2014 Free Agency — Signing day is here

From NBA.com staff reports

Nine days worth of speculation, rumor, fact and a mix of all three have provided the flavoring to NBA free agency thus far. At last, though, players can officially ink deals with teams — new and old — and we’ll be on top of everything all day long. Check back often …

Free Agent Tracker | More Free Agency updates

Update 12:13 a.m. — Heat, Cavs expect LeBron’s decision before World Cup trip

Hang tight, the decision is coming. When exactly? Well, soon…

Update 11:48 p.m. — LeBron’s Brazil bound … by way of Miami

So long Las Vegas, hello Brazil. LeBron James is headed for the World Cup. He left his hoops camp and is headed for a pit stop in Miami before flying to South America for Sunday’s World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. No word who James is pulling for or, for that matter, where he’ll play basketball next season.

James will have travel buddy on the flight to Miami, the same pal who helped out at James’ hoops camp earlier in the day — Dwyane Wade.

Update 9:15 p.m. — Bulls not out yet

At this point yesterday it looked like Carmelo Anthony was definitely going to stay in New York with the Knicks. Now?

The Bulls certainly offer Anthony a much better chance to compete for a championship next season. But is he really willing to leave $30 million plus on the table? We. Shall. See.

Update 8:09 p.m. — Suns seek more guard depth

Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe were a surprisingly successful (and unsurprisingly fun) backcourt for the Phoenix Suns last season. But with restricted free agent Bledsoe’s future not completely certain with the Suns, Phoenix has directed attention towards the Kings’ equally-exciting restricted free agent, Isaiah Thomas.

The Suns would arguably have the best backcourt depth in the NBA if they are able to add Thomas and keep Bledsoe. The future just keeps getting brighter in the Valley of the Sun.

Update 7:32 p.m. — Tucker stays put

In non-LeBron news, it looks like the Phoenix Suns will keep their energetic big man:

Tucker, who was a restricted free agent, started every game for the Suns last season and averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.

Update 6:30 p.m. — Together again … for now

The picture is a little — cruddy. And far away, too. Is this some new Google Earth product?

But we’ll take Ramona Shelburne‘s word that it really is Dwyane Wade in there somewhere with LeBron James at LeBron’s skills camp in Vegas. The guys evidently still like each other.

Of the 12,374 theories on which way LeBron is headed — we are counting — you do have to wonder about this one: Would D Wade have opted out of a contract that would have paid him more than $24 million a year if LeBron wasn’t going to stay with the Heat?

Oh, we know. We know. There are explanations. There are a thousand permutations to this. But … nobody’s saying nothing. So at this point, all we can do is guess. We guess.

Update 6 p.m. — Don’t tread on this

As of 5:58 ET, this account had 10 tweets.

Ain’t twitter grand? We’re getting more out of the guy’s crabgrass than we are out of the guy.

Update 5:55 p.m. — On that other guy

What about a free agent, a seven time All-Star who has a career scoring average north of 25 points a game, getting such a short shrift this summer?

Hey, what is up with Carmelo Anthony?

Well, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson‘s sounding confident Anthony will take him up on one of his handful of offers to stay with the Knicks, according to the New York Post.

And, according to the Post, it could come soon. Like today.

“I am [expecting to hear Thursday],’’ Jackson said. “I expected one yesterday and the day before yesterday. But, no, we’re waiting.’’

Update 5:30 p.m. — Oh, Ohio

It’s pretty slow in most places in the NBA right now as we all wait on LeBron’s lower-case decision.

But in Ohio … yeah, they’re getting a little worked up already.

Matt Moore over at CBSSports.com has a pretty eye-opening post on all the things going on in Northeast Ohio as fans await good news … or set themselves up for some big-league heartbreak again.

Look at this tweet that Moore unearthed, showing cars in front of LeBron’s home there:

It’s a veritable pilgrimage to go see The King. They may make this a holiday in that part of the country.

If, you know, it doesn’t turn into a day of infamy.

LeBron?

Update 5:20 p.m. — Tick, tick, tick, tick

Tick, tick, tick …

Oh. Sorry. Must’ve dozed off there.

Nothing shaking yet about You Know Who going to Who Knows Where.

