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NBA free agency and trade debate: How the Pelicans help Zion and bold predictions

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The NBA has plenty to figure out ahead of the start of free agency and trade season. The transaction moratorium will be lifted sometime before the Nov. 18 draft, but before then, let’s dive into the biggest storylines this offseason has to offer.

Which players are the most intriguing targets? Which teams are in the best position to make a splashy move? Which coaching vacancy is most appealing?

Our panel tackles the biggest questions and drops some bold predictions for the NBA offseason.

MORE: Predicting what’s next for the biggest players in free agency


1. Which free agent do you find most intriguing?

André Snellings: To me, it’s Anthony Davis. Assuming he re-signs with the Lakers, they will remain favored to repeat and give LeBron James a chance at the two more rings he needs to catch Michael Jordan. And Davis has a big decision about how many years to sign for, even if he is staying in L.A. for now. So while the offseason drama around Davis might be muted this time, he’s still the most important free agent.

Tim Bontemps: Fred VanVleet is the best unrestricted free agent who could change teams this offseason. He could help Phoenix or Atlanta take a significant leap forward. But if Toronto can keep him at a price that preserves cap space, it will strengthen the Raptors’ case for a max player to join VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby next offseason.

Royce Young: VanVleet is likely due a big payday, and there are whispers of potential max-level offers lurking. With a market pretty dry on guards, VanVleet could be the prize target.

Tim MacMahon: Danilo Gallinari might end up deciding between several contenders who offer their full midlevel exception. That would be a bargain for a prolific scorer who has shot 41.8% from 3-point range over the past two seasons, but the teams that have cap space don’t look like good fits. Or maybe Thunder general manager Sam Presti can find a win-win, sign-and-trade scenario.

Kevin Pelton: Goran Dragic‘s resurgent play was a key factor in Miami’s run to the NBA Finals, and the Heat missed him badly when he was injured in Game 1. The Heat surely want Dragic back on a big one-year deal that preserves their cap space for the 2021 offseason. Will someone else offer a long-term deal that trumps that immediate payday?


2. Which potential trade target are you watching?

Young: Chris Paul is the domino to fall for the Thunder to embark on a long-time-coming rebuild. After his second-team All-NBA season, his trade value isn’t going to get much higher, especially with $85 remaining on his contract. If the right offer is there, Sam Presti won’t hesitate.

MacMahon: Jrue Holiday is a two-way star who could provide a significant boost to any contender. He could also help the Pelicans compete for a playoff spot, of course. But his greater value to New Orleans would be in what the franchise could get for Holiday as it builds a long-term supporting cast around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

Bontemps: If New Orleans trades Holiday, it is a clear indication the Pelicans think they’re a year or two away from being contenders (likely the correct assessment). Holiday is also good enough that he could swing a team’s fortunes significantly — in, say, Brooklyn alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Pelton: I think Holiday offers the best combination of a player who could move this offseason and has the ability to shape the title race wherever he lands. A Holiday deal would also reshape the future of the Pelicans, one of the league’s most promising teams going forward.

Snellings: I’m watching who the Bucks will pursue, because of Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the two-time MVP just a year from free agency, the pressure is on the Bucks to make an impact move that potentially puts the team over the top. If they can’t, then Giannis will have a huge decision to make about whether he wants to stay.


3. Which team are you watching most closely this offseason?

MacMahon: The Bucks have a year to build a case to convince Antetokounmpo he will be playing for a perennial contender if he stays in Milwaukee. No pressure, just the future of the franchise at stake.

Young: The Rockets, given the changes we’ve already seen. But despite the coaching upheaval, Houston appears intent to maintain some level of stability. While there is buzz about the future for James Harden and/or Russell Westbrook, more likely the Rockets run it back with roster adjustments than blow the whole things apart.

Snellings: The Warriors, holding the No. 2 pick in the draft. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green ready to go again, I want to see if the Warriors actually make the pick, or whether they’re able to use it in a trade to add a fourth impact player to try to reclaim their vacated throne.

Bontemps: Golden State. Will the Warriors use their trade exception from dealing Andre Iguodala last summer? Will they be able to turn the second pick into a ready-to-play star? The answers to those questions, along with the health of Curry and Thompson, will determine just how good Golden State can be next season.

Pelton: Between the No. 2 pick and the Iguodala trade exception, the Warriors face some interesting choices that will determine how competitive they can be for the 2021 championship and in years to come. Their spending will also be a key indicator of how willing teams will be to pay lavish luxury-tax bills during the pandemic.


4. Which team has the most desirable coaching job that’s still open?

Bontemps: New Orleans, because of the combination of young talent (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and others) on the roster, a strong front office led by David Griffin and a bevy of draft picks in the future. Houston has an edge in current talent (for now) and OKC has more future flexibility, but New Orleans has the best blend of both.

Snellings: The Rockets, with the players to make legitimate noise at the top of the league. Yes, it would be fun to build around Williamson, Ingram and Lonzo Ball, but the Rockets are full of veteran players desperate to win now, and they have two former MVPs leading the team. A confident coach could see this team as his chance to win a ring.

MacMahon: The Rockets offer the best chance to contend right away, but the job in Houston comes with a lot of pressure and little long-term certainty. The Pelicans’ next coach takes over a franchise with a potential superstar, a young All-Star, a lot of assets and a franchise architect who has won a title. New Orleans gets the nod.

Young: If it’s about talent and immediate upside, the Pelicans are an easy pick. Taking a longer view, it’s the Thunder. GM Sam Presti is loyal to coaches, and the Thunder provide a top-tier infrastructure. The team might not look ready-made to win, but getting in on the ground floor with a mindset to build — with young talent and draft picks — could pay off in four or five years.

Pelton: The Pelicans. Among the teams to change coaches, I think only the Clippers had a more promising opening. Not only will New Orleans’ next coach get a chance to develop a core of young talent, there’s an obvious opportunity for improvement at the defensive end of the court.

How Zion’s next coach can get more from him and the Pelicans


5. What’s your bold offseason prediction?

Bontemps: Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul will be traded again — but this time not for each other. Moving on from Paul will allow the Thunder to finally bottom out, and in a year with a strong draft class coming. Westbrook, meanwhile, is the only player — besides James Harden — who might net a return that would allow the Rockets to change course.

MacMahon: Chris Paul will start next season in Oklahoma City. Presti has proven he will be patient and won’t act on a deal unless it makes sense for the Thunder. While Paul restored his value with an All-NBA season, his contract makes finding the right fit complicated.

Snellings: Neither the Timberwolves nor the Warriors will play a game with the top-two players from this draft. I think the Timberwolves will use the No. 1 pick to bring in a third young impact starter who’s ready to compete now and grow with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, while the Warriors will trade down in the draft to bring in both a veteran starter and a late-lottery/mid-first round pick to groom for the future.

Pelton: The Sacramento Kings, under new front-office management, make more trades than any other team.

Young: The Clippers will make a splashy move. They are already pot-committed to a title run. They need to solve Montrezl Harrell‘s free agency, there’s a clear need at point guard and the Clippers have desirable players to trade. It seems unlikely the only change they make is at coach.

Biggest free-agency, draft and trade decisions for all 30 teams

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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