NBA free agency: Winners and losers from Day 1

NBA free agency officially tipped off around the league Sunday evening. It’s been one of the most highly anticipated free agent classes in modern history.

We got answers to some pretty big questions as free agency got going on Day 1. The Boston Celtics netted All-NBA guard Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic retained star center Nikola Vucevic on a less-than max contract. More than anything, the Nets’ ability to team Kyrie Irving up with Kevin Durant changes the entire dynamic around the Association.

It’s in this that we give you the biggest winners and losers from the first day of NBA free agency.

Winner: Kemba Walker

Walker traded the small market of Charlotte for the bright lights of Boston. While that’s going to come with a lot of pressure as the face of the Celtics’ franchise, Walker appears to be more than up for the task. He also joins a championship contender after toiling in mediocrity with the Hornets over the past eight seasons.

Equally as important, Walker netted a max four-year, $141 million deal from Boston after the Hornets low-balled him with a five-year, $160 million contract. Now the face of a contending team, Walker is a major winner.

Loser: Free agent big men

Nikola Vucevic receiving less than the max from Orlando represented a major hit for other free agent big men. In fact, his four-year, $100 million contract is well below market value. The same thing can be said about the three-year, $45 million contract Jonas Valanciunas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This does not bode well for other free agents at the center position. Specifically, the market is going to be bare for DeMarcus Cousins.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Even after both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious injuries in the NBA Finals, it was reported that Golden State would extend max-contract offers to both free agents. While Durant ultimately signed with Brooklyn, the Warriors did in fact offer him a five-year, $221 million deal. Meanwhile, Thompson committed to a five-year, $190 million max deal with Golden State.

It’s rare in today’s sports landscape to see a team show this type of loyalty to players. Thompson’s ACL injury is less severe than Durant’s ruptured Achilles. But both are serious. Offering up $411 million in guaranteed cash represents a major commitment for a team that’s facing billions in payroll over the next few seasons, even with Durant on his way to Brooklyn.

Loser: Kyrie Irving

Irving might have received a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. But it did not come without his reputation being tainted big time. Reports of his diva-like mentality ruining the Boston Celtics gave way to Irving’s former team not showing any real interest in re-signing him. That’s a major black eye for the NBA champion.

It’s also important to note that Boston did not waste any time replacing Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Should Walker lead Boston to championship contention with Irving’s Nets struggling while forming a super team, it would represent another major hit for the veteran.

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Irving as a loser with the Nets as a winner? Both can be true. Brooklyn targeted Irving immediately after the 2018-19 season. It culminated in a max contract agreement Sunday evening. It also represents the biggest free-agent signing in Nets history.

Well, that was until later on Sunday when Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Nets . He’s going to be joined by best bud DeAndre Jordan to form a new big three in the Big Apple. While KD is out for all of next season, the Nets still have a team worthy of competing in the Eastern Conference until he returns the following season. It was a memorable day Sunday in the Mecca of the basketball world. That’s putting it lightly.

Loser: Charlotte Hornets

Michael Jordan’s tenure as the Hornets’ owner has been an unmitigated disaster. The latest example of this is Charlotte offering Kemba Walker a five-year, $160 million contract, about $61 million less than it could have offered the All-NBA performer.

Instead, the Hornets head into next season with Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller counting a combined $71-plus million against the cap. That’s just horrible stuff right there. And it’s certainly enough to make MJ and Co. major losers in free agency. But hey, at least they’re now paying Terry Rozier nearly $20 million annually.

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By: Vincent Frank

25 questions heading into the second half of the NBA season

1. Should the Pelicans trade Anthony this season or this summer?

The Pelicans are in 12th place in the Western Conference, and it’s time they start thinking about trading Anthony Davis. If they deal him this season, the Lakers might be willing to part with three of their four young assets (Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart). The 76ers might be willing to dangle Ben Simmons, too. Heck, the Warriors could even offer Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

If New Orleans waits until the summer, the Celtics will be eligible to acquire Davis (a provision in the CBA is preventing them from doing so this season without including Kyrie Irving) and could offer a package including Jaylen Brown and their war chest of valuable future draft picks. The Knicks could offer their unprotected 2019 first-round draft pick and Kevin Knox. The only downside to waiting for the summer is that if Davis demands a deal to a specific team, the Pelicans lose all their leverage. Lots to consider in the Big Easy, and none of it is all that promising.

