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Cats in the NBA

Former Kentucky Players in the NBA

BBNBA Player Rankings: Bottom Tiers

Darius Miller has a clear role for the upcoming season with the New Orleans Pelicans. (David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Player rankings are almost always subjective. There is zero chance of creating a ranking sheet where every single person is in full agreement. We as humans just aren’t wired to wholeheartedly agree with anything, no matter how much we may or may not know about the topic at hand. So instead of my original plan, which was to create a straight, numbered list of all the former Kentucky players in the NBA and rank them in order of talent, I’m going to try something a bit different.

Let’s throw out the rankings and try a tier-based system.

By tiers, I mean dividing every player into specific groups such as “All-Stars” or “low-level starters”. This way, it reduces the chances of someone being placed over another when in reality they are neck-and-neck in terms of their talent and bring similar intangibles to the table.

These tiers are going to be based strictly on how I believe they will perform for the upcoming season. Rookies will not be factored in while injuries and suspensions will be taken into account (so don’t be surprised if DeMarcus Cousins is lower than expected).

Without the rookies but also including fringe NBA players who have legitimate shots to make an NBA roster sometime during the season (Archie Goodwin and DeAndre Liggins), there are a total of 27 players to choose from. These 27 players will be broken down into six different tiers: All-Stars, high-level starters, low-level starters, off-the-bench contributors, bench players, and fringe players.

For the first portion of this multi-piece article will focus on the bottom half of the league. The off-the-bench contributors, the bench players, and the fringe players.

Let’s start with the guys fighting for roster spots.

Fringe players

These are the players who are fighting for playing time. Some have NBA contracts, some don’t. Every minute they play, whether it be preseason or in training camp, is crucial to their immediate success.

Tyler Ulis – Golen State Warriors

  • Ulis averaged just over 21 minutes per game as the backup for the Phoenix Suns over the course of the last two seasons. After being let go by the Suns, the Warriors picked him up on an Exhibit 10 contract. Now he has to prove himself in either the preseason or during training camp that he deserves another shot in the NBA. The Warriors have a pretty good point guard already along with backup Quinn Cook, so Ulis will need to take advantage of every single opportunity presented before him.

Alex Poythress – Atlanta Hawks

  • Poythress is on a two-way contract in Atlanta, so he’ll see time with both the Hawks and their G League affiliate the Erie BayHawks. While he appeared in 25 games for the Indiana Pacers last season, he only averaged a little over four minutes per game. On a Hawks team that is embracing a youth movement, this may be the best situation for Poythress to carve out some playing time.

DeAndre Liggins and Archie Goodwin – free agents

  • Both Liggins and Goodwin are currently free agents but could find themselves on an NBA sometime during the regular season. Liggins especially has a solid track record of being a valuable mid-season pickup that can boost a team’s defense during the strenuous season. Goodwin has not played for in an NBA game since April of 2017 but had another solid Summer League performance. It wouldn’t be surprising if either of these two earns a contract before the calendar switches to 2019.

Bench players

These are the players who will see more time on the bench than in the game. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove their value, but it’s going to be up to them to work themselves into more prominent roles.

Skal Labissiere – Sacramento Kings

  • This is a make or break year for Labissiere. His first two seasons in Sacramento have been relatively disappointing and the frontcourt competition for the Kings is only getting more fierce and talented. Unless he can take a major leap in both production and consistency, he may see less playing time that he already had been. Being able to reliably stretch the floor would immediately boost his value and it’s what I’ll be watching for the most when the season begins.

Brandon Knight – Houston Rockets

  • We don’t really know what we will see out of Knight as he finally returns to the basketball court. Plagued with injuries for what feels like six decades now, he’s found a situation that will allow him a bit of a loose leash. With James Harden and Chris Paul ahead of him, Knight won’t be asked to produce like he was in Phoneix and Milwaukee. While Knight could end up playing 20ish minutes on a nightly basis, it’s almost impossible to determine at this moment what type of brand of basketball he’ll be able to produce when he finally steps back onto the court. One thing I do know is this: Knight is going to have a green light to shoot.

