2019 NBA Free Agency Tracker

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NBC Sports

2019 NBA Free Agency Tracker

Editor's note: You can find all of Tom Haberstroh's thoughts and analysis on all the big news and notes from 2019 NBA free agency right here. Bookmark this and come back throughout what's sure to be a crazy two weeks.

DeMarcus Cousins reunites with AD in Hollywood | Kawhi picks the Clippers, and Paul George joins him from OKCHassan Whiteside traded to BlazersWarriors ship out Iguodala, bring in RussellRedick heads to Pelicans | Brogdon joins the Pacers | Horford joins Embiid, Philly | Harris re-ups in PhillyButler leaves Philly for Miami | Durant heads to Nets | Kyrie teams up with KD in Brooklyn |Khris Middleton gets paid by the BucksKristaps Porzingis staying in Dallas Nikola Vucevic stays in Orlando | Kemba Walker heads to Celtics | Klay Thompson to re-up with Warriors | Harrison Barnes stays with Kings

Editor's note: You can find all of Tom Haberstroh's thoughts and analysis on all the big news and notes from 2019 NBA free agency right here. This article will be updated as signings, trades and transactions happen.

DeMarcus Cousins reunites with AD in Hollywood

Contract details: One year, $3.5 million

Analysis: Boogie and the Brow have relocated to Los Angeles. A year and a half after DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis were scaring opponents in New Orleans, they’ll reunite in a championship quest for the Lakers under very different circumstances.

Cousins posted solid numbers for the Warriors last season, averaging 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in just 25.7 minutes. Coming back from a ruptured Achilles, Cousins played just 30 games in the regular season and was limited to eight of the Warriors’ 22 playoff games dealing with a torn quad muscle.

Cousins is still trying to prove he can return to All-Star levels, but he has to win a starting job first. He will fight with JaVale McGee for the starting center position in LakerLand next to LeBron James, which is quite a sentence. It’s a good low-risk move for the Lakers, considering it’s just a one-year deal.

Cousins should be motivated to maximize a free agency deal next summer. He needs to stay healthy and show more mobility than he did in the playoffs. Should Cousins struggle to stay on the court, the Lakers can move on without much of a hit. The talent is worth a flier, but Frank Vogel should find some zen while he still can. Next year will be something.

Kawhi picks the Clippers, and Paul George joins him from OKC

Contract details: Four years, $142 million

Analysis: It’s a major coup by Doc Rivers and the Clippers franchise, which has lived in the Lakers’ shadow for decades. Led by president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, general manager Mike Winger and consultant Jerry West, the Clippers have added the best player in the NBA and the best player in franchise history.

Snatching Leonard away from their Staples Center roommates and the defending champion Toronto Raptors is the icing on the cake. Oh, and a runner-up MVP is coming along, too, in the form of George.

If you ranked the Clippers’ top 12 assets heading into free agency, they just tied a bow around nine of them and shipped them over to OKC for a single superstar -- and an injured one at that. They kept Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams on their team-friendly contracts but gave up just about everything else.

To recap: the Clippers will send away their unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami and the rights to swap picks in 2023 and 2025. That’s the most picks the Clippers can legally send under the collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits teams from selling first-round picks in consecutive years.

On top of that, the Clippers are sending their 2018 first-round pick, Gilgeous-Alexander, who was second-team All-Rookie last season. Wait, there’s more! Gallinari, who averaged 19.8 points last season and has a $22.3 million contract that expires next summer, will be going in the deal, as well.

The price is just astounding. I’m surprised OKC general manager Sam Presti didn’t get a share of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s estate as well. Maybe he asked for it.

L.A. isn’t the finished product yet. It can use the room exception to add another player. The Andre Iguodala sweepstakes will bubble to the surface now that he’s on a rebuilding Memphis team. An Iguodala swap for Harkless and a longer-term asset seems fair for both sides.

The Clippers aren’t heavy title favorites at the moment. I’ll put them on the same tier as the Lakers, Milwaukee, Houston and Philadelphia, with Utah, Portland and Denver just on the outside. If they land Iguodala, the Clippers will rise to outright favorites.

Blazers trade Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless to Heat for Hassan Whiteside

Contract details: N/A

Analysis: Portland must really believe in its organizational culture. It makes some sense to take a chance on Whiteside given that Jusuf Nurkic may need some extra time to ease back into the Blazers’ rotation after breaking his leg in March. With a 7-foot-7 wingspan and broad shoulders, Whiteside can bat away shots and pull down rebounds like few on Earth can.

