The Whiteboard: Latest buzz on J.R. Smith, Tyler Johnson and other NBA pickups

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images /

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The NBA’s window for transactions — including rest-of-season contracts, substitute players, two-way contracts and waivers — opened up on Tuesday, and there’s already been a flurry of additions being reported.

That’s been the case since last week, when The Athletic’s Shams Charania first reported this projected transaction window would be June 23-30, but with the acquisitions officially ramping up, now is probably a good time to take a look at the initial activity, who’s getting picked up and what the latest NBA buzz is.

Here’s a quick rundown of the notable names that have surfaced thus far and what to make of those additions and potential pickups.

J.R. Smith

Avery Bradley may not be the best player that’s opting out of the Orlando bubble, but he is the most significant thus far — not only because he’s a starter on one of the three main title contenders, but also because of the coalition he formed with Kyrie Irving and other players to challenge the league on its commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement. His decision to opt out is primarily based on his family, but he’s still a significant domino as the NBA reaches its June 24 deadline for players to join him in not participating.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, J.R. Smith is the leading candidate to replace Bradley, which makes sense since he’s been a free agent all year and has experience playing with LeBron James on championship contenders. Everyone remembers his gaffe in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, but what they should be focusing on is his playoff experience, how he hits 3s at a 37.3 percent clip for his career and how he’d pad the Los Angeles Lakers’ wing depth with Bradley out.

The Lakers wouldn’t rely on him as a starter, especially given the layer of rust he’d have to shake off, but Alex Caruso is capable of stepping up and filling some of those minutes too. Losing Bradley is a decent blow to the Lakers, but as long as those available minutes don’t go to Rajon Rondo, L.A. should still be fine. Anything Smith could provide (if he’s signed) would be a bonus.

Tyler Johnson

Four years later, Sean Marks got his guy.

The Brooklyn Nets general manager gave Tyler Johnson a four-year, $50 million offer sheet that was matched by the Miami Heat back in 2016, and for the last season-and-a-half, Johnson has wasted away with the Phoenix Suns.

He was a great addition for the young and rebuilding Suns upon his arrival, but curiously withered from Monty Williams’ rotation this year when his game and his confidence seemingly evaporated. He averaged just 5.7 points in 16.6 minutes per game on dismal .380/.289/.750 shooting splits this season before being waived in February — a confounding conclusion to what began as a promising tenure in the desert, especially after he posted 10.8 points in 25.5 minutes a night on .426/.353/.693 shooting in his last year with the Heat.

The Nets don’t have particularly high expectations for the 2020 NBA Playoffs with Irving and Kevin Durant out, but hopefully this once-useful bench piece (who’s still only 28!) will be able to make more of an impact with a change of scenery. Theo Pinson will be waived to make room for Johnson.

David Nwaba

This one’s kind of strange, but certainly not in a bad way if you’re in David Nwaba’s camp. As Charania reported, the Houston Rockets are giving the defensive guard a two-year deal worth $900,000 to finish this season and a team option for next year. The thing is, Nwaba will still be sidelined during the NBA’s restart as he continues to rehab the torn Achilles he suffered in late December. In 20 games with Brooklyn, he was averaging 5.2 points in his 13.4 minutes off the bench, making 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers.

Say what you will about GM Daryl Morey, but he knows how to capitalize on any opening he finds. While money is tight for everyone in the NBA right now, he’s essentially paying $900,000 for Nwaba to do nothing but rehab (an act of goodwill) and then have a team option for him next season, when the Rockets could use all the able-bodied defenders they can get.

Isaiah Hartenstein will be waived to make room for Nwaba. That may not sound smart to replace one of the few remaining centers on the roster with an injured guard for the postseason push, but the Rockets were all in on their ultra small-ball rotation anyway. We have no idea what their playing style will be next year, who their coach will be or even who will fill out the roster, but Nwaba will be on the books for $1.8 million either way. That’s a useful, cost-effective piece to have no matter what the future holds.

DeMarcus Cousins

In case anyone was wondering, multiple teams are reportedly interested in DeMarcus Cousins, but they’re all being told he’s sitting out for the resumed season in Orlando to continue his rehab for a full return in 2020-21.

In other words, he’s not risking his health for eight or so games when he still has (some) hope of landing an offer in free agency this fall.

Corey Brewer

Corey Brewer was last seen in the NBA last year … playing for these same Sacramento Kings. While he only posted a mere 4.1 points in his 14.7 minutes a night over 24 games that season, he’s a positive locker room influence for a young core that bought out Anthony Tolliver and sent away Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon at the trade deadline.

Brewer reportedly chose the Kings over multiple offers and by all accounts enjoyed his time in Sacramento. He probably won’t be used much as the Kings fight for a spot in the play-in scenario, but his veteran presence should help in these unusual circumstances and it never hurts to have experience and depth in these kind of high-intensity games.

Joakim Noah

The LA Clippers had already signed Joakim Noah to a 10-day deal mere days before the NBA season was suspended. Charania has already reported they’re extending that deal through the rest of the season after it expired on Tuesday.

The Clippers are already one of the deepest, scariest, most talented teams in the league. If they get the same Noah who had a quiet bounce-back season last year, when he put up 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as a spark plug for the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ll gladly take whatever minutes he gives them, limited though they may be.

Having a former Defensive Player of the Year who has playoff experience and can defend the rim is never a bad thing, and Doc Rivers just got that much more flexibility with his lineups.

Anthony Tolliver

Following his midseason trade from the Kings, Anthony Tolliver only played five games in a Grizzlies jersey before the season was shut down. However, his 41.2 percent shooting from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game during that brief stretch was enough to convince Memphis to sign him for the rest of the season.

The current 8-seed in the Western Conference is a young bunch that every playoff-hopeful will be gunning for. It doesn’t hurt to have a bit of experience and shooting from a stretch-big under those circumstances, and Tolliver did average a significant and productive 19.2 minutes per game with the Grizz.

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In case you missed it, here’s what Nikola Jokic’s positive coronavirus test means for the NBA’s planned restart.

SPOILER ALERT: Not much, given that the league was already bracing for a significant number of positive tests in the first phase of its relaunch.

However, the New York Times’ Marc Stein was all over why the spiking coronavirus numbers in Florida should be giving the league and its players reasons to hesitate.