2. What does the Lakers starting lineup look like this spring?

The best-case scenario includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A lineup with those two could win the title. The next best scenario probably involves James, Bradley Beal and whichever two youngsters remain. This lineup could hang with any team in the league but is probably an underdog in the Conference Finals and Finals. The worst-case scenario would be if they make no major moves at the deadline because their current lineup likely has a Conference Finals ceiling and it’d be malpractice to waste a year of LeBron’s prime, like when the team has a number of trade chips.

3. Which teams mortgage their futures at the deadline?

Out West, the Pelicans are sure to be in the middle of everything, as they hold the crown jewel in Anthony Davis. Yet there’s a chance the Pelicans hold onto Davis and make a big trade of their own — we know they were in the mix for Jimmy Butler earlier this year. Everyone knows that the Rockets and Lakers will be looking for deals too. The Kings are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, so keep an eye on them as well.

Out East, any of the top five teams could justify pushing their chips in and try to capitalize on the Warriors’ perceived vulnerability. Also, keep an eye out for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — they’ve straightened things out as of late and have been trying to land a blue-chipper ever since LeBron James left.

4. Does Michael Jordan deal Kemba Walker?

The conundrum of Kemba Walker: He means everything to the Hornets and wants to remain the face of the franchise, yet they can’t compete with him on their roster. He’s not quite elite enough to carry Charlotte deep into the playoffs, yet he’s too good to not carry the team to a .500 record. With no cap room (maybe you shouldn’t have maxed out Nic Batum, MJ!) and hardly any trade assets (maybe you shouldn’t have turned down four first-round picks to draft Frank Kaminsky, MJ!), Michael Jordan needs to seriously consider trading Walker for some future draft picks and/or cap relief if the Hornets ever want to quit toiling in mediocrity.

5. What do the Blazers do at the trade deadline?

The Blazers are having another solid season. They’re 25-17 and have an average offense and defense. They won’t miss the playoffs, but they probably won’t make it out of the first round if they don’t make a move at the trade deadline. Is this the year they break up the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? How does the passing of owner Paul Allen impact the team’s previously unwavering loyalty to its dynamic backcourt? Would the Wizards ever consider a Bradley Beal for McCollum plus an unprotected 2020 first-rounder swap?

6. Which teams should blow it up at the deadline?

A couple of teams that are teetering on the brink of falling out of playoff contention should seriously consider blowing up their rosters by trading away assets for future draft picks and high-upside prospects. The most obvious team is the Washington Wizards. At 17-25, no John Wall for the rest of the year and no cap space, the team should absolutely be looking to trade Otto Porter and his massive contract, Markieff Morris and his abrasive attitude and even Bradley Beal if a team like the Lakers offers multiple prospects and draft picks.

Just above Washington in the standings, the Magic, Pistons and Hornets are all fighting for the eight seed. If any of them falter, they’d be obvious “tank” candidates. In the West, everything is still congested in the standings, but the Grizzlies and Pelicans will want to listen to offers for their respective stars if they’re on the outside looking in a month from now.

7. Do the Bucks have enough to compete for a title?

When LeBron James was 24 years old, he won his first MVP and led the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins. He was so transcendent that the team didn’t think it needed to improve a roster with Mo Williams as its second-best player at the trade deadline. Everyone knows how that worked out for Cleveland — the Orlando Magic caught fire in the Conference Finals and upset the Cavs.

Milwaukee Bucks fans should be scared to death of history repeating itself with Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. Giannis is also 24 years old and an MVP front-runner, and he’s leading a surprisingly good Bucks team to the top of the conference as the deadline nears. While the Bucks have better secondary options than the 2009 Cavs had, their current roster is probably another scorer and versatile forward away from being threats to win it all.