But the Heat know him better than anybody, having groomed him from a Lebanese basketball leaguer to a double-double machine. But one year into Whiteside’s $100 million contract, the Heat drafted center prospect Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall pick. A year later, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided Whiteside would be Adebayo’s backup, following a history of league suspensions and a 2018 fine for conduct detrimental to the team.

Portland sees opportunity in the change of scenery. Whiteside is also an expiring deal who can be flipped at the trade deadline or sooner, if things don’t work out. To me, moving Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard for Whiteside was surprising because of the opportunity cost. If, say, Kevin Love became available, would the Blazers like to have Harkless and Leonard still around to put together a potential package?

It’s unclear how the Blazers view the prospect of adding Love and the remaining four years on his deal. Maybe the Cavs aren’t interested in moving him at all. But I figured the Blazers could fetch better value than Whiteside, who clearly fell out of the Heat’s favor last season in a playoff push. If Whiteside puts it together in a contract year, the Blazers will enjoy a big upgrade in rim protection over Leonard. If not, they always have Zach Collins to lean on as well.

Warriors ship out Iguodala, bring in Russell

Contract details: Four years, $117 million

Analysis: This signals the end of Golden State basketball as we know it. At 23 years old and coming off his first All-Star appearance in Brooklyn, Russell is young and dynamic and an incredibly talented attacker. But he’s also completely alien to what the Warriors like to do under coach Steve Kerr. 

Russell is a pick-and-roll machine of the highest order. According to Synergy Sports, only Kemba Walker logged more pick-and-rolls than Russell last season, which is a categorical shift from Kerr’s pass-heavy offense, which ranked dead-last in pick-and-roll frequency last season. In fact, Russell almost used more pick-and-rolls all by himself (920) than the entire Golden State offense last season (995). 

By moving Andre Iguodala to Memphis, the Warriors just don’t have enough wing defenders to play Curry and Russell regularly together and expect a top-10 defensive outfit. 

They’re going to need about 175 percent of Draymond Green if they want to contend next season. I can’t tell whether Draymond Green should spend the entire summer at SoulCycle to stay in shape or whether to hibernate him in a float spa until training camp. 

Redick heads to Pelicans

Contract details: Two years, $26.5 million

Analysis: The New Orleans Pelicans are making the playoffs next season. How do I know that? Redick has never missed an NBA postseason in his 13-year career. He’s also never won a championship, which is why I found it surprising he decided to leave Philadelphia and sign with a rebuilding team in the Big Easy.

Redick still has plenty of air in those tires. He just turned 35 years old last week and is coming off his career-high in scoring at 18.1 points per game. Philly will surely miss his 3-point shooting and two-man game with Embiid, but the team will pick up some defensive toughness with Josh Richardson in his place.

Redick will provide some much-needed spacing along with 28-year-old Italian sharpshooter Nicolo Melli, who has made 38.7 percent of his 462 career 3-pointers in the EuroLeague before signing with the Pelicans on Sunday. Of note: Redick is now the seventh former Duke player on the roster if you include general manager Trajan Langdon. 

Pacers bring on Brogdon

Contract details: Four years, $86 million

Analysis: It’s a big risk for the Milwaukee Bucks to let Brogdon go, given that Giannis Antetokounmpo can be a free agent in 2021. Is the 2020 first-round pick that the Bucks received in the deal going to improve their championship quest next season? It’s doubtful.

Indiana got itself a really good two-way player to handle the offense until Victor Oladipo returns from his torn ACL. Brogdon became a card-carrying member of the exclusive 50-40-90 shooting club, which has only been done by Steve Nash (four times), Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry this century. 

At 26 years old, Brogdon is older than your typical three-year player and has dealt with foot issues in his past. Maybe the Bucks didn’t feel comfortable committing to Brogdon at that kind of money with his medical history. But if I’m Milwaukee, I’d swallow that risk, knowing Antetokounmpo will be scrutinizing my every move. Brogdon will share backcourt duties with Jeremy Lamb, which makes for an interesting combo with T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner up front. 

Al Horford joins Joel Embiid in Philly

Contract details: Four years, $109 Million

Analysis: That’s one heck of a way to make Joel Embiid’s life easier. By signing Horford, the Sixers didn’t just add a great two-way big man who can help spell Embiid on back-to-backs. They removed one of Embiid’s biggest obstacles from the team’s path to the NBA Finals. 

Horford has been a nightmare matchup for Embiid. Of the 11 players Embiid faced at least 100 times in matchups last regular season, Horford held Embiid to just 25.0 points per 100 possessions, 13.3 points below his normal rate. Only Marc Gasol suppressed Embiid’s scoring numbers more than Horford.

