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We assess the latest NBA deals with team-by-team analysis, including the Karl-Anthony Towns extension, Dwyane Wade’s return to Miami and Rodney Hood’s signing his qualifying offer.

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Tristan Thompson sees LeBron-less Cavs as still the team to beat in East
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Tristian Thompson defends why the Cleveland Cavaliers are still the Eastern Conference favorites. (0:20)

6:43 AM CT
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The Cleveland Cavaliers may not have LeBron James this season, but Tristan Thompson says they remain the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions, so until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say. Boston, Philly, they ain’t got much to say,” Thompson told reporters on Thursday. “Boston had homecourt Game 7 and lost. Philly, you guys almost got swept. Toronto — we already know that story. So until someone takes us down, there’s not much they can really say.”

With James, the Cavaliers swept the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the playoffs and beat the Boston Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

James left Cleveland over the summer to sign a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, so many observers expect the Cavaliers to struggle this season. Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook set the Cavs’ over/under win total at 30.5. The over/under win totals for Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia at the sportsbook are all above 50 games.

Expectations are particularly high in Boston due to the addition of a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Hayward missed much of last season after fracturing his ankle in the opening minutes of Boston’s first regular-season game. Irving missed a significant portion of the regular season and the entire playoffs due to a knee ailment that required surgery. Both are healthy heading into the season.

On Thursday afternoon, Celtics veteran Marcus Morris responded to Thompson’s thoughts via Twitter.

“Cut it out. Get that vacation ready early this year fam! Ain’t s–t going through the Cavs this year! #facts,” Morris wrote on his verified account.

Philadelphia guard and 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons also commented from his Instagram account.

“@realtristan13 hah yeh ok buddy see you soon,” Simmons wrote.

ESPN’s Ian Begley contributed to this report

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Timberwolves’ asking price holding up Jimmy Butler trade
12:59 AM CT
Adrian WojnarowskiZach Lowe
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The Minnesota Timberwolves’ asking price to trade All-Star forward Jimmy Butler remains quality veterans, top prospects, future assets and salary-cap relief, which is presently too steep of a package for interested teams, league sources told ESPN.

Throughout trade talks, Minnesota Timberwolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau has continued to try to recruit Butler to ease off his trade demand and return to practice with the team, league sources said. Butler has yet to attend a Timberwolves workout and wants to sit out until the franchise executes a trade for him.

Teams pursuing Butler remain skeptical of Thibodeau’s desire to execute a trade, believing that he’s making counterproposals that Thibodeau knows teams will never accept.

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Sources: Butler uninterested in rejoining Wolves
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau met with All-Star forward Jimmy Butler on Monday and tried to convince him to eventually rejoin the team in the preseason, league sources told ESPN.

In less cynical terms, front offices believe that Minnesota minimally wants to fully recoup the assets that Thibodeau gave up in the 2017 trade with Chicago for Butler. Nevertheless, there is sympathy for Thibodeau’s predicament. He was hired with a mandate to win, reached the playoffs for the franchise’s first time in 13 years last season, and wants to continue on that path with his current core of players. Many do understand why he’s asking for a significant return on Butler instead of moving him out quickly in a deal.

So far, there has been no team close to willing to meet Thibodeau’s massive return for a Butler deal. Butler can become a free agent in July, and teams recognize that he already has asked for a trade from Minnesota and a coach he has enjoyed a long, prosperous and close relationship with — and Butler could be a risk to leave them in summer free agency. Butler, 29, wants a trade and a full five-year, $190 million contract extension with a new team, sources said.

The Miami Heat have been the latest to aggressively pursue a deal for Butler, but Minnesota’s counter was a non-starter for Heat president Pat Riley, league sources said. Along with Butler, Miami had been willing to accept Gorgui Dieng and the remaining $48 million left on his contract under the right circumstances, sources said.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers are among teams interested with Butler, league sources said. The Brooklyn Nets have interest, but they haven’t been engaged recently with Minnesota, sources said. Washington and Dallas are among teams who’ve gauged the asking price on Butler too, league sources said.