Nerlens Noel – Oklahoma City Thunder

  • The man that bet on himself not too long ago (and lost significantly) is going to have to resurrect his career in Oklahoma City. Luckily for him, he’s found a good home. He’ll backup Steven Adams – who could possibly make a run at his first All-Star appearance this season – and will also play behind Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant. Noel shouldn’t expect to see extended minutes early in the season, but when he does get on the court, he’s going to have to prove he’s worth what he believes he is. No more Carmelo Anthony will definitely give him a better chance at playing time, too.

Jodie Meeks – Washington Wizards

  • Meeks has only served six games of his 25 game suspension that will spill over into the 2018-19 season. By all accounts, last season was one of his worst, despite being healthy. Missing the first 19 games of the season will already put him at a disadvantage on a team that got a bit deeper at the guard position. At 31 years old, Meeks is going to have to bump that 34 three-point percentage from last season up into the high 30s, at the minimum.

Off-the-bench contributors

These are the players who aren’t starters but still have a clear identity they bring to their team. They aren’t going to drop 15-20 points on a consistent basis, but they help their teams in ways that go beyond the box score. There is potential and plenty of room to grow with these players.

Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets

  • Monk’s first season in Charlotte was a rollercoaster. He saw plenty of minutes as the season began but quickly saw those vanish to the point where he hardly played. Thanks to an injury late in the season to Michael Carter-Williams, Monk was able to not only soak up those minutes, but excel in them. He averaged 12.1 points per game over the last 18 of the regular season. Heading into this season, Monk will likely come off the bench but his new head coach James Borrego has a clear role for him and he plans on using Monk early and often as a floor-spacing weapon.

Andrew Harrison – Memphis Grizzlies

  • Harrison broke out a bit last season after starting point guard Mike Conley went down with an injury. His play last season didn’t prove he could be a starting caliber point guard anytime soon, but that backup role is clearly his to lose. With the Grizzlies trying to salvage the remainder of the decaying roster, Harrison will absolutely see minutes in the backup role again as an eager and fresh body. Harrison improved every aspect of his game last season, now it’s time to take it up another notch.

Darius Miller – New Orleans Pelicans

  • Miller has a defined role on this New Orleans Pelicans team. His job is to run off screens, spread the defense, and knock down open shots. He executed all three of those to perfection last season (shooting 41.1 percent from deep while playing in all 82 games) and will be expected to repeat that this season. With the focus of the team understandably gravitating towards Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, and Jrue Holiday, Miller is often the forgotten man and that’s precisely when he’ll knock down a wide-open three.

Trey Lyles – Denver Nuggets

  • Lyles had a bit of an early career revival with the Nuggets last season. He struggled during his two seasons in Utah and it wasn’t until Paul Millsap missed three months with a wrist injury that Lyles had a real shot to showcase his talents. While he was forced to take a back seat when Millsap did return, Lyles established himself as a rotation NBA player that deserves time. The Nuggets are going to be loaded offensively next season and playing time will be scarce for Lyles, but he can make immediate impacts in games as a stretch forward as he showed multiple times last season.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan


BBNBA Preseason Schedule With Notes

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The long wait is just about over. Basketball season is (un)officially upon us.

The NBA kicked off their two-week long preseason schedule on Friday with two games, featuring the Boston Celtics, who visited the Charlotte Hornets at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, along with the Philadelphia 76ers, who hosted Melbourne United – an Austrailian league team.

The preseason will extend through Oct. 12, only four days before opening night of the regular season, and will sometimes pit NBA teams against other professional teams from overseas and some venues for the games will be shown at college arenas (like how Rupp Arena has hosted preseason NBA games over the previous seasons).

All 30 teams will play in the preseason, and while it mirrors Summer League in some fashions (small sample sizes which lead to overrating/underrating players), it’s different in a way that this is our first look at all players in live game scenarios since the end of last season. Preseason is where teams will try to figure out their rosters as they head into the regular season and it gives players such as Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress an opportunity to prove they deserve a spot in the regular season rotation.

The stars will play, although on limited numbers and hardly going top speed, but it’s a chance to see how they’ve evolved (or devolved) over the offseason and what type of work they’ve put into their bodies.