Horford can space the floor, run your offense from the elbow and pass as well as any big in the league. Anytime you sign a 33-year-old big man to a four-year deal, you tug at the shirt collar and hope he doesn’t break down. But Horford has a skillful, cerebral game that should age well alongside Embiid.

Tobias Harris re-ups in Philly

Contract details: Five years, $180 million

Analysis: You might scoff at the notion of a player who has never been an All-Star getting a $180 million contract. But that’s the going rate for a player of Harris’ abilities in today’s NBA. Once Khris Middleton, a similarly skilled star in Milwaukee, got $178 million over five years, Harris’ bar was set.

At 6-foot-9 with handle, Harris is a huge small forward who can do just about anything on the floor. He’s demonstrated that he’s a much better shooter than what he showed in his half-season in Philadelphia and despite the dip in his 3-point shooting percentage, Harris still managed to score 18.2 points per game while juggling possessions in a loaded lineup.

Five years is a formidable commitment for a guy who has bounced around the league, but he’s a 26-year-old with a clean bill of health. That’s hard to find in this league. He’s missed just two regular season games in the past three seasons and doesn’t play the type of bruising game that you worry about going forward. With a full training camp and more breathing room in next year’s offense, he should only get more productive in Philadelphia next season.

Butler leaves Philly for Miami

Contract Details: Fours years, $142 Million

Analysis: Does this mean we get one last, last dance from Dwyane Wade? Putting Wade’s possible unretirement aside, this is a big swing for Miami. Butler will give them an established closer and two-way star that can take the baton and lead the next phase of the organization.

From a personality standpoint, I love the fit with Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. They’ve been hunting for a hard-nosed star like Butler for a long time. He’s one of the best 15 to 20 players in the NBA when he’s healthy. The question is whether he’s the right fit from an organizational trajectory.

Butler makes more sense on a championship contending team, not on a retooling one like Miami. He’ll be 30 years old when training camp comes around and has a lot of miles on his tires. He’s played more than 70 games in a regular season just once in the last seven years. But I get the gamble. The Heat are wagering that he’s the type of talent that will attract free agents in 2020 when Hassan Whiteside’s money comes off the books. At $141 million, that’s quite the bet.

Durant heads to Nets

Contract Details: Four years, $164 Million

There’s a very real chance that Brooklyn never contends for a title. It all hinges on Durant’s recovery from an Achilles tear, which has ended careers before. Irving will be turning 29 years old by the time Durant is likely to be ready in 2020-21. Say it takes Durant another full season to establish himself as an MVP-caliber player. In that scenario, Irving will be 30 years old and Durant will be 33 by the time the 2022 playoffs begin. 
 
Maybe Durant returns to elite status right away, like Dominique Wilkins did. That’s one data point. So is Isiah Thomas, who retired at the age of 32. Kobe Bryant was a shell of himself after his tear at the age of 34. Though Durant at 30 years old is no spring chicken, the four-time scoring champ has to hope his relative youth leads to a better outcome than Bryant.
 
As I reported earlier this year with Cousins, the biggest factor in Achilles rehabilitation is weight loss. That shouldn’t be a huge factor with Durant considering he’s already so slender. There’s not much weight to lose on that frame. But as SNY’s Ian Begley noted recently, the Nets have a strong performance and medical staff, which helped Caris LaVert miraculously return to the floor this season after a gruesome ankle injury. Durant should be in good hands.

For more of Tom's analysis on the Durant deal, click here.

Kyrie teams up with KD in Brooklyn

Contract Details: Four years, $141 Million

Analysis: Two of the best players in the league and one of the best free-agent hauls in years might not have much impact on the 2019-20 season. The more impactful transaction would have been if Irving re-joined LeBron James alongside Anthony Davis in L.A., but by joining the Nets, it’s not clear whether Irving is any closer to a championship in Brooklyn than he would be in Boston next season. Instead, for the second time in three summers, Irving has abruptly bolted from a winning situation. With a healthy Durant in 2020-21, the Nets figure to be a championship contender, but a lot can change in Irving’s world. It was only nine months ago that Irving told a crowd of Celtics season ticket holder that he wanted to be in Boston long term. 

“I shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization and everyone else in Boston, if you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing next year,” Irving proclaimed in October.
 
But after numerous reports of locker room infighting and turmoil, Irving obviously changed his thinking. Now, he’ll try to find what he seeks in Brooklyn.

More of Tom's analysis on KD and Kyrie's move to the Nets can be found here.

