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Believe it or not NBA free agency is still happening, even if there are not any All-Star calibre players remaining on the market.

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard are all spoken for. But there are still players available who can make a difference.

Let's look at some of the top role players for hire this offseason.

 

Carmelo Anthony

No one really knows what Anthony plans on doing. The 35-year-old forward only played in 10 games for the Houston Rockets in 2018-19 before stepping away after the team decided he was not a good fit. He was later traded to the Chicago Bulls and released.

Some wonder if Anthony is just washed up and should retire, but he can still have some value as a spark plug off the bench. It is just a matter of whether he is willing to accept that role.

The 10-time All-Star has a career scoring average of 24.0 points per game and averaged more than 20 points for his first 14 seasons in the league. His already questionable efficiency has dropped in recent years, but plenty of teams need firepower from their reserves.

Everybody shipped Anthony to the Los Angeles Lakers after he was released by the Bulls. But that did not pan out. Nevertheless, it is not crazy to think a team will take a chance on signing a consistent double-digit scorer for the league minimum.

Thabo Sefolosha

Sefolosha can be plugged into basically any line-up, making him one of the best catches available.

The three-and-D wing has length at 6-7 and can pester opposing teams on the ball or off it. He shot 43.6 per cent from beyond the arc with the Utah Jazz last season. However, his durability could be looked at as a major concern, as he has played more than 70 games just five times in his 13-year career.

Sefolosha consistently demonstrates his skillset and knows exactly what role he is brought in to fill, regardless of schemes.

Kenneth Faried

Whoever signs Faried will get the ultimate hustle guy.

The 6-8 big man is undersized but can bring an influx of energy to any line-up when he is on the court. Faried catches lobs, blocks shots and grabs rebounds with an intensity that is rarely matched by the opposition.

Faried did not make any noise as a reserve of the Brooklyn Nets last season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds. Once Brooklyn waived him, he tallied 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds on a significantly better Rockets team.

Faried is a product of his environment and plenty of teams could benefit from his grit and relentless effort. He is called "The Manimal" for a reason.

James Harden insists there is no bad blood between him and Chris Paul.

The Houston Rockets star was rumoured to have had enough of Paul following their second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in May.

Some reports stated Harden would not answer Paul's phone calls after last season and claimed the duo's relationship was "unsalvageable."

Paul has since been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Russell Westbrook coming the other way in a blockbuster deal.

However, Harden told reporters on Saturday that speculation of friction between him and Paul was not accurate.

"It was a lot of false talk," Harden said. "Obviously as team-mates, as competitors we argue on the court. You have your disagreements on the court. Your arguments on the court. But that's just part of basketball. Everybody has that. No matter what level of basketball you're in.

"All the negative media stuff and all the stuff that was running, it wasn't true. Me and Chris had constant communication and you know, we're good."

With Paul now out of the picture, Harden is set for a reunion with Westbrook, who he played alongside in Oklahoma City from 2009-12 before being traded to the Rockets.

Harden led the NBA in scoring with 36.1 points per game while Westbrook averaged a triple-double for a third straight year in 2018-19.

"I'm excited for this opportunity," Harden said. "It's a new chapter, but I know he's [Westbrook] excited."

 

James Harden says he will not need to make any changes for new team-mate Russell Westbrook when the pair are reunited at the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets completed a blockbuster trade for Westbrook this week, giving the Rockets two of the last three NBA MVPs on their roster.

Harden played with the new arrival at the Oklahoma City Thunder between 2009 and 2012 and is already confident about how their rekindled partnership will work out in a loaded Western Conference.

So much so, he insists nothing will need to change in his game to make the Rockets successful after Westbrook's move.

"None. None. None," he told reporters at an Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event when asked what adjustments would be needed.

"We played with each other in the NBA and the Olympics and all that. When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. 

"You figure things out throughout the course of the season. That's just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.

"It's that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. With the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in, and things are going to go."

Chris Paul, whose relationship with Harden reportedly soured last season, two protected first-round draft selections and two pick swaps were sent to the Thunder to secure Westbrook's arrival.

"I'm excited for this opportunity," added Harden. "It's a new chapter, but I know he's excited. 

"He's been in Oklahoma City for 11 years so it's a new chapter for him. We welcome him with open arms. It's going to work.