8. Are the Raptors finally a legitimate title contender?

These dinosaurs are legit. Unlike past years, they have a roster built for the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is back to being the Kawhi Leonard of old (albeit, a little better on offense and a little worse on defense). Danny Green is having his best season in years. Same goes for Serge Ibaka, whose switch to small-ball center appears to have triggered a Benjamin Button-like reverse aging in his body. Kyle Lowry is second in the league in assists, too.

And who could forget Pascal Siakam — wow, where the hell did this guy come from? In his third season, he’s made the jump from solid defensive presence off the bench to potential All-Star and two-way terror on the court. He’s always sprinting, making offensive players uncomfortable on defense and pushing the envelope on offense — just making winning plays all over the court. He’s like Toronto’s own mutated version of Draymond Green. If you haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out on the best spin move in the NBA.

9. Are the Houston Rockets still contenders?

James Harden probably answered this one at Golden State last week where he put on one of the most impressive performances of his career. His three-pointer between the outstretched hands of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was the climax point of an on-going, 15-game stretch in which he’s averaging over 40 points per game. We know Harden will keep stuffing the stat sheet, but we also know that he’s prone to wear down in the playoffs if another teammate isn’t there to lighten his load. Can Chris Paul get back on track once he returns from his hamstring injury? Does Houston trade for another shot creator at the deadline?

10. Are the Nuggets a legitimate title contender?

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets’ meteoric rise to the top of the Western Conference has been one of the biggest surprises of this NBA season. Jokic is proving to be a one-man elite offense, as the Nuggets have been able to withstand significant injuries to a number of their key players, including Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Even if they sputter at some point during the second half of the season, they should finish with a top-four record in the West. The question then becomes what is their ceiling this season with a roster comprised mostly of players with little to no prior playoff experience? A safe bet is that they’ll win their first-round series and then lose a close battle in the second round to a more experienced team like the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder or Lakers. Regardless, the future is bright in Denver.

11. Have the Thunder quietly built a defensive machine to upset the Warriors?

With Paul George playing at a first team All-NBA level this season and Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant playing excellent two-way basketball, the Thunder might be the team best equipped to take down the Warriors. Notice I didn’t mention Russell Westbrook? That’s because the Thunder are often winning games in spite of Westbrook. While he is taking two fewer shots per game and has recommitted himself to defense (leading the league in steals), his shooting splits and shot selection are abysmal. He’s a key reason why OKC has the worst field-goal percentage in the NBA. It’s so frustrating because this team could absolutely steal some games from the Warriors in a series (they’re 3-2 vs. Golden State since acquiring Paul George) with its defense and overwhelming athleticism. However, Westbrook has to be a much more efficient player for the Thunder to take down Goliath.

12. Can the 76ers avoid a chemistry catastrophe?

There are layers to this one. For starters, the relationship between franchise cornerstones, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, is somewhere between “working partnership” and “icy.” It’s probably closer to the latter right now after their recent rebounding collision and Embiid’s subsequent freak-out. If that weren’t enough to worry about, Jimmy Butler is apparently already comfortable dressing down head coach Brett Brown in front of teammates about his role in the offense. Some teams can excel amid chaos like this; others fall victim to it. Will the Eastern Conference’s most talented team straighten things out for a long playoff run? Or will it implode from within?

13. Do the Pacers have enough offensive firepower to win the East?

It may come as a surprise to the casual fan, but the Indiana Pacers are a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference this season. They’re currently in third place and have the NBA’s third-highest rated defense despite missing their star, Victor Oladipo, for 11 games this season. Their defense and plethora of excellent role players will keep them in every game come playoff time, but can Oladipo carry their offense enough for them to make a deep run? Look for the Pacers to add some more scoring pop at this year’s trade deadline.

14. What is the Clippers’ ceiling?

How many players do you think a casual NBA fan could name on the Clippers? Three? Four? Despite having no star power, the Clippers are 24-16 and in fourth place in the loaded Western Conference. This is no longer a cute story about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — this team is legitimately good. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all good players and have destroyed unsuspecting opponents this season.