Khris Middleton gets paid by Bucks

Contract details: Five years, $178 million

Analysis: What a haul for Middleton, who signs the richest contract ever for a second-round pick. It’s been quite the journey for the former 39th overall pick in 2012. The 6-foot-8 Middleton became an All-Star in his age-27 season, averaging 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while making a career-high 179 3-pointers on the wing. 

Bucks fans should be thrilled he’s back. As a big wing scorer, Middleton has a lot of Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson to his game. By keeping Middleton, the Bucks are also one step closer to keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo over the long haul, signaling to the reigning MVP that the Bucks are operating like a big market in the NBA’s fourth-smallest TV market. That might be the most important angle when it comes to this deal. The Bucks aren’t being stingy when a title is within their grasp and their MVP can be a free agent in two years.

Kristaps Porzingis staying in Dallas

Contract details: Five years, $158 million

Analysis: This was a mere formality. After trading a package involving Dennis Smith Jr. and two valuable first round picks (2021 and 2023 top-10 protected) to the New York Knicks for Porzingis at the deadline, I would have been stunned if the Mavericks failed to bring back Porzingis in restricted free agency.

Signing any player recovering from a torn ACL is a risky proposition [see my writeup on Klay Thompson] but a unicorn like Porzingis is a worthy gamble. We haven’t seen a 7-foot-3 star come back from a torn ACL. You know why? There aren’t any 7-foot-3 stars, period. The guy averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks at 22 years old while playing on a bad knee. If that’s fully healed, he might win a championship one day next with Luka Doncic. They’re that good.

The question for me is whether the long layoff will hurt or help KP. In most cases, the injured player is returning to the same team. That’s not true for Porzingis. I think it was smart for Dallas to wait and give him a full training camp with Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle to ease him back into the flow of things. 

Of all the lottery teams, I’m highest on the Mavs’ future with only two exceptions, New Orleans and Los Angeles Lakers. If they add DeMarcus Cousins like I predicted earlier this week, they instantly become League Pass royalty.

Nikola Vucevic stays in Orlando

Contract details: Four years, $100 million

Analysis: On paper, this looks like a steal for Orlando. We have a stretch All-Star big man in his prime who averaged 20.8 points and 12 rebounds last season along with an impressive 3.8 assists per game. A skilled seven-footer who placed eighth among all players in real plus-minus last season, above names like LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant, this is the profile of someone you’d expect to command multiple max offers from around the league.

Instead, the Magic retained him for considerably less than the max, which, in Vucevic’s case, could have meant five years, $190 million from Orlando and four years, $141 million from other teams. From that perspective, the Magic should be thrilled with the number they landed on.

But I’m not sold that Vucevic is as good as his top-level numbers suggest. For one, this was a contract year for Vucevic, playing on a team that desperately needed a high-volume scorer. A regression might be coming. Secondly, his postseason was dreadful, rubbing the sheen off his glossy regular season.

Draymond Green coined the notion that there are 82-game players and then there are 16-game players, a nod to players who perform better in the playoffs where 16 wins gets you a championship. Vucevic seems like a classic 82-game player. His point totals in five games against the eventual champion Raptors only confirm that: 11, 6, 22, 11, 6. The Magic were outscored by 66 points with Vooch on the floor in the series as the Raptors sliced him up on the defensive end.

Orlando’s commitment also signals that they aren’t sure Mo Bamba, the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft, is ready for primetime yet. Vucevic and Bamba can’t defend fours, so it’s tough to see how Bamba will get the exposure he needs to develop as their center of the future. The bright side is that if Vucevic proves his 2018-19 season wasn’t a fluke, that contract should be movable. If Vucevic struggles to live up to his contract, rival teams should be calling to pry Bamba away.

Orlando will have the full mid-level exception to fill out the roster, which they can use to chase a point guard in the four-year, $40 million range. Terry Rozier could be a play for them, now that Kemba Walker is headed to Boston. Depending on what type of player they envision next to D.J. Augustin (and yes, Markelle Fultz), here are some names to watch for Orlando, in order of my preference: Tyus Jones, Ish Smith and Derrick Rose.

Overall, I’m lukewarm about this deal from Orlando’s side and can see a future of NBA purgatory for Orlando. But after years of aimless basement-dwelling, I understand their desire to lock in the first-time All-Star for four years. This deal could be way worse.

Kemba Walker heads to Celtics

Contract details: Four years, $141 million

Analysis: The Hornets’ offer to Walker must have been so unappealing that he took a four-year, $141 million deal from Boston before the players and teams were even allowed to negotiate. For a guy who said he’d take less than the max to stay, that is a tough pill for Charlotte fans to swallow.