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Klay Thompson on Warriors future: ‘You just want to stay on the train as long as you can’
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Klay Thompson calls San Francisco home as he fields questions about his free agency coming up next summer. (0:33)

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OAKLAND, Calif. — All-Star swingman Klay Thompson again made it clear that he would like to stay with the Golden State Warriors for a long time and is cherishing the current run he and his teammates are on as they enter the collective prime of their careers.

“It’s awesome,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice. “Makes you want to win now, though, that’s for sure. Makes you want to make the most of it. I think we have in the last two years.

“It’s crazy because we are back-to-back champs, but at the same time I feel like we’re all relatively young and we can still get to another level and keep winning. Not just this year, but years beyond. Not a lot of guys can do that with their team. So I love coming to work every day because I realize this is a special group and a special time to be a Warrior.”

When asked if he would be weighing in that factor more heavily as he approaches free agency this summer, the 28-year-old didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, definitely,” Thompson said. “I think it would be stupid not to be. It’s hard to walk away from something — you were here when it started and yeah, you just want to stay on the train as long as you can.”

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Draymond respects Kyrie saying Celtics can dethrone WarriorsDraymond Green says as a leader Kyrie Irving should believe Boston can beat Golden State in the NBA finals.
The topic of just how long the Warriors’ run can continue has been a constant throughout the first few days of training camp. Having won three of the past four NBA championships, head coach Steve Kerr says he wants his players to understand just how special their run is, even as the uncertainty surrounding the futures of Thompson and All-Star Kevin Durant hovers over the organization.

“It’s rare,” Kerr said. “We know we have a bigger window than most teams do in this position. That’s the benefit of winning in 2015 with a very young team and gaining that experience. Obviously adding Kevin. This has been an incredible run that’s going to be very difficult to match. But we want to just keep it going for as long as we can. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where we stand historically; we’re just enjoying the process.”

Since Monday’s media day, the constant mantra from both players and coaches is to enjoy the moment and embrace the journey toward another potential crown this season.
“We’ve had some success and when you have some success in the NBA it’s just always a great time,” Durant said. “This stuff comes and goes so fast. Me and Steph [Curry] were talking, you look up and you’re in double-digit seasons in the NBA after feeling like we just got drafted, so things happen so fast I think we’re all just enjoying the moment, not really thinking about anything else. It’s good that we’re all young and experience this. It’s only going to make us better in the future.”

As far as his own future is concerned, Thompson says he is confident he will be able to stay with the team he loves. He knows he’ll probably get asked about his future many times as the Warriors travel through the league, but it appears as if he’ll have a similar response. He doesn’t care about the chatter because he knows where he wants to be.

“It’s just how I feel to be honest,” Thompson said. “This place, it’s home. I love living in the Bay Area.”

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Hornets’ James Borrego: Hope to inspire as first Hispanic NBA coach
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Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, citing the NBA as a model for uniting a cross-section of people and cultures, says he wants to use his position as the league’s first Hispanic head coach “to be an inspiration for young men and women, to show you can be anything you want to be.”

Borrego, hired by the Hornets in May to replace the fired Steve Clifford, said in an essay he wrote for Sports Illustrated that he was long motivated by the disappointments of early-career dead ends but that the pride he feels in his ancestry, background and upbringing has driven much of his success.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how you were brought up, the color of your skin,” Borrego, who is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote in the 652-word essay. “That’s the lens I look at this through.”

Borrego joined the Hornets on a four-year contract with Charlotte holding a team option on the fourth year, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski after the coach’s hiring.

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New Hornets coach James Borrego plans to make Charlotte relevant again in the Eastern Conference by developing the existing players on the roster.
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James Borrego has started work on building his staff in Charlotte after agreeing to be the new coach of the Hornets. The two sides reached agreement on a four-year deal, league sources told ESPN.