"That's my boy right there, since I was like 10 or 11 years old. Obviously, we were team-mates for years. Now, we're at different stages of our careers. I hear a lot of negative things, 'You can't, he can't, they can't'. But we'll figure it out."

The Rockets lost out in six games to the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs last season, having gone 53-29 to claim the fourth seed in the West.

Chris Paul did not get what he wanted, but he is apparently not too mad about it.

In the meantime in MLB, batters really need to start watching their heads.

And in the NHL a ton is happening, and yet, nothing actually is.

 

1. Paul staying with Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder had hoped to move Paul quickly after acquiring him in a package for Russell Westbrook last week, but that is apparently not going to happen.

Paul is likely to start the season in Oklahoma City, according to ESPN, and could play out a good portion of the campaign, or even longer, there.

Oklahoma City reportedly tried to move Paul to the Heat, but their proposals were not to the liking of Miami, so Paul, and his three years and more than $100million left on his contract, will stay with the Thunder.

Fortunately, both Paul and the Thunder reportedly see value in him sticking around, so it is not a total loss for either party.

2. Plunk wars

It is that time of year. Baseball players are throwing at each other again and two pitchers were suspended for their actions on Wednesday after throwing at the heads of opponents a day earlier.

Philadelphia Phillies reliever Hector Neris was mad at himself so he threw at David Freese.

Then, Los Angeles Angels reliever Noe Ramirez threw at Jake Marisnick for breaking his catcher's nose and giving him a concussion.

Both players were suspended for three games. Both men will appeal.

 

3. NHL has oddly eventful week

For some reason there was a lot going on in the NHL this week. There were several signings and a somewhat notable trade.

- The Chicago Blackhawks traded Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for Zack Smith.
- Minnesota Wild re-signed Ryan Donato to a two-year deal after he excelled following his trade there for Charlie Coyle at the deadline.
- The Washington Capitals re-signed Jakub Vrana to a two-year deal.
- Colorado Avalanche signed J.T. Compher to a four-year deal but still have not given Mikko Rantanen an offer.

Rantanen remains unsigned as do other restricted free agent stars such as Patrick Laine (Winnipeg Jets), Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs).

All of these men face holdouts if they do not get the deals they want, but with all of the contracts already handed out teams simply might not have enough money to give especially with a lower salary cap than many anticipated. There could be a lot of disappointed young players this offseason.

 

4. Falcons, Deion Jones agree to four-year, $57m deal

This is how much Deion Jones means to the Atlanta Falcons defense.

After going down early in the season to injury, Jones was still given a four-year, $57m deal on Wednesday. Jones played in just six games in 2018, but Atlanta clearly have no concern about his long-term health and locked him up accordingly.

The Falcons are due for a bounce-back season if they are healthy and Jones will be a big part of it.

Kyrie Irving's decision to leave Boston and sign with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency did not come as a surprise to Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

During an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich, Ainge opened up about some of the conversations he had with the six-time All-Star in the months leading up to his free agency.

"He did express to me on a couple of occasions between March and the end of [the season] that he really wanted to go home," Ainge said about Irving, who grew up in New Jersey.

"I got the impression at that point that he wanted to go play in Brooklyn more than he wanted to play in New York or Boston."

Irving had mentioned at one point that he planned to re-sign with the Celtics, but Ainge revealed he never had that conversation with him.

"He told everyone else, but I never had that conversation with him," Ainge said. "I asked him point blank in the conversations that I had with him, 'Would you consider returning to Boston?' And he was always 'Yes'. He was always in that frame of mind. I don't think he was out the door for sure by then. I think he was contemplating all his options."

Ainge went on to defend Irving and said he wanted to take the blame away from the veteran.

The Celtics finished the season with a 49-33 record and many questioned Irving's leadership.

"A lot of people put a lot of heat on Kyrie of being the guy that's supposed to be this great leader and it was his responsibility to lead everybody," Ainge said.

"I continually tried to remove that pressure from Kyrie and [tell him to] just be yourself, just go play, just have fun, find joy in the game ... I think he did feel that burden, that he had to be too much, and wasn't able to do that.

"I don't like the fact that it's all the blame on [Irving]. I'd like everybody to take responsibility for that. I feel like the Kyrie bashing is unfair, that's all."

James Harden has joined MLS club Houston Dynamo's ownership group.

The Dynamo announced on Thursday that the Houston Rockets superstar had become part of the group led by Gabriel Brener, also owners of the NWSL's Houston Dash.