But for Walker, Boston and Charlotte, this is probably for the best for all three parties involved. To illustrate how rotten the situation has become, the Hornets still won’t have cap space even after Walker’s departure.

With the Celtics, Walker figures to play more like Isaiah Thomas in 2016-17 than Kyrie Irving the last couple seasons. Thomas held the ball for a Walker-like 6.9 minutes per game that season and the Celtics churned out the seventh-ranked offense in the NBA. With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward sharing ball-handling duties, Walker won’t have to create fire from wet blankets like he did in Charlotte.

The Celtics did well to pivot and ink Walker to a deal. He’s an incredible player, who can score on and off the ball, and was beloved by fans, teammates and coaches in Charlotte. Maybe the locker-room refresh after the Irving era will pay more dividends than expected. They’ll need all the help they can get to return to Eastern Conference prominence. Now, they try to find a starting power forward and starting center.

For more of Tom's analysis of the Walker deal, click here.

Klay Thompson gets max from Warriors

Contract details: Five years, $190 million

Analysis: A cold probabilistic analysis might say handing a max contract to a player on crutches is a dubious choice. But Thompson has given so much to the organization, this feels more about the past than the future.

The safe bet here is that the Warriors will be conservative on his return date, just like they were with DeMarcus Cousins and recovery from a torn Achilles. The Warriors have extra reason to play it safe considering they’re paying Thompson the max through the 2023-24 season.

Max money for a player coming off an ACL tear is a sizable gamble no matter how you slice it, especially when the Warriors could be paying $200 million in luxury taxes. But the Chase Center could be essentially printing money with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green opening the San Francisco waterfront property. Considering Thompson has played an average of 92.3 games per season since being drafted (playoffs included) and contributed to priceless memories for the Warriors faithful, Thompson has more than earned this paycheck.

For more of Tom's analysis of the Thompson deal, click here.

Harrison Barnes stays with Kings 

Contract details: Four years, $85 million

Analysis: The first domino has fallen! Well, not quite. Barnes drew some confusion around the league when he turned down a one-year, $25 million player option to stay with Sacramento. Now that he has guaranteed himself over three times as much dough, he’s looking pretty shrewd for that decision.
 
After life as a go-to scorer in Dallas, Barnes downshifted into a useful role player in Sacramento after the midseason trade. Playing alongside De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, the 27-year-old Barnes saw his usage rate drop from 23.7 percent in Dallas to 16.3 percent with the Kings, returning to his levels with the Golden State Warriors. He’s better suited for his current role as he posted a career-high true-shooting percentage in Dave Joerger’s uptempo offense.
 
At first blush, the financial commitment seems a bit steep for a player of his caliber, but that’s the small-market premium for you. Some stability in Sacramento isn’t a bad thing. The Kings should have more than $40 million left in cap space to round out their roster.

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Should the surprising Heat go star hunting?

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NBC Sports

Should the surprising Heat go star hunting?

The Miami Heat have never gotten off to a better start. Not the Heatles, not the Shaq-led teams, no team in the 32-year history of the franchise. At 18-6 through 24 games, none have won more games than a ragtag team led by the 30th pick of the 2011 draft, Jimmy Butler.

This Heat team fully embodies the underdog mentality of Butler, whose ESPN recruiting page still reads NR -- for Not Rated. Two of the team’s starters, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, spent last season in the G League. Meyers Leonard, who’s starting at power forward, was iced on Portland’s bench last season until Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg in late March. 

Then there’s Miami’s affinity for late-game heroics. Led by the best closer in the NBA, Butler and the Heat are 6-1 in clutch situations this season, trailing only James’ Lakers for the best record in the league in those moments.

But the biggest revelation has been Bam Adebayo, who, similar to what Butler did in Chicago, patiently bided his time on Miami’s bench behind the Heat’s $100 million man, Hassan Whiteside. Few would blame Adebayo if he checked out while watching Whiteside’s listless play be rewarded with a starting gig. Instead, the former No. 14 overall pick is dazzling alongside Butler.

Following the surprising start and with Butler and Adebayo already racking up triple-doubles, is it time for the Heat to go big-game hunting in the trade market? Miami has all the markings of a classic “one player away” team and several league executives have pegged the Heat as the East’s most interesting team with Dec. 15 landmark approaches, unlocking 2019 free-agent signees to be eligible for trade. 

Is Chris Paul in their sights? Is Kevin Love or Blake Griffin? Let’s take a look at the NBA’s most surprising contender and whether they need to trade for another big-name player.