Here’s a rundown of the preseason schedule that will feature former Kentucky players for the upcoming week (Sept. 30 – Oct. 7).

Sept. 30

5:00 – Miami (Adebayo, Marcus Lee@ San Antonio

6:00 – Charlotte (Kidd-Gilchrist, Monk) @ Boston

7:00 – New Orleans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ Chicago

8:00 (ESPN) – Denver (Lyles, Murray, Vanderbilt@ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo): Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, CA

9:30 – Sydney Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander)

Oct. 1

7:00 – New York (Kanter, Knox) @ Washington (Meeks, Wall)

7:30 – New Orleans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ Atlanta (Poythress): McCamish Pavilion (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, GA.

10:00 – Sacramento (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere) @ Phoenix (Booker)

Oct. 2

7:00 – Miami (Adebayo, Lee) @ Charlotte (Kidd-Gilchrist, Monk)

8:00 – Memphis (An. Harrison) @ Houston (Knight): Legacy Center in Birmingham, AL.

10:30 (TNT) – Denver (Lyles, Murray, Vanderbilt) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo)

Oct. 3

7:30 – New York (Kanter, Knox) @ Brooklyn

8:00 (NBATV) – Chicago @ Milwaukee (Bledsoe)

8:00 – Detroit @ Oklahoma City (Diallo, Noel, Patterson)

10:00 – New Zealand Breakers @ Phoenix (Booker)

10:30 (NBATV) – Minnesota (Towns) @ Los Angeles Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander)

Oct. 4

8:00 (NBATV) – Indiana @ Houston (Knight)

10:30 (NBATV) – Sacramento (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo)

Oct. 5

7:00 – Miami (Adebayo, Lee) @ Washington (Meeks, Wall)

7:30 – New Orleans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ New York (Kanter, Knox)

8:00 – Oklahoma City (Diallo, Noel, Patterson) @ Minnesota (Towns)

8:00 (NBATV) – Atlanta @ Memphis (An. Harrison)

9:00 – Perth Wildcats @ Denver (Lyles, Murray, Vanderbilt)

10:00 – Portland @ Phoenix (Booker)

10:30 (ESPN) – Sacramento (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere) @ Golden State (Cousins, Ulis – that felt weird to type out): Key Arena in Seattle, WA

Oct. 6

8:00 – Indiana @ Memphis (An. Harrison)

10:00 (NBATV) – Los Angeles Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo)

Oct. 7

3:00 (NBATV) – Atlanta (Poythress) @ Oklahoma City (Diallo, Noel, Patterson): BOK Center in Tulsa, OK.

4:00 – Houston (Knight) @ San Antonio

8:00 – Milwaukee (Bledsoe) @ Minnesota (Towns): Hilton Coliseum (Iowa State) in Ames, IA.

The Oct. 5 matchup between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors should have every Kentucky fan glued to their TV at 10:30 on a Saturday night. The game will get the ESPN treatment and could feature as many as six former Kentucky players. We’re a little over two weeks away from the opening night tip, but the weeks leading up should tide over even the hungriest of basketball fans.


Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyler Ulis face off in the preseason

Getty Images

The NBA season is almost back even though I feel like it just ended.

Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves took on Tyler Ulis (DeMarcus Cousins did not play) and the Golden State Warriors in a preseason game on Saturday.

Towns finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ 114-110 win. Ulis finished with 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 9 minutes of play.

Here is Ulis’ first points as a Warrior:

 


PHOTO: Diego Pardo/Players' Tribune

DeMarcus Cousins says Pelicans are to blame for not bringing him back in free agency

PHOTO: Diego Pardo/Players’ Tribune

Former Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins made one of the most controversial decisions in free agency this offseason, deciding to leave the New Orleans Pelicans for the Golden State Warriors.

At the time, NBA fans scoffed at the decision, as a record-shattering team like the Warriors didn’t need another All-Star big man in their arsenal. The absurdly rich got even richer, and even tougher to defeat in the playoffs. Fans felt the Pelicans were building something with Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt, and Boogie broke up a solid relationship that had just begun.