How good are they? Can they win a playoff series? It’ll depend on the matchup and whether they pick up a better two-guard (Avery Bradley stinks now) and rim protector (Gortat isn’t cutting it). They could probably take down any team without an MVP-caliber player in a seven-game series, so if they play the Spurs, Blazers or Jazz in the first round, they’ll have more than a puncher’s chance to advance.

15. Will Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward get back on track?

If someone told you that Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were averaging only a combined 23.6 points per game, you’d probably assume that the Celtics were having the season from hell. Fortunately for Boston, the “Marcuses” (Morris and Smart) have stepped up their respective games and covered for Brown’s and Hayward’s struggles. The team is comfortably in fifth place in the top-heavy Eastern Conference and will always have a chance in any playoff series with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and the Marcuses playing well. However, if the Celtics want to compete for a title, they’ll need at least one of Brown or Hayward to start playing better. Both have shown some signs of life recently, but an occasional good game won’t suffice come May and June.

16. Do the Jazz have another magical second half in store?

Quin Snyder has been a second-half miracle worker in his tenure as head coach of the Utah Jazz. Last season, after a 17-24 start to the season, the Jazz ripped off a 31-10 record the next 41 games and rode that momentum to a first-round upset over the Thunder. At 20-21 through 41 games this season, Snyder will need to once again work his second-half magic to get Donovan Mitchell and Co. back on track.

17. How does DeMarcus Cousins fit in with the Warriors?

As they attempt to three-peat and win their fourth title in five seasons, the Warriors are struggling with mental and physical fatigue. Even when they’re at full strength, they seem as vulnerable as they’ve seemed since Kevin Durant joined the team. That could all change when DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut. Will the Warriors be rejuvenated by their “new toy” and find new ways to throttle teams? Or will Cousins’ overwhelming but unnecessary offensive talent hurt the team’s on-court chemistry? Boogie’s commitment to defense could ultimately dictate this one.

18. Can Steph Curry really go 50-45-90 again?

Remember when Steph Curry won the first-ever unanimous MVP in 2015-16 and forced us to recalibrate how basketball was going to be played moving forward? That season he averaged 30.1 points per game and joined Steve Nash as the only players to ever join the 50-45-90 Club (FG percentage-3FG percentage-FT percentage). Well, he’s doing it again this season. Right now he’s averaging 28.9 points per game on 48-44-91 shooting splits. (And he’s been in a slump lately too.) Thanks to the equally ridiculous seasons guys like James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are having, hardly anyone seems to be noticing how insanely well Curry is shooting this year.

19. Can we hand Luka Doncic the Rookie of the Year, already?

Barring injury, the answer is yes. Doncic has been a revelation in Dallas and is must-see television every time he steps on the court. He might even get voted in as an All-Star Game starter. And while he shouldn’t be an All-Star starter, nobody should have any issues with him making the team because he’s averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game and absolutely has a case as being one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference this season.

20. Should the Knicks even bother bringing Kristaps Porzingis back this season?

If you recall, Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL just before the All-Star break last season. With a crappy roster in place and their sights set on Kevin Durant, the Knicks have been in no rush to get their young star on the court before he’s completely healthy. They are going to evaluate Porzingis in mid-February, but there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.

Should he play? On one hand, it’d be nice to get him back on the court for about 10-15 games to help him get his rhythm and confidence back heading into the offseason — this is what the Pacers did with Paul George following his broken leg. On the other hand, with a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, they might not want Porzingis winning games for them and screwing up their lottery odds.

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By Pat Heery

Aaron Gordon and Orlando Magic Turning Corner. Actually Good.

Written by Rohan Nadkarni at

Of all the early season NBA anomalies, the Orlando Magic are perhaps the biggest outlier. The second-best offense in the NBA? A top-10 defense? The same net rating as the Warriors? Frank Vogel’s beard?

Aside from letting the team use actual magic, it would have been difficult to fathom Orlando pulling off all of these feats before the season. But here we are, at the end of October, with the Magic at 5–2, with victories over the Cavaliers, Spurs and Pelicans.