The Hornets were sold on Borrego’s strong credentials as one of Gregg Popovich’s longtime assistants with the San Antonio Spurs, including his abilities in player development, devising game plans on the offensive and defensive ends, and building relationships with players.

“I’d been disappointed a couple times before. Not getting the Orlando job, getting close on the Houston job, getting close on the Memphis job,” Borrego wrote in the essay. “All that disappointment really fueled me. Until the moment happens, until you hear the words, ‘You’re our guy,’ it’s just not real.”

Borrego said in his introductory news conference that it was up to him to develop the players on the Hornets roster, including Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who saw limited playing time last season as rookies. Borrego also pointed toward getting more out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the No. 2 pick in 2012, and Frank Kaminsky, also a first-round draft pick.

Borrego will also have the leadership of former veteran Spurs guard and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, who signed with the Hornets as a free agent in July.

“I really don’t think about myself as the league’s first Hispanic coach,” Borrego wrote. “As I climbed the coaching ranks, my focus was always just on getting better. I never thought about my heritage, my last name or where I’m from. I’ve never really sat back to think about how this all happened. I’m proud, but I don’t want to be satisfied with where I am now. I want to be a valuable part of the community in Charlotte. I want to lead this group. And most of all, I want to win games.”

 

And Borrego knows what it’s like to win. The 40-year-old spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach in the NBA, including 10 with the Spurs working under Popovich, a stop where he won two NBA championships and went to four Western Conference finals. Borrego has been a part of staffs that have led teams to the playoffs 11 times with stints in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando.

“Our game has become such a global game,” Borrego said in the essay. “There’s nothing like sports to unite people. Nations look to the NBA as an example. We’re a league with a voice, leading the charge on inclusion and diversity. I’m an example of the NBA opening up to more people. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

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In order to put your team in the best possible position to win your league, you’ll need to make the most of your draft. That includes finding good values in players who will exceed their average draft position, landing at least one player who takes his game into the upper echelon and avoiding players who flop miserably.

With that in mind, our fantasy basketball experts (Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser, John Cregan, Eric Karabell and André Snellings) offer their top sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2018-19 campaign.

Sleepers
Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2018-19 season.

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Jim McCormick — John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Heading into the new campaign with nearly no real competition for minutes and touches from the power forward spot for the Hawks, Collins has all the requisite ingredients to outperform what should be a midround draft price. Even crude per-36 data from his quietly strong rookie season reveals an ascendant player, as he tallied 15.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG and 0.9 SPG per 36 minutes. One of the more impressive players from summer league, Collins lead all players with 24 PPG while flashing improved perimeter scoring skills. A rising talent atop a thin depth chart, I’m confident Collins will be one of the better values in drafts this fall.

Joe Kaiser — Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

The second-year big man won’t sneak up on anyone this season; he’s a well-known commodity after putting up 15.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 2.1 3PG as a rookie last season. Still, I don’t see him going until the fifth or sixth round of most 10- and 12-team leagues. I know that Wendell Carter Jr. is now in the picture in that frontcourt along with Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, but Markkanen’s impact rookie campaign tells me that he has a lot more to offer. If he can raise his field goal percentage (43.4 FG% as a rookie) and make gains statistically this season, he could be one of the steals of the draft in the middle rounds.

John Cregan — Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls

Coming off an injury-marred 2017-18, Dunn is primed to deliver midround value on a late-round ADP. With little to no competition for the starting point guard role in Chicago, he should average low-to-mid 30s in MPG. His shooting has improved over the past couple of seasons, and he should provide close to league-average percentages while averaging close to 7.0 assists per game. And while you’ll be lucky to get 1.0 3-pointers per game from Dunn, you will get near-elite steals production (expect more than 2.0 per game).