Harden, arguably the face of Houston sports and winner of the NBA MVP award in 2018, joins six-weight world champion Oscar De La Hoya in the group.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future," Harden said in a statement.

"Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime.

"I've been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose."

"We are thrilled to welcome James into our club. He's an icon in the Houston community, and not only is he a great basketball player, he has an extremely smart and savvy mind for business," Brener said.

"James will bring a very unique perspective to our ownership group, and I'm looking forward to hearing his thoughts and opinions on the club going forward."

Boston Celtics recruit Kemba Walker will "forever love" Michael Jordan for giving him a chance in the NBA.

Walker joined the Celtics via sign and trade earlier this month, ending an eight-season stay in Charlotte with the Bobcats and Hornets.

The three-time All-Star guard, unveiled by the Celtics on Wednesday, paid tribute to Hornets owner and NBA great Jordan.

"He had a great influence on me. First of all, he drafted me. He gave me my opportunity to play in this league," Walker said.

"He allowed me to play through mistakes, allowed me as a person, as a man. I love that dude, that's my guy, we have a great relationship.

"I'll forever love him because of the opportunity he gave me."

Walker has reportedly signed a four-year, $141million max contract with the Celtics, who are 17-time NBA champions.

The 29-year-old said he was eager for success with Boston after reaching the playoffs just twice in eight seasons in Charlotte.

"For me, it's the competitiveness of this organisation, they've been winning for years," Walker said.

"You can see all the banners upstairs and in the arena. It's a winning organisation and I want to win – that's what I'm about.

"Throughout my basketball career and as a pro, I haven't won consistently, and I just want to get a taste of that. I thought that this was the best place for me to do that."

Tacko Fall could start the season in the NBA after impressing with the Boston Celtics.

The center out of Central Florida went undrafted in 2019 but impressed in the summer league after signing a non-guaranteed Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics.

General manager Danny Ainge was asked about Fall during a news conference on Wednesday.

"He's a great kid, he's working really hard, we want to take his development very seriously," Ainge said, via WEEI.

"He's a high priority for us to try to really develop into a player."

The Celtics have an open roster spot, which Fall could fill, after they waived forward Guerschon Yabusele earlier this month.

"I think that Tacko is going to have a chance to make the roster, but we'll see," Ainge said. "He's here working out right now, brought him in for a few days. We see some upside there, we're excited about him."

Fall averaged 7.2 points and 1.4 blocks while shooting 77 per cent from the field during his time with the Celtics in the summer league.

"You know, some of the plays he makes are hilarious, because you just don't see them," Ainge said. "I mean, guards get in a bind and they just throw the ball up in the air and then Tacko grabs them and tip-toe dunks them into the basket. It just looks like it's a senior in high school playing against fourth-graders sometimes out there."

The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency this offseason. But, they signed both Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter.

Brandon Ingram is almost ready to get back on the court with his new team the New Orleans Pelicans.

Speaking on Tuesday during formal introductions following his trade from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pelicans forward revealed he is "pretty close" to resuming basketball workouts.

Ingram continues to recover from surgery he underwent in March to address a blood clot in his right arm.

After being moved as part of a package deal for Anthony Davis, Ingram did not give a specific timeline for his return but confirmed he has worked on his shooting form while also participating in ball-handling and passing drills.

The injury was potentially career-threatening, as former Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh was forced to retire with a similar condition. 

Ingram missed two games with a shoulder problem before being diagnosed with the blood clot and battled a variety of other ailments last season, including lingering ankle pain.

The 21-year-old averaged 18.3 points, 3.0 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 52 Lakers games last season.

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Russell Westbrook is the "most important player" in the NBA team's history following his trade to the Houston Rockets.

On Tuesday, the Thunder announced they had finalised the trade that sent Westbrook to Houston in exchange for two future first-round selections, two pick swaps and Chris Paul.

Westbrook, who spent his first 11 seasons with the franchise, will "always remain part of the Thunder family", Presti said.

"Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder," Presti said in a statement.

"He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state. None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community."

Westbrook was the second top-level player the Thunder sent away this offseason. They moved Paul George — who finished third in the MVP voting in 2018-19 — to the Los Angeles Clippers and received five first-round selections, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari in return.

The Thunder then dealt forward Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets for another first-round pick.