If you ask Cousins, however, the door to return to New Orleans wasn’t ever opened by the team. He planned on returning and was looking forward to it. But when the Pelicans showed hesitancy in returning that loyalty, he decided to find the best fit for him.

In a Players’ Tribune post, Cousins opened up about his decision to join the Warriors and why it was “the best basketball decision (he has) ever made.”

“There was never anything negative with the Pelicans,” he said. “We felt like we were creating something special. We had (Davis), we had Jrue (Holiday), doing what they do on a nightly basis. We were steadily building that foundation you need to win. I was heavily involved in recruiting new guys. … Then free agency hit.”

From the Pelicans’ side of things, they weren’t being forward with Cousins and then went silent in their recruitment of the 7-footer.

“It was a lot of, We might be interested. We don’t know if it’s the right fit. All of a sudden, I wasn’t hearing from the Pelicans. I wasn’t hearing from no one. That was tough. We in a nasty business, at times. I don’t even say that in a good or bad way. It’s just no place to get too emotional. The facts are still the same. I was expecting to be back in New Orleans, and I was proud of what we were starting there.

“I couldn’t sleep for two days. When it was clear I couldn’t stay in New Orleans, I went out and created what would end up being the best opportunity for myself. I asked my agent to set up a call with the Warriors. I knew they could use a big.”

And the rest is history. Cousins joined the Warriors, where he could rehab his torn Achilles, return mid-way through the season, and compete for a championship. For him, it was the best thing he could do for his basketball future.

“I’ve been getting settled in the Bay,” he said. “Looking for a spot with a yard big enough for Gotti, Biggie and Queenie. I’ve been rehabbing and working out at the Warriors facility. Everybody in the organization has been cool. There’s a vibe here. You see it in the other guys and in Coach Kerr and the front office, and you feel it in the staff and everyone else. Nobody is thinking about anything but a championship. They carry themselves like it. I’ve been missing basketball — and playing ball, that’s what it’s always been about for me. I found a new place where I’m being welcomed with open arms. I’ll be back at 100% this season. A year from now, looking back, I know this is going to be the best decision I ever made.”

Here is footage of Boogie’s decision to join the Warriors, the rehab process, and some on-court action since then:

We’re all rooting for you, Big Cuz.

(The Players’ Tribune)


You can bet on where Anthony Davis will play next year

(Photo: Getty Images)

The NBA future of Anthony Davis is unknown. But if you think you know what’s next, you can now bet on it.

According to Bovada, Los Angeles is the favorite to land the former Wildcat next year. Bovada set the odds at -190 for the Lakers (a heavy favorite), followed by the Celtics, Pelicans and Warriors. The bet states “which team Anthony Davis will be on for the first game of the 2019-20 NBA season”:

Los Angeles Lakers -190
Boston Celtics +250
New Orleans Pelicans +300
Golden State Warriors +750

You can also bet on whether or not Davis will be dealt before the 2019 trade deadline:

Yes +125
No -165

For the sake of discussion, what do we think of AD in LA?

I’m all for it. Put him in the biggest market and let him shine.


Sights and sounds from Media Day: BBNBA edition

IG: ahmad_monk

Media Day unofficially opened the NBA season today, meaning we got to hear from the 31 Kentucky players on NBA rosters for the first time this season.

With so many players and so many quotes, we narrowed it down to the best of the best moments from throughout the day:

Malik Monk got things started with a fantastic quote about growing up now that he has a puppy at the house. If he oversleeps even by 30 minutes, his Neapolitan Mastiff named Bear will pee on the floor:

We wrote about it earlier, but Enes Kanter made headlines this afternoon by talking about his nipples at New York’s media day…

Kanter added that the Knicks PR department frequently tells him he needs to “think before (he) tweets.”

Unfortunately for them, they’re going to have to let Enes be Enes.

Devin Booker, sporting a sleek green splint following his right-hand surgery this summer, said he’s a big fan of unicycles.

Speaking of injuries, we also got another taste of #VandoWatch today, bringing back memories of last season.

Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly says Jarred Vanderbilt has “fallen in love with the weight room,” though there is still no timetable for his return.

