We are less than a week away from the opening of NBA training camps—the Timberwolves and Mavericks, who will represent the NBA in Abu Dhabi, will hold Media Day on Thursday and Friday, respectively—which means we are days away from eight months of NBA basketball in your life. So let’s rip open this week’s Mailbag.
So now Toronto is in the mix for Damian Lillard? I like Masai’s [Ujiri] aggressiveness but I don’t see how dealing for Dame makes sense. Do you? —Arnold, Virginia
There’s a lot of smoke in league circles about Blazers-Raptors talks. Toronto’s interest, I believe, is genuine. They have young pieces (O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes), big contracts and enough draft capital to make an enticing offer. And it doesn’t sound like Masai Ujiri & Co. are too worried about Lillard’s publicly expressed desire to play in Miami. Remember, when the deal for Kawhi Leonard went down, Leonard reportedly didn’t want any part of it. Look how that worked out.
That said, I don’t get it. Logistically it’s extremely challenging. In 2018, when Toronto acquired Leonard, the cost was DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick. Steep, but manageable (obviously) given what the Raptors had.
To land Lillard, who will make $45 million next season, the Raptors would likely have to include a combination of Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Otto Porter Jr. just to make the numbers work. Toronto likely won’t trade Barnes, and Pascal Siakam (age/contract) probably doesn’t interest the Blazers much. But Portland will certainly want the pot sweetened with a blue-chip prospect (Gradey Dick, a lights-out shooter at Kansas) and multiple first-round draft picks.
Where does that get Toronto? Does a Lillard-Siakam-Barnes trio put the Raptors in the mix in the Eastern Conference? If Barnes takes another step after a sluggish second season, maybe. But it’s iffy, and it doesn’t even take into account Lillard’s interest in being there.
What this could do is motivate Miami. Talks between the Blazers and Heat have reportedly been dormant for some time. And, yes, Miami is certainly among the teams keeping an eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s situation in Milwaukee. But are the Heat really willing to, ahem, burn another season of Jimmy Butler in the hope that Giannis is available? Or is the threat of Toronto landing Lillard enough for Miami to plus up whatever offer it had on the table?
What’s the trade market for Terry Rozier? 30th leading scorer in the NBA last year who can really help a team, but Charlotte has Brandon Miller so Rozier probably isn’t in their long-term future plans. —@rockdobbster
Tangibly, I would think Rozier would return at least one first-round pick. Rozier is a very solid player. You mentioned the numbers—career-high 21.1 points per game, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds. He’s a bit of an erratic shooter (41.5% from the floor, 32.7% from three last season), but he’s a steady scorer and can play either guard spot. He’s also on a reasonable contract, with two guaranteed years and a $26.6 million team option for the 2025–26 season.
The Clippers are most often linked to Rozier. And that makes sense. L.A. is still in the James Harden mix, but if the Clippers pivot, they could do a lot worse than Rozier, whose game appears to fit nicely alongside Leonard and Paul George. His clutch numbers are solid, and while Rozier has not had to dust off his postseason game in a few years, he did average 16.5 points during Boston’s 19-game run in the 2017–18 playoffs. He has the kind of swagger that serves him well there.
Will Chris Paul come off the bench or look to be traded? –@4CornersBoxing_
Let’s start with Steve Kerr’s comments Monday, his first since the World Cup:
“We basically have six starters the way I look at it,” Kerr told reporters. “Only five can go each night, so I haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do. I want to see training camp. We’re going to try different combinations and take a look. Obviously all six guys are going to play a lot of minutes for us. If this is going to work, everybody has to embrace it, regardless of who is starting and who’s not. It only works if the whole team buys in. I know these guys well. I know five of them really well, and I’m getting to know Chris. One thing I know about all of them, is they want to win more than anything.”
Not much there, right? This is a tough call for Kerr. On paper, it’s obvious Paul should come off the bench. The Warriors have had one of the best starting lineups in the NBA for years. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been together for more than a decade. Andrew Wiggins is a necessary wing defender. Draymond Green is Draymond Green. And Kevon Looney is a durable, reliable rebounder and defender.
Will Paul be open to a reserve role? It probably isn’t an idea a future first-ballot Hall of Famer is thrilled about, especially coming off a solid season as a starter in Phoenix. But a spot on the second unit would be a chance for Golden State to keep Paul fresh, maintain a healthy status quo and give Paul, in the last year of his contract, a chance to reinvent himself before free agency.
Who are the Sacramento Kings of this year? Who is coming out of nowhere? —Tony, Daytona Beach
Here’s my question: Is Orlando ready? The Magic won 34 games last season, a dozen more than the year before, with the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster. That inexperience often cost Orlando in crunch time (9–13 in games decided by five points or less), and this year it will add two more rookies (Anthony Black, Jett Howard) to the mix.
Still, the Magic have talent. Paolo Banchero, fresh off a Rookie of the Year campaign, has terrifying offensive potential. Franz Wagner made a second-year leap (in addition to improved numbers across the board, Wagner ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in fourth-quarter points), and Markelle Fultz (still just 25) seems to be settling in as a capable playmaker; his numbers after the All-Star break last season (15.6 points, six assists while shooting 53.3% from the floor and 32.4% from three) are stats Orlando can live with. Wendell Carter Jr. is a solid rebounder, Gary Harris can be a quality three-and-D wing and there is hope Jalen Suggs (former lottery pick) and Cole Anthony (former first-rounder) will continue to develop.
There’s leadership with Jamahl Mosley, who steered the Magic through a 5–20 start to a strong finish. There’s defense, sort of. Orlando’s D was middle of the pack, solid given the roster. The Magic were 8–0 in games they held teams under 100 points, and there should be optimism they can do that more often. If the rookies are NBA-ready (no sure thing) and the roster stays healthy (ditto) Orlando could surprise some teams early.
Will it happen? Probably not. Right now the Magic feel like a feisty group likely to battle for a play-in slot. But no one saw the Kings making an 18-game improvement last season. If Orlando starts next season off like it finished the last one, it could be well positioned to end a three-season playoff drought.