Here are some notes I collected this weekend and this morning:
• Al Horford's five-year, $60 million extension came as a mild surprise to a number of GMs around the league on Monday. Clearly the Hawks love Horford and the toughness he brings to their front line, but can they really afford him after giving more than $100 million to Joe Johnson this summer?
Several GMs believe the Hawks won't be able to keep Johnson ($18.5 million in 2011-12), Josh Smith ($12.5 million in 2011-12), Marvin Williams ($8 million in 2011-12) and Horford ($12 million in 2011-12) together past this season for financial reasons.
While Horford's new salary won't push the Hawks into the luxury tax, it will put them very close. The move means they won't be able to afford to re-sign Jamal Crawford, or replace him with a similar salaried player next season, without incurring the tax.
That situation is already leading to speculation that GM Rick Sund may be forced to put Smith on the market soon. Sund briefly flirted with trading Smith last summer, before pulling back. While no one is claiming he's been made available yet, a number of GMs around the league expect his name to be in the mix by the February trade deadline.
Williams would be the Hawks' first choice to move, but he didn't get a lot of bites when he was available this summer. That could push them to see what they can get for Smith.
A number of teams, including the Knicks, Nets, Pistons and Suns, have shown interest in the high-flying forward in the past. It will be interesting to see if talks heat up as we get closer to February.
The extension for Horford (along with previous extensions for Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah) essentially takes away the three best restricted free agent prospects from the draft class of 2007.
Still, the restricted class is pretty strong. Greg Oden, Marc Gasol, Thaddeus Young, Rodney Stuckey, Jeff Green, Aaron Brooks, Mike Conley, Wilson Chandler, Brandan Wright, Arron Afflalo, Yi Jianlian and Marcus Thornton haven't received extensions as of Monday afternoon. (UPDATE: Conley signed an extension on Monday night.)
Typically restricted free agents struggle to get big offer sheets, and if they do, their team usually matches. But given the plethora of teams with major cap space this coming summer, that could change.
• The Timberwolves drew the wrong types of headlines on opening night when head coach Kurt Rambis benched forward Kevin Love in the fourth quarter of a tight game against the Kings.
Love was clearly unhappy and it didn't take long for fans to start a "Free Kevin Love" campaign. Love had a rocky relationship with the Wolves last season, too, and this clearly wasn't the way to start off the new season.
However, those who think Love is going to be traded soon are going to be disappointed. Sources say that the Wolves and Love have talked since the game and that going forward, Rambis won't be benching the team's best player in the fourth quarter. While Love clearly could use some work on the defensive end, he's the franchise right now until Ricky Rubio arrives (if he arrives) and the Wolves are going to do more to make sure he's happy.
• Speaking of the Wolves, don't be too hard on GM David Kahn for taking Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins. The Wolves didn't think he'd be a fit next to Love. But that wasn't the biggest reason they passed. There was a bigger concern that Cousins would be too much to handle in the locker room -- especially on such a young team.
Those concerns, according to sources, are already being borne out in Sacramento. While Cousins has played very well in the summer league, preseason and in the Kings' first three regular-season games, there are concerns.
Sources close to the Kings tell me that Cousins has earned his reputation for being difficult. Several players on the team have complained privately about his attitude and he's already butted heads with assistant coaches in practice.
• On draft night, the Knicks caught me by surprise when they took Stanford forward Landry Fields with the 39th pick in the draft. Fields was in our database ranked as the 116th-best player in the draft. He's the first American player ever to be drafted that wasn't in our Top 100 since we started doing this in 2003.
Clearly, I blew it.
Fields has earned a starting position for the Knicks and through three games is posting a very impressive 19.30 PER -- better than both Blake Griffin and Cousins.
How did I (and a number of NBA teams) miss so badly? Our Top 100 is based on the consensus of a number NBA scouts and executives. Fields wasn't mentioned by any of them. He was so off the radar that he wasn't one of the top 60 players invited by the NBA to participate in the Chicago predraft camp. The NBA selects participants based off of rankings by all 30 NBA teams.
But that's not an excuse. One NBA scout, along with a source close to the Stanford team, called me and told me I was sleeping on Fields. I pulled down some tape from Synergy and, frankly, just didn't see it. Had I thought about him specifically for Mike D'Antoni's wide-open system -- maybe. But the truth is I thought he was a good European prospect, not an NBA one.
He's proven me and the rest of the league very wrong in the early going. From all accounts he's a very nice kid who's working really hard. Here's hoping he keeps it up over the course of his career.