"We recently had conversations with Russell about the team, his career, and how he sees the future," Presti said. "Through those conversations we came to the understanding that looking at some alternative situations would be something that made sense for him. As a result, and due to his history with the Thunder, we worked together to accommodate this.

"Our ability to have these types of conversations and work so closely with Russell and his agent Thad Foucher is only possible because of the depth of the relationship that has been built over the last 11 years."

The deal reunites Westbrook with James Harden in Houston. The pair played together with the Thunder from 2009-12.

The Thunder could look to trade veteran guard Paul again before the start of 2019-20.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will "make it work" at the Houston Rockets, insisted head coach Mike D'Antoni.

The Rockets acquired Westbrook in a blockbuster trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder, reuniting the 2017 NBA MVP with Harden.

Harden and Westbrook like to control the ball but D'Antoni is confident the latter will fit into Houston's line-up without any drastic changes to accommodate the All-Stars.

"We're not changing much," D'Antoni said on the The Woj Pod while discussing the addition of Westbrook. "We'll tweak it, but to say you've gotta change and you can't win that way, that's B.S."

Some critics believe the Rockets do not spread the ball around enough and play too much isolation.

Now, some are questioning whether it will be even more challenging to play that type of offense with both Harden and Westbrook, who are two ball-dominant players, on the court.

D'Antoni, however, does not think it will be a problem because the two want to play together, and they previously teamed up in Oklahoma City.

"They’ll make it work," D'Antoni said. "Do we sometimes go too much one-on-one? Yeah. Do we sometimes iso or not move enough? Yeah, we do sometimes. But I can also make the argument that sometimes teams over-pass. You try to find the balance of what is best for your players."

D'Antoni explained the Rockets will find what works best for both players to maximise their talents.

"I will start looking now at tape and trying to figure out the dynamics between the two and how they played in Oklahoma City and how it's changed since then, in the Olympics," D'Antoni said.

"But it's exciting. Whenever you have great talent, it's exciting because it gives you a chance to win, and that's what we all want to do. But it'll be my job to maximise their talents and what they do best, and it should be really good.

"I saw it in USA Basketball. You put [the stars] all together and they want to make it work, it doesn't matter. The more talent you have, the better it is. And I think right now with this duo and other people, it'll work. Now, to what degree, we'll see."

Kevin Durant swapped the Golden State Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets because he loves the "system", according to general manager Sean Marks.

Durant joined the Nets via free agency after winning two championships and two NBA Finals MVPS with the Warriors.

Recovering from an Achilles injury sustained in the Finals defeat to the Toronto Raptors, Durant thought highly of Brooklyn and their style of play, which is one of the reasons he chose the Nets over other suitors in free agency.

Marks told WFAN on Tuesday that in his first conversation with Durant after the announcement, the star said: "I love the system. I love how you guys play. I see how hard you guys play ... you were never out of games. We could never take you guys lightly."

Marks stood by the fact he did not know Durant's choice to join the Nets until he announced it on Instagram just a few minutes after free agency began on June 30. 

"What we knew was we were either getting a teleconference call with Kevin that night or we were going to potentially get a meeting," Marks said.

"We'd seen some media reports earlier in the day that Kevin had crossed several teams off his list and we were still one of them [being considered]. And those reports were there for everybody to read. And when Kevin posted it on The Boardroom Instagram site, that was news to all of us in the office."

Marks remains excited about the addition of Durant, despite him recovering from an injury that will likely have him sidelined for the upcoming season. Brooklyn also signed Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan.

Irving joined Durant after he opted out of his deal with the Boston Celtics following a number of reports surfaced about the turmoil he faced at TD Garden.

"I'm not going to lie, there's been a couple of times I'm definitely excited about — Kevin for sure, the whole group and really the challenge of getting all these guys together on the same page and watching how it unfolds," Marks said.

"I think that's the magic and that's the real special piece where you see elite talent ... want to play together and see who's going to sacrifice what and who's going to bring what to the table and just see how they all mesh."

David Griffin saw the future of the New Orleans Pelicans in a brief moment during NBA Summer League practice, and the executive vice president of basketball operations said things look "crazy" good.

Griffin introduced recruits Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart after a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers centred on Anthony Davis, and Derrick Favors – acquired from the Utah Jazz.

Coupled with first pick Zion Williamson and eighth selection Jaxson Hayes, along with returning guard Jrue Holiday, and the Pelicans are expected to be one of the most-improved teams in the NBA in 2019-20.