Like Vanderbilt, Brandon Knight of the Houston Rockets is dealing with an injury that will keep him out for a while. Rockets GM Daryl Morey says he’s going to miss training camp and the entire preseason.

Now onto strictly basketball stuff…

Anthony Davis kept it simple: he’s focused on winning games and becoming the most dominant player in the league this season. No big deal.

He also discussed his recruitment of former Kentucky big man Julius Randle, where he said it was an easy job to bring him from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

Randle told reporters it was the “perfect situation” for him, and that he plans on making this a long-term home for him.

It was also an opportunity to see DeMarcus Cousins in his new get-up, where we also got a status update on his injured Achilles and his rehab.

Rajon Rondo also sported his new gold-and-purple uniform as a Los Angeles Laker, and it still doesn’t feel right to me.

Some guy named LeBron James complimented his new teammate, saying Rondo is “one of the most cerebral players, smartest players” he’s ever competed against.

He then said it was great to finally play with someone who can “match wits” with him.

We got to see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in his new No. 2 uniform for Rondo’s cross-town rival, the Los Angeles Clippers.

If you look on the back, you’ll notice SGA has the coolest jersey in sports history.

Bonus:

Former Louisville guard Terry Rozier couldn’t help but talk about his former college coach’s new Twitter account.

So yes, Mr. Rozier is a Pitweeto. Case dismissed.

Training camp opens tomorrow. Gametime, baby.


(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Enes Kanter said thought of playoffs “makes his nipples hard”

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

There is some excitement in New York with the addition of Kevin Knox to the Knicks’ rebuild of young talent. Knox had an outstanding summer and he is expected to be a major contributor in the team’s push for a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Enes Kanter is very excited about the possibility of a postseason. Speaking at the Knicks’ opening of training camp on Monday, Kanter said, “When I think of the playoffs, my nipples get hard.”

TMI, Enes. TMI.


Anthony Davis signs with superstar agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports

Anthony Davis has parted ways with his longtime agent. (Via Getty Images)

Former Kentucky superstar Anthony Davis finished his Hall of Fame weekend in Lexington by making a very, very big decision that could be a massive indicator of his NBA future.

Davis has signed with agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, one of the biggest names in the business.

Davis, who still has two years remaining on his current contract with a player option in 2020/21, joins a pretty impressive client list for Paul. Other clients include LeBron JamesJohn WallEric Bledsoe, Ben Simmons, Trey Lyles, Nerlens Noel, and Miles Bridges, among several other NBA players.

Paul is known for securing big money deals for his clients, including Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Los Angeles Lakers. With Davis eligible for a five-year, $230 million super-max contract extension next summer, it’s obvious he wants to secure the best of the best to handle the biggest financial situation of his life.

Or could it be to set himself up for the future to make a massive career move? With DeMarcus Cousins leaving New Orleans this offseason, the Pelicans’ foundation is rather bare beyond Davis. They aren’t a major free agent destination, and they really don’t have the desirable assets to make a trade that would jump New Orleans into championship contention. Davis could see this as an opportunity to seek a trade in the future, or set up a potential move in free agency to a larger market with championship potential. Say… Los Angeles with fellow Klutch client LeBron James?

Speaking of the devil…

Regardless, Davis means business by signing the best agent in the game.


Tyler Ulis signs with the Golden State Warriors

(Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Kentucky star Tyler Ulis has found a new home.

And he’ll likely get a championship ring out of it.

Ulis has signed a deal with the Golden State Warriors, joining former Wildcat DeMarcus Cousins in the Bay.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic broke the news:

Devin Booker no longer has his best friend in Phoenix, but the Warriors now have a stud backup point guard for pennies on the dollar.

Congratulations to Ulis on the big signing!


(David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

What the Jimmy Butler News Means For Karl-Anthony Towns

Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves, how will this affect Karl-Anthony Towns going forward? (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you haven’t heard by now, Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star guard Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the organization in favor of a fresh start as he is set to enter unrestricted free agency next summer.

This news alone is massive. Butler is arguably one of the 10 best players in the NBA at 29 years old and was already going to be a top priority for a ton of teams by the time he becomes a free agent in 2019. What makes this news even more irresistible is how we got to this point in the first place and the ripples Butler’s decision is going to have on the Timberwolves franchise for years to come.