Adebayo is already Butler’s co-star

I mean, where to begin with this guy? Adebayo might be the best quarterback in South Florida, which, granted, isn’t saying much these days. But no team in the NBA has scored more points off of handoffs than the Heat, with Adebayo at the forefront of most of them, per Synergy Sports tracking. In a departure from Whiteside, Adebayo actually seeks bodily contact with opposing defenders on these handoffs, flicking the ball to shooters in the pocket as they curl around Adebayo’s Mack-truck-like hip-checks.

But Adebayo isn’t just a hand-off quarterback. Like Nikola Jokic does for the Denver Nuggets to much greater fanfare, Adebayo also runs Miami’s offense often. Five of his 11 assists against Atlanta on Tuesday night came after he started his dribble beyond halfcourt. Point guards almost never make an outlet pass to their center, but this happens all the time with Nunn and Adebayo. With Adebayo regularly playing the “point center” role, it’s downright dizzying for defenses to figure out who’s running the fastbreak. In fact, Adebayo has assisted more of Nunn’s baskets than the other way around.

No one’s prouder of this development and the changes in Miami this year than Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. The man who popularized the term “positionless basketball” is seeing his versatile dream come to life. His power forward, Leonard, is shooting 50 percent from downtown. His center, Adebayo, is second on the team in assists. If Adebayo added a 3-point shot, he’d be the basketball antithesis of Whiteside, whose tunnel vision and me-first mentality weighed heavily on the locker room, league sources told NBC Sports. 

Heading into this season, Heat officials privately raved about how different the locker room felt compared to years past. Players were genuinely playing for each other. They were having fun again. And while that’s a common preseason refrain across the league, Miami’s 5-1 start and wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets showed that there was something different happening in Miami this season.

While Butler has gotten the headlines, Adebayo might just be Miami’s difference-marker. As of Wednesday, Adebayo ranks 10th league-wide in win shares, making him and Butler one of two team pairings among the league’s top 10 (the other duo was featured in Wednesday’s Haberstat). The Heat are also 7.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, per NBA.com. And those 11 assists from Wednesday night? More than Whiteside tallied in all of his 17 starts last season combined.

Just 22 years old, Adebayo has already developed into one of the most untouchable young players in the NBA. Unless someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo is put on the table, don’t expect the Heat to take trade talks involving Adebayo seriously -- not even for a future Hall of Fame point guard.

Should the Heat go after Chris Paul?

It’s not hard to talk yourself into Paul on the Heat. Who is more hell-bent to win a championship than Pat Riley? It could be Butler, who has never even reached the conference semifinals. It could be Paul, who, along with Steve Nash, might be the best player ever without a Finals appearance. Theoretically, those ultra-competitive spirits could fuse a bond between Riley, Paul and Butler.

Also, Paul is still playing at a high level and could really help the Heat with Goran Dragic battling nagging injuries. You need high-IQ grown-ups to win in the playoffs and Paul is definitely that (almost to a fault at times). Sharing the ball with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has hurt Paul’s box-score numbers, but the 35-year-old’s positive impact is undeniable. The Thunder are plus-59 with Paul on the floor and minus-44 with him on the bench. (Sidenote: Gilgeous-Alexander has seen the opposite scoreboard impact). 

There’s also the Banana Boat factor. The transitive property of NBA friendship suggests that Butler would get along with Paul. Butler is close with Wade. Wade is close with fellow Banana Boat member Paul. Therefore, a Butler and Paul pairing would work out, right?

Don’t hold your breath. Before trading Russell Westbrook to Oklahoma City, the Rockets tried to engage the Heat on a three-team deal to reroute Paul to Miami, but the Heat resisted, multiple sources told NBC Sports. The Heat’s desire for Westbrook was “a level above” their interest in Paul, according to one high-level source involved in those talks. 

As it stands now, the Heat aren’t expected to make a run at Paul, per multiple sources. They like their locker room chemistry and aren’t actively looking to shake it up. More importantly,  Paul’s contract complicates Miami’s potential future. Paul will be 35 years old in May and is due $41.4 million next season and will be 37 when he’s due $44.2 million. A glamour market like Miami doesn’t need to make trades to acquire a star. Smaller markets like Utah, Charlotte and Portland do.

The same goes for big-name players like Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, each of whom, like Paul, are due north of $30 million 2021-22. Reminder: Antetokounmpo could be a free agent in 2021.

After polling executives, the league-wide sense is that Paul will remain with the Thunder this season simply because of his enormous contract. While it’s theoretically possible that Paul could agree to turn down his $44 million player option for 2021-22 to grease the wheels on a potential trade, right now, that is the longest of long shots. Besides overcoming the idea of giving up 44 million buckaroos, Paul is also the president of the players’ union and it would be a bad look to set that precedent of turning down that amount of money to make it more palatable to a team. 