It’s no secret that last year’s Magic team suffered from an incredible roster imbalance. After trading for Serge Ibaka last summer, Orlando peculiarly decided to add Bismack Biyombo in free agency, as well. With Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon already on the roster, the Magic employed an army of big men in a league trending smaller by the day. Until Ibaka was traded to the Raptors, Vogel stubbornly played two bigs too often, shifting Gordon down to small forward with two other centers on the court. The result was awful spacing and another year of mostly stunted development for Gordon.

This year, the Magic have seen what a little spacing can do. With Ibaka gone, and Vogel seemingly embracing 21st century basketball concepts, Gordon has surged early this season, and the Magic have become much more threatening offensively. Gordon is playing with the freedom of a little brother who no longer has to share a room with his pack-rat older sibling, and the returns have been promising.

The Magic have a 10.0 net rating with Gordon on the floor, with the former No. 4 pick currently averaging career highs in points (21.0), rebounds (9.0), assists (2.2) and blocks (1.0) while shooting personal bests from the field (54.9%) and beyond the three-point line (59.1%). It’s the outside shot that’s really transformed Gordon’s game so far this year, with the big man hitting 13 of his 22 attempts from deep. Even if Gordon fizzles out and becomes just a 35% shooter from three, it would mark a huge improvement from his career 30.3% average.

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Orlando Magic Accidentally Post Picture of Offseason Plans

Written by Jack Maloney at

Monday evening, the Orlando Magic suffered an embarrassing moment, as a whiteboard appearing to list the team’s offseason plans was in the background of a photo tweeted out by Carlos Prunes, as his client, Patricio Garino, signed a contract with the team.

On the whiteboard were three different lists full of potential frontcourt targets for the team this offseason, either through free agency or trades. Mostly, it was just a list of players, but there were some quite interesting tidbits, including “(for AG?)“ next to Dario Saric’s name, which seems to suggest the team has at least thought about the possibility of a trade involving Aaron Gordon and Dario Saric.

Late Monday night, however, Magic GM Rob Hennigan tried to downplay the whiteboard, suggesting it was simply showing some potential options the team was laying out. Via the Orlando Sentinel:

Asked by the Orlando Sentinel for comment, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said the lists are “not indicative of plans” and were “simply listing options, including some of which other teams have inquired about.”

And he is correct; the whiteboard itself is not really a big deal. Teams across the league make lists of of potential targets, and sketch out plans for the offseason. They just don’t have those ideas leaked to the general public via Twitter dot com. Well, most teams that is. (Hey, Brooklyn!)

But having it leaked is just the kind of minor embarrassment that never happens to championship level organizations. Now Hennigan and the Magic look like goofs, and he’ll likely have to put out a fire internally with Gordon.

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Magic Trade Serge Ibaka To Raptors

Written by Steve Aschburner at

Judging by their performance against the Bulls at United Center in a 105-94 loss Tuesday night, the Toronto Raptors need more than Serge Ibaka to be taken seriously as Eastern Conference contenders.

A healthy Chris Bosh, a 24-year-old Vince Carter and prime Hakeem Olajuwon come to mind.

Admittedly, Toronto looking horrible against the Bulls is one of the league’s prevailing matchup quirks – Chicago has won 11 in a row in the series dating back to 2013. It’s possible, too, that the Raptors exhaled too fully earlier in the day upon learning that GM Masai Ujiri had dialed up 9-1-1 on their behalf. Ibaka’s response time in reporting from Orlando after being swapped for Toronto’s Terrence Ross and the lesser of two 2017 first-round draft picks left them exposed to their 11th loss in the past 15 games.

At 32-24, they’re now in fifth place in the conference, harsh reality for the presumptive “second-best team in the East” for so much of the season’s first half.

Toronto has 26 games left — home against Charlotte Wednesday in which Ibaka might play, the rest after the All-Star break — to crawl over at least two rivals in the standings to forestall as long as possible a best-of-seven showdown with the defending champs from Cleveland.