The most notable argument that has been made to rationalize Butler’s decision is the apparent butting of heads between himself and fellow teammates – Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Let me attempt to preface things by saying that Jimmy Butler is a classic story of someone who was consistently doubted on only to rise and exceed every expectation hoisted upon him. From being forced out of his home at a young age, to having to play his first season of college ball at a junior college, to receiving limited scholarship offers before choosing Marquette as a two-star recruit, to being selected 30th overall in the 2011 NBA draft, Butler has experienced the hardships of life and knows exactly what it means for hard work to pay truly off.

Compare that to Towns and Wiggins who are on the other end of the spectrum. Both five-star recruits out of high school and number one overall draft picks after one season at high-profile universities, it can be easy to see how those different personalities might clash with each other. The Timberwolves head coach, Tom Thibodeau, is a notorious hard-ass, no-nonsense type coach with a drill sergeant mentality. He and Butler were a match made in heaven when they were in Chicago together for five seasons.

In Minnesota, where Thibodeau tried to recreate the magic of a team from five years prior that never really accomplished anything to begin with, the situation was hardly heaven-sent. There are plenty of appropriate questions Butler should be asking before he commits to a major contract. What can Thibodeau – both the GM and head coach – realistically add to the team over the next few seasons? Will he adapt to the changing landscape of the NBA playstyle? Will he even be the coach? What is Wiggins’ ceiling and has he already hit it? Can Towns become a premier defender and finally show some leadership traits?

Despite the team making the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and the first time since the post-Kevin Garnett era, there was hardly any balance within the locker room and that apparently stemmed from Towns and Wiggins attitude. This isn’t to say that Towns and Wiggins are overall problems within the locker room because there has been little if any evidence available to the public that can back that up, but it’s more likely they never wanted to buy into this over-the-top workload that Butler wanted them to.

Butler grew up in a world where he had to overcome every obstacle placed before him, knowing that one slip up could have cost him everything he worked for. Towns and Wiggins – who are 22 and 23 years old, respectively – have obviously worked their asses off to earn what they have, but they don’t have that consistent worry that everything could be lost like Butler has grown up with his whole life.

Butler is the definition of a franchise-altering player. He led the Wolves to their first playoff berth in over a decade and was playing some of the best basketball of his career. Wherever he ends up, that team will be an immediate threat to make a playoff run.

Luckily for Minnesota, they already have a franchise-altering player in Towns, and he’s a hell of a lot younger.

The first time All-Star last season has been eligible to sign his rookie max extension for a while now and there had been no proper explanation as to why he hasn’t, until now. Signing the extension should be an easy decision for Towns, but he reportedly hadn’t done so because he wants to see what happens with Butler, according to Shams Charania.


This, in essence, has given Towns more power than most 22-year olds have ever had in an NBA front office. Butler refused to commit to the team when they offered him an extension of four-years, $100 million earlier in the summer, which was understandable considering he could make much more if he waited for free agency. Now Towns, the franchise centerpiece and a much more valuable long-term asset than Butler, can hold out until something happens with Butler, which it appears will ultimately take place. It’s just a matter of who takes Butler and what that team can give Minnesota in return.

Towns has basically told the organization it’s either me or Butler and if the Wolves trade the latter, then they made the right decision.

Reports have claimed that Butler’s decision to move on from Minnesota had little to do with his relationship with Towns/Wiggins, although there is enough information available to make the claim that it at least had something to do with it. Rather, Butler has been unhappy because the Wolves refused to offer him an extension that could have added another year to the contract length and an extra $75 million on top of the aforementioned four-year, $100 million offer (the most Butler can make as a free agent next summer is $190 million across five years).

So now we dive into the teams that Butler has reported interest in; the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, and New York Knicks (and to a lesser extent the Miami Heat). There has long been a discussion of Boston Celtics All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and Butler teaming up in New York, while ESPN has reported that the Clippers are his preferred destination. If none of those teams sound appealing to a four-time All-Star it’s because they aren’t. Or they aren’t just yet.

