Marte and Ronald Acuna Jr. to preserve the Junior Circuit’s 1-0 lead at the time. 

There may have been some hometown cooking for Bieber to win the award considering Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo drove in what proved to be the winning run with a solo homer in the seventh inning.

He blasted the first pitch he saw from San Francisco Giants reliever Will Smith to stretch the lead to 4-1, which ended up being critical because Indians pitcher Brad Hand allowed two runs in the eighth inning. 

The Rangers appeared to notice the MVP slight:

While Gallo may have been deserving, it also seems fitting that an American League pitcher took home the award. After all, the staff combined to allow a mere five hits against the best hitters the National League has to offer all while striking out 16 in dominant fashion. New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman did his best Bieber impression and struck out the side in the ninth to close the win.

That Bieber can be mentioned alongside Chapman and took home the game’s MVP is all the more remarkable considering he was only named to the team as a replacement for Rangers left-hander Mike Minor.

This is another step in what has been a memorable breakout season for the right-hander. He sports a 3.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 141 strikeouts in 112.1 innings and has helped keep the rotation afloat with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco sidelined.

He will now turn his attention to helping the Indians make up the 5.5 games that separates them from the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central race.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System

Joey Gallo Homer Powers AL to 7th Straight All-Star Game Win vs. NL

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2844939-joey-gallo-homer-powers-al-to-7th-straight-all-star-game-win-vs-nl

American League's Alex Bregman (2), of the Houston Astros, scores past National League catcher Willson Contreras, of the Chicago Cubs, during the second inning of the MLB baseball All-Star Game, Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The American League’s dominance at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game continued Tuesday with a 4-3 victory over the National League at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.

The Junior Circuit has now won the Midsummer Classic seven years in a row, although victory no longer guarantees home-field advantage in the World Series.

The pitching staff led the way for the American League, holding the National League’s best hitters to five hits while striking out 16. Cleveland Indians pitcher Brad Hand nearly blew a 4-1 lead and his teammates’ efforts in front of the home fans when he gave up a two-RBI single to Pete Alonso in the eighth, but he retired Mike Moustakas with two runners on before Aroldis Chapman shut the door.

He should have taken tips from Indians teammate Shane Bieber, who won the game’s MVP by striking out the side in the fifth inning. He struck out Willson Contreras, Ketel Marte and Ronald Acuna Jr. in an impressive performance to preserve a 1-0 lead.

Offensively, Joey Gallo’s solo home run in the seventh proved to be the difference after Michael Brantley and Jorge Polanco provided early RBI.

There is an element of irony to the fact Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander started the head-turning pitching performance for the home team.

He made headlines when he said he “100 percent” believes the league has juiced its baseballs in an effort to generate more offense, per Jeff Passan of ESPN. However, those potentially juiced baseballs were no help for the National League when it went down in order with two strikeouts against the starter in his only inning of work.

It set the tone for additional dominance, as Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees, Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins, Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox and hometown hero Bieber combined for four shutout innings to get the American League into the middle portion of the game.

The most emotional moment of the evening involved another American League pitcher during the Stand Up to Cancer tribute following the fifth inning.

Players and fans all stood up and held signs with the names of people they knew impacted by the disease, and Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco was joined by his teammates on the field. Carrasco, who recently revealed he was diagnosed with leukemia, held a sign saying “I Stand” while his teammates all held signs featuring his nickname, Cookie.

On the field, the shutout disappeared in the sixth inning when Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon drilled a long ball off Liam Hendricks to cut the lead to 2-1, but the American League bats wasted little time responding in the seventh.

Matt Chapman walked, advanced to third on James McCann’s single and scored on Xander Bogaerts’ double play to make it 3-1 before Gallo provided critical insurance with a solo homer on the first pitch he saw from Will Smith.

It was the first offense for the American League that came off non-Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers.

Brantley drove in Houston Astros teammate Alex Bregman with an RBI double off Clayton Kershaw in the second inning to start the scoring, and Gary Sanchez doubled off Walker Buehler and scored on Polanco’s infield single in the fifth.

It wasn’t all bad for Dodgers hurlers, as Hyun-Jin Ryu started for the National League and threw a scoreless first. He even retired Mike Trout, who honored the late Tyler Skaggs by wearing No. 45.

The National League nearly overcame the early deficit in the eighth, but Hand’s strikeout of Blackmon with the bases loaded and ability to bounce back and retire Moustakas after allowing the two-RBI hit to Alonso preserved the game and set the stage for Chapman to strike out the side in the ninth.

It was only fitting the American League finished with a head-turning pitching performance from the New York Yankees closer, as it consistently overpowered the National League’s bats throughout the contest.

Free Cash Generation Feeder System