While you’re waiting for premature fireworks, here are some deals you might’ve missed from Tuesday:
Devin Booker Isn’t Going Anywhere
The Suns appear to have locked down their franchise guard for the foreseeable future, as Booker and the franchise are reportedly close to finalizing a five-year, $158 million max extension that will pay him an annual average of over $31 million per season. It’s quite the raise for the 13th overall pick in the 2015 draft, who has evolved into one of the league’s best shooting guards. It’s a show of commitment to one of Phoenix’s cornerstones, who will soon be paired alongside Deandre Ayton, the no. 1 selection in the 2018 draft, whom the franchise expects to be its other major building block. Together, that inside-outside duo could propel the franchise back into the playoffs. Last season, Booker averaged 24.9 points per game and shot over 43 percent from deep.
The decision seems like a no-brainer, though there was one roadblock, if you can call it that. Two days ago, a report surfaced that Booker was upset at Phoenix’s front office for waiving his longtime friend and former Kentucky teammate Tyler Ulis. Ulis is a replacement-level backup, and Booker, though obviously important to the Suns, hasn’t exactly reached LeBron-level clout to where he can command roster moves to his liking. It was later cleared up that Booker was merely upset about the lack of communication from the team. But as in any healthy, strong relationship, the Suns and Booker appear to have moved past it. He was also never going to turn down a max extension once it was put on the table, anyway. —Paolo Uggetti
Welcome to the Dwight House
This might be the first time you’ll see this pun, but it won’t be the last. By the time Dwight Howard has spent his one year with the Washington Wizards, the team he has agreed to join after finalizing a buyout with the Brooklyn Nets, the pun will have been buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Howard will be on the Wizards’ books for the taxpayer mid-level exception worth roughly $5.6 million, which, yes, means he will be paid more than DeMarcus Cousins during the 2018-19 season. From an on-court perspective, the deal is a no-brainer for team president Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Scott Brooks. Dwight will be an immediate upgrade over Ian Mahinmi, who was slated to be the team’s starting center after its trade of Marcin Gortat. Howard had one of his most productive and healthy seasons in the past decade with the Hornets in 2017-18, playing in 81 games (the most he’d played since his Orlando days) and averaging 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds—standard Dwight fare. He’s as consistent a rebounder as you’ll find in the NBA, even now; his total rebounding percentage over the past two seasons is actually greater than what it was in his prime with the Magic. He’ll hit double-double averages in his sleep as a fixture in the starting lineup for Washington, and we’re liable to hear the same old gripes about his strange disinterest in the pick-and-roll and his lack of post touches. It’s a package deal at this point.
Of course, what we’ll all be looking out for is what his addition does to the wound-up rubber-band ball of tension that is the Wizards roster. Howard’s instinctively seeks levity in tough situations, but he might not be able to escape the dourness in Washington. Dwight’s bad reputation in the locker rooms over the past six years precedes him, but you can’t break what’s already broken. —Danny Chau
The Sixers Are Still Processing
Well, the 76ers traded for a swingman. While we wait for the other shoe to drop on the Kawhianian hostage crisis, the Lakers and Sixers have begun to walk the line between filling out the holes in their depth charts and maintaining enough flexibility to either jump right back into the free-agent market next summer or swing short-term deals over to the Spurs in a trade for Leonard. Los Angeles followed up its landmark agreement with LeBron James by stacking four one-year deals for veterans and yokels that make for … complicated fits on a James-led team. Philly also went the one-year route with sharpshooter and podcaster extraordinaire J.J. Redick, re-signing its starting 2-guard to another balloon payment (though at about half the price of last year’s $23 million). And on Tuesday, they traded for Denver’s Wilson Chandler, who recently opted into the final year of his contract for $12.8 million.
Like their draft-day trade for the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick, this Sixers deal has a little Sam Hinkie seasoning on top: For the trouble of alleviating the Nuggets of $40 million in luxury-tax payments, Philly will pick up a 2021 second-round pick and the rights to swap second-rounders in 2022, per SI’s Jake Fischer. In other words, the Sixers added a useful rotation player who doesn’t clog up their long-term goals while also replenishing their war chest of draft picks — all for the low, low price of renting out their cap space. And unlike the free agents signed by the Lakers, who have to wait three months to be traded, the Sixers can move Chandler as soon as they want to.
The follow-ups to the James agreement have essentially created a matchup of brawn vs. brain: The Lakers won the battle for LeBron’s services through sheer exceptionalism, but the Sixers, despite operating without a true GM for the past month, are in the process of stacking the sort of small victories that could help them win an arms race for Leonard. — Justin Verrier
Free-Agency Day 3 Potpourri
My charming son Dante Exum struck gold on Tuesday, agreeing to a deal with the Utah Jazz for three years and $33 million. A long-term contract (at least compared to what nearly every player is signing these days) with eight-figure annual payouts was exactly what the young Aussie guard was looking for; Utah is showing a commitment to their dream backcourt by rewarding him with one. Exum’s career has been one catastrophic freak injury after another: a torn ACL in international competition in 2015, a separated shoulder in a preseason game in 2017. The fits and starts have limited his ability to show the team, let alone the league, what he can do. But he’s had flashes of brilliance along the way. With size and length to stay in front of the NBA’s best perimeter players and one of the quickest first steps in the league, he has all the tools to be a valuable two-way player. The Jazz are betting big on him and his ability to complement backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell (a duo the fanbase is righteously dubbing “DMX”). If it all pans out, the Jazz will have two young, elite athletes at the tip of their stifling defensive attack. If it doesn’t, Exum could suffer the fate of Alec Burks, an expensive reserve plagued with bouts of inconsistency.
Michael Carter-Williams has agreed to a one-year minimum contract with the Houston Rockets. In the broadest possible stroke, it makes sense to take a flyer on the 2014 Rookie of the Year: He is a tall, fluid guard who can theoretically slide across three positions. Focus in a bit more, and it’s a bit of a puzzle where he actually fits into the Rockets’ grand unified theory of basketball. For one, he’s a career sub-30-percent 3-point shooter mostly known for his penetrating ability. Problem is, he doesn’t really do anything with the ball once he’s in the lane. That’s where we get to the second issue: He can’t score inside, either. Among guards with at least 100 field goal attempts from within eight feet of the basket, Carter-Williams is just outside the five worst paint finishers in the league. Of those five players, four were rookies, and one was Tyler Ulis, who might be generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. MCW will need an extreme makeover this summer if he wants to make any sort of sense playing with these Rockets.
Speaking of former ROYs, Tyreke Evans is heading to Indiana on a one-year, $12 million deal. Evans is betting on himself after playing his best basketball since his rookie year, averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists for the injury-plagued Grizzlies team last season. To call him a Lance Stephenson replacement would be a bit of an insult; he’s bigger, stronger, and a bit more versatile, and in the most stunning turn of events, he has turned himself into a reliable 3-point shooter. Since the 2015–16 season, Evans is shooting 38.7 percent from behind the arc on more than four attempts per game. The Pacers were in need of another shot creator to take pressure off of their star, Victor Oladipo. Evans’s trial run could be a boon for both parties.
Jeff Green is coming home! The former Georgetown great has agreed to sign (surprise!) a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with the Washington Wizards. After a topsy-turvy few years post-Boston in which he failed to reach the potential so many teams saw in him, Green had a solid season playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland. With stretch 4 Mike Scott departing for the Clippers, Green slots in as one of Washington’s many combo forwards who have the ability to shoot from 3 and put the ball on the floor. It seems like a preponderance of players with the same skill set, with only one viable center currently on the roster in Ian Mahinmi. Is Dwight Howard coming soon? —Chau