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Eric Karabell — Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets

This real-life, late-first round selection was statistically quiet for the first several months last season, but when provided the opportunity for real minutes on a poor club, Allen intrigued. He averaged 9.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and more than two blocks per game after the All-Star break when he became a full-time starter, and while plenty of big men struggle to hit their free throws, Allen hit at a 77 percent clip in his age-19 season. He already hits his field goals, and word is he is working on his outside shot, so perhaps he can contribute the occasional 3-pointer as well. The Nets are not good, and Allen figures to be one of the bright spots this season. The best part is you will not need to invest a top-50 selection to get him!

André Snellings — Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz

Rubio was once considered one of the premier point guard prospects of the future, but after years of spinning his wheels in Minnesota, some of the luster had gone off him. However, he showed sparks of promise in his first season in Utah, including a shiny new jumper that was more effective than ever in his career. Rubio came alive in a major way late in the season, averaging 16.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.2 3PG and 1.2 SPG during a 15-game stretch from Jan. 30 through March 11, then followed that with a nine-game burst averaging 18.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 3PG and 2.2 SPG from mid-March to early April. If he harnesses that ability this season, Rubio should far outperform expectations.

Breakouts

Look for this pair of Denver Nuggets — Jamal Murray and Gary Harris — to break loose in fantasy in 2018-19. Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared to his previous seasons.

Jim McCormick — Tobias Harris, LA Clippers

Harris produced top-30 caliber production during a 32-game sample with the Clippers last season that saw him slash a smooth 19.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.1 APG. Add in 1.8 “stocks” (steals plus blocks) per game along with 2.2 3PG on sparkling percentages and you get about 90 percent of Paul George’s production at a reasonable price point. For the price of a fourth-round pick, you can secure an efficient scoring wing who commands healthy usage (~24 percent) on a team that ranked eighth in offensive rating and seventh in pace last season. It’s easy to forget Harris is just 26 as he heads into his eighth season on his fourth team, but I buy that he’s entering what should be a rewarding statistical prime.

Joe Kaiser — Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Booker just had a procedure done to his hand, but as long as he recovers in time for the start of the season, I think he could become a top-15 fantasy player. The additions of veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson give the Suns a few proven role players who can boost Booker’s assists without cutting too much into his scoring (24.9 PPG in 2017-18). Speaking of that, he has increased his scoring in each of his three seasons in the league and seen similar yearly improvements in assists, rebounds, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting. He has been an impact player since he first stepped on a NBA court, and now in season four, we have a player ready to be a fantasy star.

John Cregan — Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

Shooting guard is (as always) a relatively thin position. It’s also a position where the valuation tends to be a bit bipolar, since raw scoring and 3-point production tend to obscure efficiency. You’re going to overpay for an elite shooting guard, but there is value to be had in the middle rounds. Harris is a prime example of a mid-draft, hyper-productive 2-guard who does a little bit of everything … but flies under the radar due to his drab points-per-game average (18.3 PPG in 2017-18).

Relative to shooting guards you’ll grab in Rounds 1-4, Harris delivers near-elite production in two key categories — In 2017-18, he averaged 2.3 3PG and 1.8 SPG. His shooting metrics (59.7 TS%) will lift your squad. Entering his age-24 season, Harris should top all of his career volume-based highs due to his escalating minutes (34.4 MPG in 2017-18) and usage rate (20.7 in 2017-18).

Eric Karabell — Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Murray might not seem like a valuable point guard with his modest assist numbers, but there is a lot to like here from someone on the verge of becoming a top-50 player. Murray averaged 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 24 games after the All-Star break, along with more than a pair of 3-pointers per game. He is durable and rarely misses a free throw. As for the assists, the presence of passing center Nikola Jokic limits the upside for Murray, but he did register seven assists in three of his final six games of the season, so perhaps that was a harbinger that he can average five per game on a consistent basis. All the other numbers are in place.