But, ICYMI a little earlier in the day, the guys over at fivethirtyeight, who correctly picked the last presidential race (but kinda missed on this) break down where LeBron has a better chance to win this year. The numbers might surprise you. Definitely worth it for the statistical minded out there.

A big point in the Silver piece is here:

If James really wants to get to that 60-win threshold, he’d be better off exploring teams aside from his reported favorites, such as the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. When I placed James on the roster and ran projections for those teams, all but one finished ahead of both Miami and Cleveland.

Update 4:18 p.m. — Listening to the Lord of the Rings

Carmelo surely won’t miss out on these words of wisdom from the Zen Master, will he? Tim Hardaway Jr. and the other young Knicks are listening and trying to learn from Phil Jackson.

Update 4:04 p.m. — C’mon Cleveland and Ohio 

Someone has to get this thing under control before it gets out of hand.

Update 3:46 p.m. — Yellow shorts … what do they mean?

The afternoon conspiracy theories aren’t nearly as creative as the morning crop. More colorful, but not as creative.

Update 3:43 p.m. — A Butler update

Thunder or Clippers? That is the question for Caron Butler.

Update 3:29 p.m. – What about DWade?

Wade has been the forgotten man, to an extent, in this summer of free agency.

Update 2:52 p.m. — Celtics still looking for Love

Forget LeBron and Carmelo, the Celtics need Love!

Update 2:40 p.m. — Just play ball LeBron

When all else fails, LeBron can just wrap himself up in the game … at any level.

Update 2:13 p.m. — Bath is getting ready for fireworks …

On the outskirts of LeBron’s hometown of Akron in Bath, Ohio, there is an undeniable energy surrounding the potential return of the prodigal son. If LeBron isn’t headed back to the Cavaliers and Ohio … this could get really nasty.

Update 1:48 p.m. — A true global icon …

All LeBron, all the time!

Update 1:28 p.m. — A Portland summer in 2015?

Update 12:54 p.m. — Mavs holding off on Parsons offer sheet, sign-and-trade possibilities?

The clock has not started yet for the Houston Rockets since the Dallas Mavericks have yet to formally submit the offer sheet to Chandler Parsons.

Update 12:36 p.m. — Blake to the Trail Blazers

Steve Blake is on the move again …

Update 12:26 p.m. — LeBron Watch 2014

No explanation needed!

Update 12:14 p.m. — All smiles in Jordan-land

At least someone is enjoying this time of year in the NBA!

Update 11:53 a.m. — #boshfamilyworldtour

Welcome to Ghana! (This isn’t exactly Miami or Houston)

Update 11:45 a.m. — Don’t assume anything in free agency

Listen to Uncle Ira …

Update 11:36 a.m. — Everyone has sources … (photo)

Some are more legitimate than others!

Update 11:31 a.m. — Pau back to the Lakers?

Could be, if the price is right.

Update 11:26 a.m. — Go with Beau on the NBA TV update


VIDEO: Beau Estes of NBA TV updates the happenings from this morning in free agency

Update 11:11 a.m. — Things that make you go Stu!

Update 11:02 a.m. — Influential advice from Usher?

This goes beyond the sports world …

Update 10:38 a.m. — More Cleveland conspiracy theories …

The entire world wants in on the LeBron to Cleveland drama. Follow the crumbs, people, follow the crumbs!

Team LeBron — the Twitter handle that promotes all things LeBron — is being watched. And there is some peculiar activity going on with their following habits, per The Big Lead.

On the flip side, apparently Brazil and the World Cup final is winning out over both Cleveland and Miami …

Update 10:21 a.m. — Brooklyn welcomes Jarrett Jack

JJack looks good in his Brooklyn digs. The trade is official.

Update 10:13 a.m. — Tony Parker recruiting Pau to the Spurs

You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish or French to understand what it is Tony Parker is trying to do  in regards to Pau Gasol, yet another quality free agent on the market. Parker has reached out to Gasol and let him know, in English and whatever other language needed, that they want him to join the championship chase in San Antonio.

“Id love to play with Pau and I told him so,” Parker told our good friend of Eduardo Schell in Madrid.