If Paul were younger and didn’t have that price tag hanging over his head, he might be Miami-bound. But at the moment, it doesn’t look like a Paul-Butler partnership is in the cards, leaving Miami to hunt for help on a different level.

What about smaller fish?

Butler may not be an ideal fit with Paul, but there’s one name to watch as Dec. 15 approaches: Kyle Lowry. By extending his contract to 2020-21 last summer, Toronto made him more palatable to teams like Miami that want to keep their options open for the summer of 2021. Lowry would be an title-tested upgrade over Dragic and has looked strong this season following offseason thumb surgery. 

As of this writing, it’s unlikely Toronto cuts bait on Lowry with the Raptors playing this well. Alongside MVP candidate Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, Lowry might actually be closer to a title in Toronto right now than he would be in Miami. But if Toronto’s season began to sour or if president Masai Ujiri wanted to get ahead of an offseason remake of the Raptors, the Heat could be an enticing dance partner. Would a package of 23-year-old Justise Winslow and Dragic’s expiring contract be enough to open a dialogue? It’s worth keeping an eye on.

If not Lowry, then New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick could be a target of the Heat. Despite going separate ways this summer, Redick and Butler grew close in Philadelphia as like-minded competitors and, per a source, to this day they maintain regular communication through a group chat forged in Philadelphia.

Redick signed a two-year $27 million this past summer to act as NOLA’s floor-spacer and veteran mentor. Things haven’t gone to plan. Redick may have joked at media day about Zion Williamson messing with his postseason streak, but at 35 years old, Redick didn’t exactly expect to be 6-18 at this point in the season. No one in New Orleans did.

Redick would thrive in Miami. He’s shooting a blistering 44.9 percent on 3-pointers and would be a sniper in Miami’s hand-off offense. Redick and Joel Embiid cooked teams with that action last season, making Redick an ideal fit next to Adebayo (Philly ranked No. 1 in points off handoffs last season).

The problem with Redick is that New Orleans might not be ready to flip that switch just yet. There’s still time for Williamson to return and right the ship before the Pelicans are forced to make a drastic change. They didn’t acquire Redick for him to be a two-month rental. But the Heat have five players -- Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard -- near Redick’s salary number to make salary-matching easier and a few young assets that could entice New Orleans to act. Would the Heat put Nunn on the table to acquire Redick? I’d do it if I’m the Heat.

Another floor-spacer to monitor is Davis Bertans, who is a leading candidate for Most Improved Player alongside Adebayo, Siakam and Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham. Bertans makes the Wizards competitive, but he could make a borderline contender like Miami into a legitimate Finals threat. 

With a $7 million contract that expires in the summer of 2020, Bertans would be more affordable salary-wise than Redick. It also means the Heat would have to toss more sweeteners into the deal to make it palatable for Washington. The Heat only have two of their next seven second-rounders and can’t trade a first-round pick until 2025.

Teams like Miami will be making calls on Bertans, who figures to be the Nikola Mirotic of this year’s trade deadline. But the Latvian may be playing his way off the trade market. At 27 years old, he fits in line with Bradley Beal and John Wall’s long-term trajectory. Don’t be surprised if Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard signs him to an extension and keeps him for the long haul. He’s been that good. 

Whether Bertans remains available or the Heat chase someone like Redick or Lowry, it’s clear the Heat are better positioned to add a solid rotation player than a max-salaried All-Star like Paul, Griffin and Love. It’s tempting for Miami to go all-in and try to load up for the 2020 NBA Finals, but that route makes more sense for a small-market team.

The allure of a 2021 free agent class that could feature Antetokounmpo, Paul George, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Donovan Mitchell and Victor Oladipo is too good to pass up.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.

Is Rockets' James Harden really having the best scoring season ever?

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NBC Sports

Is Rockets' James Harden really having the best scoring season ever?

James Harden is doing some crazy stuff this season. The former Sixth Man of the Year is nearly averaging an unfathomable 40 points per game. He just scored 60 points in a little more than 30 minutes of game action and hasn’t scored fewer than 25 points in a game since opening night. Defenses are now trying to trap him before halfcourt.

Is he the best scorer of this generation? Probably. Three straight scoring titles would cement that status.

But is he the best scorer ever? Well, that gets a little more complicated. We could simply list the best scoring seasons by points per game and leave it at that. But as you’ll see below, that would be short-sighted.

Why? Let’s start at the basics.