“I don’t know how many months that is or days that is, but [26 games] that’s not a lot of games,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “That can go bad in a heartbeat.

“We’re playing really bad basketball. It’s crazy right now.”

Adding Ibaka should have given the Raptors a bounce, even before he actually joined them. The sense in the hours after the trade was that much of what has ailed Toronto in this four-week skid would be cleaned up by acquiring the tough, defensive-minded power forward with enough demonstrated shooting ability to stretch the floor.

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Magic Trying To Deal Serge Ibaka

Written by Matt Moore at

File this one under “who could have seen this coming [except for everyone]?” The Magic are reportedly experiencing buyer’s remorse after trading Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova (who was later dealt for Jerami Grant) and the pick that became Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is a free agent this summer, and after moving all those assets for him in a win-now effort, the Magic have a dreadful 107.9 defensive rating with Ibaka on the floor.

Orlando is 22nd in defense, 29th in offense and just as far away from the playoffs as it was last season with a younger core. Now the Sporting Newsreports that the Magic have started exploring how to move him in trade:

It has not taken long for buyers’ remorse to kick in. League sources told Sporting News that the Magic have picked up their attempts to move Ibaka ahead of next month’s trade deadline, eager to ensure that they come away with some return for a player who does not figure to be in Orlando long. Ibaka will be a free agent this summer. There is no chance of a Biyombo trade, not after the Magic paid him $70 million for four years this offseason.

But the big concern for Orlando is that they will have mortgaged two young pieces for Ibaka with no benefit, not even a modest bump in the standings. There is virtually no chance he stays in Orlando beyond this season. Ibaka is likely to search out a team more ready to contend in the summer, and the Magic can’t afford to hand him a big contract, not with Gordon still needing to develop as a power forward.

Everyone saw this coming except the Magic. It was pretty obvious the Magic were going all-in on non-star veterans and that was going to backfire. There were other factors that hurt things, like moving Aaron Gordon to small forward when he thrives at power forward, the non-development of Mario Hezonja and the stagnation of their back court.

The tough part is that Ibaka is really valuable in today’s NBA. He’s a shot-blocking four, and those guys just aren’t really out there to be had. A lot of teams have scoring 5s who need those players next to them. Ironically, the Magic were thought to be such a team with Nikola Vucevic, but Vucevic has actually been the better defensive player, amazingly, this season.

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Frank Vogel Receives Warm Welcome From Indiana Crowd

Written by Josh Robbins at Orlando Sentinel 

Eighty-two times a season, a public-address announcer introduces the Orlando Magic starting lineup and coach Frank Vogel a few minutes before tipoff of a game.

It occurs so often that the tradition almost has lost its meaning, but the introductions Monday night were anything but routine.

The fans inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse gave Vogel a warm ovation before Vogel’s Magic faced off against his former team, the Indiana Pacers. There was just one problem: The arena was maybe 30 percent full at the time.

“I love the fans here,” Vogel said after the Pacers routed the Magic 88-69. “We have a special relationship. I’m very, very grateful for all the support they’ve showed me over the years. It was a very warm welcome.”

Monday was the first time he coached against the Pacers in Indianapolis since the Pacers didn’t renew his contract.

Paul George, Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles and Myles Turner — four of Vogel’s former Indiana players — went up to him just before tipoff to say hello.

“It was great,” George said. “We talk to each other every now and then. He texted me about two or three weeks ago just to talk about tonight.”

Vogel spent 3½ years as a Pacers assistant coach before president of basketball operations Larry Bird fired coach Jim O’Brien during the 2010-11 season and named Vogel the interim coach.

Vogel immediately changed the team’s fortunes. He gave it more swagger and fine-tuned the defense. The Pacers reached the playoffs and played competitively in their first-round series loss to the Chicago Bulls, prompting Bird to remove Vogel’s interim label.

Vogel held the job for five more seasons.

No Pacers coach has won more regular-season games since the franchise joined the NBA for the 1976-77 season. He compiled a 250-187 regular-season record and a 31-30 postseason record. His teams reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and in 2014.