André Snellings — Second year point guards

Lonzo Ball can be the official pick for this slot, but each of Dennis Smith Jr. De’Aaron Fox and Markelle Fultz could fit just as easily because all four project to move way up the rankings ladder as sophomores. Ball was injured for 30 games, had one of the most publicized broken jumpers in basketball, and of course was surrounded at all times by the LaVar Ball circus, but he still came within sight of averaging a triple-double with almost two blocks-plus-steals per game as a rookie. Fox and Smith both showed major explosiveness but lacked the experience and physical ability to fully lead their teams. Fultz, of course, spent most of the season injured. All four project to fantasy starters this season, with Ball in particular as a top-35 prospect.

Busts

Could Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson actually be a bust in fantasy basketball this season? David Butow for ESPN
Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.

Jim McCormick — Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

Safe and steady for the past six seasons in Orlando, there is now considerable risk present, given what will likely be steep declines in Vucevic’s opportunity rates. The team has spent the past two high-leverage draft picks on frontcourt prospects, with Mohamed Bamba presenting the biggest threat to his playing time and utility in the post. As a high-floor offensive player with little room for growth as a defender, I’d rather pursue the likes of Collins or Allen for what it will likely cost to acquire Vucevic in drafts.

Joe Kaiser — Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

Paul has always been an incredible talent, even if injury prone in recent seasons. I just have learned from many years of watching the NBA to sell 33-year-old point guards in their 14th NBA season. Every year that passes, I wonder if it’s the one where Paul finally falls off a cliff statistically, and every year I think the chances increase. It’s going to take a second-round pick to get Paul this season, and I’m not risking it at this stage in his storied career. He played 61 and 58 games, respectively, the past two seasons, and his 7.9 APG in 2017-18 was his lowest since his rookie campaign way back in 2005-06, and his 1.7 SPG was a career low. Even if he avoids injury and plays 75-plus games this season, there’s a real chance his scoring, assists and steals continue to trend downward.

John Cregan — Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Thompson isn’t going to be a classic bust as much as he’ll be a slight disappointment. If you want Thompson, you’ll probably need to spend a second-round pick for his services. His name value and attendant high-profile Splash Brothers rep overinflates his value by 1-2 rounds. Just don’t be surprised that come April, he’ll deliver only third- to fourth-round value against the high ADP.

Despite a rise in minutes in 2017-18, Kevin Durant’s presence dinged Thompson’s volume-based stats. Thompson posted his lowest averages in points (20.0 PPG), 3s (3.1 3PG) and FGA (7.1) since 2014-15. Playing in a stacked starting lineup, don’t expect Durant’s numbers to suddenly climb (even in a contract year). Another red flag: Thompson’s games played have been in decline since 2015-16. He played only 73 games last season, which is on the edge of officially “concerning.”

Eric Karabell — Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons

Griffin is mildly disappointing every season because the last time he played 68 games was five seasons ago. Griffin’s newfound love for the 3-point shot was helpful, but also did damage to what had been a safe field goal percentage, so it might not be worth it. In addition, Griffin’s days as more than a modest rebounder are long gone and not returning on a Pistons roster with Andre Drummond. The points and assists are always nice, but I have doubts about him getting 6.2 assists per game again as long as point guard Reggie Jackson is healthy (though he hasn’t been for much of Griffin’s time as a Piston). Ultimately, this comes down to durability and draft status, and I have a hard time investing one of my top-three selections on someone who misses so many games.

André Snellings — Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls

Parker was the big free-agency acquisition for the Bulls during the offseason, and some pundits have speculated that he will be the “man” for the Bulls this season as a former No. 2 overall draft pick with a well-known name. However, Parker’s game is predicated purely on scoring, as he has never shown himself to be a plus in any other category. The Bulls, though, are full of talented young scorers at their respective positions, led by second-year power forward Markkanen, a fully healthy Zach LaVine, point guard Dunn and rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. There doesn’t seem to be space for Parker to average the type of monster scoring volume that would make up for his lack of contributions in the other categories. He is also a major injury risk after having played more than 51 games only once during his four-year career thus far.
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