Griffin is thrilled with what he has seen so far, like that special moment in a recent Summer League practice.

"There was a moment where Jaxson Hayes was out running the floor in a practice with Zion on the other side, and they were sort of just messing around … and the speed those guys have just at a trot is mind-numbing," Griffin told reporters on Tuesday. "Alvin and I looked at it and we thought, 'Man with those guys on the wing, and with Lonzo at the point, what we'll be able to do speed-wise is crazy'."

That is crazy in a good way for the Pelicans, unlike last season's 33-49 craziness, lowlighted by the persistent trade rumours surrounding Davis.

Griffin said he is excited all the acquisitions come from winning backgrounds, adding: "We want to surround ourselves with people that have won championships on any level, because it's a frequency you learn to tune to. We're deep with selfless winners."

Former Lakers guard Ball welcomes the move to New Orleans, saying: "It's a fresh start. It's a restart. … I know the media is not like it was in LA, but I know the fans are great and come out and support [us]."

Ball added: "I'm getting back to playing the style I've been playing my whole life, I'm very comfortable in a high uptempo offense like coach Gentry has."

The Pelicans will enter this season with high expectations and playing under a microscope with Williamson on display. But Griffin wants the players to believe anything is possible.

"Look at what the NBA has become, and the way teams are built," Griffin said. "You can't dream big enough in this league. I think I want everyone's approach to this to be, 'Why not us?'"

Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons will not play for Australia at this year's FIBA World Cup, though he will feature in exhibition games against the United States.

After initially making himself available for August's World Cup in China, Simmons announced on Tuesday that he will skip the tournament and instead focus on the upcoming NBA season with the 76ers.

While he is set to sit out the World Cup, Simmons will travel to Australia for a pair of games against Canada in Perth on August 16 and 17 before facing Team USA in Melbourne on August 22 and 24.

"I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I've made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China this summer," Simmons – who has signed a new five-year contract with the 76ers – said in a statement via Twitter.

"I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games.

"I'm really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving close to 2020 where I will be honoured and humbled to represent my country on the world's biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.

"Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new team-mates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season."

The 76ers selected Simmons with the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and he has played a large role in the team's resurgence as an oversized, do-it-all playmaker.

Philadelphia put together one of the most talented starting line-ups in basketball last season, featuring Simmons, Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris as they finished third in the Eastern Conference before falling to the Toronto Raptors in the second round.

The 76ers lost Butler and Redick this offseason, but acquired Josh Richardson and Al Horford, giving them tremendous defensive potential.

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis does not have any regrets about his trade request and departure from the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Davis will team up with Lakers superstar LeBron James in 2019-20 after finally arriving from the Pelicans in a blockbuster trade.

A six-time All-Star, Davis requested a trade away from New Orleans and the Pelicans attempted to deal him before February's deadline but failed.

When asked if he wished he did it any differently, Davis told ESPN: "No. I wish I did it the way I did it."

"I'm a person who's very upfront and honest," he said. "You know, I want to tell you what it is. I love the city of New Orleans, but from a professional standpoint and occupation in basketball, I felt like it was time for me to move on.

"I see a lot of people that say 'wait' or 'you should have did it this way, that way.' But for me, I've been in the league long enough. I'm a grown man. I know what I want. And so I thought doing it at that time was definitely going to be beneficial for myself and for the organisation to get the best package available, so that way the organisation is still set."

Davis went on to say he wanted to have complete control over his situation and did not want other people's opinions to affect his career.

"Because I allowed people to tell me what to do and advise me to do this or that," the 26-year-old added. "And now, by me being able to take control of my career, any decision that I make, you know — I can sleep at night. I'm good.

"That was the biggest thing for me. I was having a lot of regrets and thinking, I should have done it my way. Or, I should have done this differently. But now it's like, when I do it my way — I'm able to sleep at night and not care what other people's opinions are."

Since the addition of Davis, the Lakers have made big changes to their roster during free agency to complement both him and James.

Davis revealed Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka called "every 30 to 45 minutes" during the free-agency period to get his input on players.

"Sometimes I had to tell him, like, 'Rob, I'm in the movies.' He'd be like, 'All right, well, call me as soon as you get out,'" Davis said. "But we're trying to put the best team around us, and I think he did a great job of doing it."

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