But Bird decided that the Pacers needed a change.

The decision left Vogel free to join the Magic after Scott Skiles resigned in May.

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NBA Starting Lineups Ranked

Written at

As free agency all but dries up after a summer of unprecedented spending, we can start looking ahead to the 2016-17 season. And what better way to start than to begin analyzing the best and worst starting lineups in the league?

While there are still plenty of starting positions to be won or lost by opening night, our writers have collaborated on the five-man unit we believe will make up each team’s starting lineup, and by way of a composite score, have come up with the following rankings for the best — or worst, however you choose to look at it — starting lineups in the NBA.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

PROJECTED LINEUP: Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor

This likely won’t be Philadelphia’s starting lineup for the entire season, but no matter how many changes they make the Sixers will indeed be the Sixers for yet another season. In other words, not very good.

They will compete, Ben Simmons should be a stud, and the addition of Gerald Henderson provides a veteran, calming presence. Sergio Rodriguez, who may or may not hold off Jerryd Bayless for the starting spot, is another solid veteran player as the 30-year-old had a productive career overseas. In the end, Simmons and Jahlil Okafor will go through several growing pains and this will be another transitional year for the Sixers.

29. Brooklyn Nets

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Luis Scola, Brook Lopez

Everyone wants a sequel to Linsanity, and Lin is a better all-around player than he was when he broke out in 2012 with the Knicks. The problem is that he doesn’t have a killer pick-and-roll partner, nor does he have a bunch of dead-eye shooters on the perimeter. Two of our panelists ranked the Nets dead last, and none had them better than 28th.

28. Los Angeles Lakers

PROJECTED LINEUP: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov

We think D’Angelo Russell will be given the keys but are we sure that’s a good thing? Best-case scenario for Luke Walton is Brandon Ingram is so good right away that they move Julius Randle to the bench. Also, they have to hope the corpse of Timofey Mozgov didn’t make the journey from Cleveland and they actually signed that living guy from 2014-15. There is talent here, though it likely won’t lead to winning many actual NBA games for a while.

27. Sacramento Kings

PROJECTED LINEUP: Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins

It was surprising that Sacramento promoted Collison rather than signing another point guard, and it’s weird that Gay is still on the roster after all the trade rumors. It feels like the Kings should be trying to make another move or two, as Cousins is once again going to be dealing with double-teams and watching teammates miss open jumpers. New coach Dave Joerger has a lot of stuff to figure out here.

26. Phoenix Suns

PROJECTED LINEUP: Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Jared Dudley, Alex Len, Tyson Chandler

The problem here is we’re not entirely sure the Suns are done with this double point guard lineup with Knight and Bledsoe. You’d love to see one of them moved to the bench and Devin Booker starting. We’re also not sure about the Alex Len-Tyson Chandler pairing inside. Ultimately, is Knight truly an impact player at the most dominant position in the league? Is Bledsoe ever going to be healthy? Can we just get a full-time youth movement so at least we have a lot of fun here?

This lineup, like the Suns, is pretty uninspiring.

25. Orlando Magic

PROJECTED LINEUP: Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic

24. New Orleans Pelicans

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik

With Alvin Gentry taking over and Anthony Davis being a burgeoning superstar, the Pelicans were supposed to be noticeably improved last year. Yet injuries happened and New Orleans hasn’t done much to change their core pieces.

Davis, of course, is still there and will have to shoulder a heavy burden once again, but other than him, the Pelicans’ starters remain pretty meh. Jrue Holiday back in the starting lineup should be solid, and new signing Solomon Hill brings some good things, but believing in Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik can only get you so far.

23. Milwaukee Bucks

PROJECTED LINEUP: Matthew Dellavedova, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe

Offensively (minus Delly, of course), this unit showed some real promise over the back half of the season. Defensively, they were a nightmare, especially in transition. The roles on this lineup are also a mess. Antetokounmpo is point-center-forward, Dellavedova is most often a set-up or spot-up player, Middleton fills the gaps, and Parker is… some sort of weird combination of skills and abilities, while Monroe provides no rim protection. This is a really talented group, but we have to see it make sense on both ends of the floor before that talent earns a higher ranking.