Harden is currently averaging 39.5 points per game. If it holds, that would rank third all-time on the scoring leaderboard for a season. The only name above him? Wilt Chamberlain, who of course sees your 40 points per game and raises you 50.

Case closed. Chamberlain is the best scorer ever, with the best scoring season ever, right? 

Not so fast. Let’s zoom out and look at the top 20 scoring seasons in NBA history. 

Notice anything odd? Hint: Look at the season column. Yeah, that’s a lot of of the 1960s. Eleven of the top 20 scoring seasons of all time came within an eight-year span. What’s up with that? 

Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry were incredible scorers, to be sure. But it has to be mentioned that they played in an era where teams regularly took over 100 shots per game. In an eight-team league playing at a crazy-fast pace, and in which Chamberlain was one of three 7-footers playing in the league, the NBA was ripe for an outlier season. 

Though we didn’t have a complete picture in the box score (turnovers didn’t become an official stat until 1973-74), we can get a pretty good idea of how “fast” the league was in that season by using Basketball Reference’s best estimates. We find that Chamberlain’s team, the Philadelphia Warriors, played a whopping 131.1 possessions per game, the fastest of the eight teams. The slowest team, the Chicago Packers, played at 122.9 possessions per game. Even taken as a ballpark figure, that’s a Formula 1 race car compared to the speed of the modern era.

If you thought today’s pace-and-space era was fast, the back-and-forth NBA of the 1960’s leaves them in the dust. The fastest team this season, according to Basketball Reference tracking, is the Washington Wizards and they churn out 105.2 possessions per game. To put it in perspective, the slowest team in 1961-62 played almost 18 additional possessions per game than today’s fastest team.

That’s almost an entire quarter’s worth of extra hoops in which to rack up points. You might be asking yourself, “Well, what what happens when we take that same top 20 and adjust for pace?” 

Good question! I tweaked the per-game numbers by normalizing it to a 100-possession environment. Players that played on a slow team (below 100 possessions per game) will get a boost and players that played on a fast team (above 100 possessions) will have their numbers fall back down to Earth a bit. 

After making this adjustment, we get an entirely new leaderboard. Lakers fans, you might want to sit down for this one.

Holy, Kobe Bean Bryant! After adjusting for pace, Bryant’s 2005-06 campaign floats to the top of the list, up from his previous spot of 11th-best. It’s one thing to average 35.4 points per game, but it’s another to do it while playing at a snail’s pace. In Phil Jackson’s return to the Staples Center bench after a one-year hiatus, the Lakers barely cleared 90 possessions per game, over 40 fewer possessions per game than Chamberlain’s record-holding ‘61-62 campaign.

A comparison between Bryant’s 81-point game and Chamberlain’s 100-point game -- the two highest-scoring individual performances in NBA history -- further illustrates the difference in eras and playing styles. In Chamberlain’s infamous 100-point outing, the Warriors fired up 118 field goal attempts, which is 30 more scoring opportunities than the Lakers had when Bryant went for 81. (Chamberlain’s Warriors scored 169 points in that game, which was only the sixth-highest scoring game in NBA history at the time. Again: Pace.)

Bryant has always been considered one of the best scorers of all-time, but he happened to rule during the NBA’s Deadball Era, in which point totals slumped across the board. The 2004 Lakers scored 68 points in an entire Finals game for crying out loud. Under the terms of our exercise, Bryant would average an extra 4.4 points per game simply by adjusting to a pace of 100 possessions per game. 

And Harden? He’s still near the top of the list. His current season is docked 1.8 points per game because the Houston Rockets have stepped on the accelerator this season with Russell Westbrook on board. The Rockets’ pace, according to Basketball Reference tracking, sits at 104.9 this season, up from 97.9 last season with Chris Paul running the point. By this measure, Harden’s season is almost a mirror image of last season’s scoring campaign.

More importantly, even through this new lens, Harden’s ‘19-20 scoring binge is still not superior to Chamberlain’s monster '61-62 season, but the gap is smaller. Once we put the era’s pace into context, Harden and Chamberlain are less than one point per game apart. If Harden’s season average surges to 40.3 points per game, that would put him on par with Chamberlain in adjusted points per game. (He’d need to finish at 40.6 and 40.8 raw points per game to catch Jordan and Bryant, respectively).

Is Harden having one of the best scoring seasons ever? Most definitely. It’s right up there with the legendary scorers in NBA history. If he starts regularly putting up 42 points a night in this environment, he’d have the best scoring season ever in my book -- better than Wilt’s 50.4 season -- but it’s hard to see Harden pulling that off. Then again, no one saw a Sixth Man of the Year averaging nearly 40 points per game, either.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.