The Clippers and Nets will both have the ability to clear enough money to make room for two max free agents. We won’t go too much in detail regarding where he might go (although I will say that the Denver Nuggets and especially the Washington Wizards should be calling the Wolves 24 hours a day, seven days a week) because he could just sign with a different team next summer and there are so many different possibilities. But what we will quickly discuss is what a potential return package for Minnesota might look like and how they’ll use that to continue to build around Towns for the future.

The Wolves already gave up Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the pick that eventually became Lauri Markannen in order to get Butler from the Bulls in the first place. They won’t see anything similar to that now that Butler’s intentions have been made public. But his preferred destinations of the Knicks and Clippers have interesting subplots.

A deal that might be made between the Wolves and the Clippers/Knicks would likely include Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Clippers) or Kevin Knox (Knicks). Minnesota is going to want assets in this trade. Ideally, they’ll try to pry away at least one or two players who can make an immediate impact and maintain some sort of semblance of winning as they try to make the playoffs for two straight seasons. No matter what the Wolves receive, odds are they won’t bring in enough talent to keep them in the playoff hunt (barring a transcendent leap from Wiggins). The inclusion of young players/draft picks would be necessary for the organization and it would be hard to imagine a scenario where either SGA or Knox are kept out of the trade and don’t end up teaming up with Towns (that is, if a deal is made between the Clippers or Knicks). If I’m Minnesota and either of those two teams calls, SGA or Knox are priorities.

When Butler is eventually traded, the keys to the organization will once again be placed back in the hands of Towns (and to a lesser extent, Wiggins, as well). The team tried the Butler experiment and it ultimately failed, but they still have a player expected to knock off every item on the future Hall-of-Fame checklist. However, the first taste of real success Minnesota has had since 2004 is going to be shortlived.

Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, the pressure for Towns to become great has grown exponentially. He improved last season, but he was at his best when Butler was playing at a high level. Without that safety net, the responsibility to win will be put on Towns (although Wiggins will likely be the scapegoat if/when things go sour quickly). He’s already an elite offensive player with upside on the defensive end that he hasn’t been able to tap into yet. What he brings on the defensive side of the ball – especially if Butler, an elite defender on the wing, is gone – is what he’s going to be judged on. His head coach, who preaches defense, has yet to get the best out of him on that end, and it’s difficult to gauge if Thibodeau will even be the coach of the Timberwolves this time next summer.

With or without Butler, the upcoming season was always going to be massively important for Towns. If Butler is with the team (and somehow doesn’t get traded), they would be expected to make the playoffs again despite having an ever-diminishing amount of off-court chemistry. With Butler gone, Towns is going to be expected to lead this team and take a leap on defense that he desperately needs in order to become great. Only time will tell how this ordeal benefits (or hinders) Towns’ progression. Either way, the workload for his fourth NBA season just got a hell of a lot heavier.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan


Brandon Knight to Miss Time Following Knee Surgery

Brandon Knight to miss some time following surgery. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

Houston Rockets guard Brandon Knight is expected to miss “some time” following a left knee surgery that took place earlier in the offseason, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The surgery happened before Knight was traded to Houston and it will cause him to miss time as training camp inches closer.

This is the same left knee that Knight had surgery on to repair a torn ACL in August of 2017. That he had another surgery on the same knee possibly within the last 30 days might raise a cause for concern, but the Rockets still felt confident enough to trade for him anyways.

Knight was recently traded to the Houston Rockets from the Phoenix Suns in what was essentially a salary dump for the Rockets so they could remove Ryan Anderson’s contract from their books.

Knight is expected to be one of the first guards off the bench for the Rockets and will likely find himself alongside either James Harden or Chris Paul for the majority of his playing time. While Knight has made little contributions to his team in previous years due to an unfortunate string of injuries, there is hope he can bring a sense of continuity to the Rockets offense when one – or both – of the team’s All-Star guards take a break.

Keep in mind, Knight was a serious up-and-comer before the injury bug plagued him for roughly the previous three seasons. Before he was sidelined due to a sports hernia that required surgery in the 2015-16 season, Knight averaged 19.6 points and 5.1 assists in 52 games.