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Frank Vogel Hired as Orlando Head Coach

Written by Terrence Harris at

The Orlando Magic moved quickly to fill their coaching vacancy, agreeing to a deal with Frank Vogel just a week after the position suddenly became available.

Vogel and Magic officials met during the day Thursday and reached a deal, which will not be final until Friday afternoon, said person with knowledge of the negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Magic have not announced the hire.

Vogel replaces Scott Skies, who surprised the organization when he resigned last Thursday. Vogel comes to Orlando as a proven head coach with playoff experience having led the Indiana Pacers the last five full seasons.

The 42-year-old Vogel did not have his Indiana contract renewed following this season. The Pacers made the playoffs but were bounced in the first round by the Toronto Raptors. During Vogel’s tenure Indiana he compiled a 250-181 regular-season record. He was also 31-30.

During a news conference last Thursday , team CEO Alex Martins and general manager Rob Hennigan both said they wanted a coach who has strong defensive principles and can connect with the players.

Vogel succinctly fits what the Magic were looking in a coach. His Pacer teams were usually one of the top defensive clubs in the NBA, finishing in the top six in field goal percent defense in each of his five full seasons as head coach. The Pacers were also top 10 in the league in defensive efficiency under Vogel.

He inherits one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, but also one stocked with talent. The Magic are building around young players like Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo and Efrid Payton.

The Magic are hopeful they are just a couple of veteran pieces away from returning to the playoffs after missing the postseason four straight seasons. They also say they are looking to re-sign free agent forward Evan Fournier, who will hit the market in July.

The team made some strides under Skiles in his only season, improving by 10 wins this season to finish 35-47. Were it not for a horrible January in which they went 2-12, most believe they would have made the postseason this year.

Since Pacers director of operations Larry Bird announced last month that Vogel’s contract would not be renewed he has been connected most of the openings. There was said to be some interest from the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies in addition to Orlando. But the Magic emerged as a strong possibility this week.

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Scott Skiles resigns as Magic Coach

Written by Chris Mannix at

Two days before last February’s NBA trade deadline and a deal came down that would turn out to be its most significant.

Tobias Harris, 23, months removed from signing a four-year, $64 million deal with Orlando, was headed to Detroit in a trade that sent veterans Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to the Magic. It seemed strange that a rebuilding organization would jettison a young talent like Harris for a pair of players with expiring contracts; less that an experienced coach like Scott Skiles would want two vets he had coached before.

Said a rival executive, “That trade had Skiles’ fingerprints all over it.”

Skiles’ prints are gone, permanently, the result of his abrupt resignation on Thursday. Immediately, questions surfaced about a possible power struggle with general manager Rob Hennigan. Skiles wasn’t enamored with some of Orlando’s young talent, in particular point guard Elfrid Payton, league sources told The Vertical. More broadly, Skiles had grown increasingly disenchanted with the attitudes of the modern NBA player, league sources said, with one describing Skiles in the final months of the season as “miserable.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Hennigan denied any rift with Skiles over personnel.

“Not from my view, not from my seat,” Hennigan said. “I think Scott would echo this. We had really good dialogue throughout the season. Good dialogue means a lot of different things. It means agreements, disagreements, debates, arguments, jokes, and we certainly had all of that. That is what healthy organizations have in terms of communication. I really did feel like we had that.”

Perhaps the situation with Skiles was unsalvageable, but it lacked the one thing that might have saved it: A rock solid relationship between the coach and the people working above him. Hennigan insists Skiles was his hire, but clashes over personnel were legitimate and more significant than Hennigan let on. Orlando was hardly a unique situation. Sacramento parted ways with George Karl after Karl clashed with management over DeMarcus Cousins, and Memphis fired Dave Joerger when the disconnect between Joerger and the Grizzlies’ front office became untenable. A year earlier Tom Thibodeau was jettisoned by Chicago after a rapidly deteriorating relationship between Thibodeau and Bulls’ brass completely crumbled.

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