Update 9:37 a.m. — Conspiracy theorists unite in Cleveland

When reading the LeBron Matrix all sorts of tactics need to be employed. For some, it’s deciphering the messages on LeBron’s website …

… For others it’s listening to the creatures of nature and trying to understand the signals they send (like the owl at the Cleveland zoo that predicted LeBron will stick around in Miami).

Has this thing gotten foolish enough for you yet?

 

Ainge says he’s not enjoying Riley’s pain


VIDEO: David Aldridge reports the latest on LeBron

ORLANDO – Three decades ago, they were on opposite sides of the NBA’s longest-running blood feud — Lakers vs. Celtics.

For the past decade they’ve held similar positions in Boston and Miami, dueling for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

But Celtics general manager Danny Ainge says he’s taking no joy in watching Heat president Pat Riley on the horns of the free-agent dilemma with LeBron James.

“I don’t take any pleasure in anybody’s pain,” Ainge said Thursday at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “This is a tough business and free agency is part of what we all go through. I certainly don’t take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them.”

Never mind that Ainge might have helped grease the skids for James’ departure from Miami by aiding the Cavaliers in their bid to clear out salary-cap space.

The three-team trade also involving the Nets that sent guard Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn and guard Marcus Thornton and center Tyler Zeller to Boston along with a first-round draft choice became official at the end of the free-agent moratorium.

Ainge says his only motivation is to help the Celtics improve for the upcoming 2014-15 season, though he is known to be still searching for a way to swing a deal that might land Kevin Love in Boston. At this point, the Love scenario is a very long shot, because the Celtics simply do not have the goods to interest Minnesota in a trade. But that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to try.

In the meantime, Ainge and Celtics coach Brad Stevens both see Thornton and Zeller as contributors to their team right away.

“Ty Zeller is a big strong center that can also stretch defenses with his skill and really run the floor,” Stevens said. “I thought it was all positive from our standpoint.

“First and foremost, he’s a great transition rim runner, can really get out and fly up and down the court. He showed that at North Carolina. He’s got skill and can score on block. He handles and is savvy and can play facing basket.”

“Marcus can bring scoring, probably as a bench scorer,” Ainge said. “He can get hot. He had a 42- point game last season and can shoot from the 3-point line.”

Ainge’s only comment on the James affair was to say: “Wherever LeBron goes, the team’s a contender. That’s how good a player he is.”

Stevens was hired just days ahead of summer camp a year ago and was still learning which door to walk through when he arrived in Orlando. Now he is getting his first up-close view of the entire free-agent process.

“I’m probably more knowledgeable about our situation than maybe I sound, but don’t understand it to Nth degree,” he said. “As far was watching free agency, it’s hilarious. I just sit back and enjoy it.”

Aldridge: Clock ticking for Rockets to match offer sheet on Parsons

 

parsons

Chandler Parsons averaged 16.6 points and 5.5 boards last season for Houston. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The clock finally began ticking toward resolution on a great number of NBA fronts Thursday, when the Houston Rockets officially received a three-year, $45 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks for restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. The Rockets now have three days to decide whether to match the offer sheet and keep Parsons, or decline to match and allow Parsons to go to the Mavericks.

The Parsons sheet, which includes a 15 percent trade kicker (meaning if either Houston or Dallas trades him during the life of the contract, he’s due an additional 15 percent of his remaining salary) and a player option after the second year, was signed early Thursday morning.

Houston’s now facing a dilemma. The Rockets have moved to create enough cap room to make a maximum contract offer to Miami unrestricted free agent Chris Bosh, with trades that would send Omer Asik to New Orleans and Jeremy Lin to Philadelphia for future Draft picks. Those trades can now be carried out with the expiration Thursday of the July Moratorium on all contract signings and trades.

Once those deals are finalized, Houston can offer Bosh a max deal for four years and almost $90 million.

The problem for the Rockets is that if Bosh doesn’t agree to sign with Houston in the next three days, the only way Houston can match the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons is to use the cap room it is saving for Bosh. If Bosh does agree to sign with the Rockets, Houston can exceed the cap in order to match the offer sheet and keep Parsons. But that is the sequence that must take place.

Houston had indicated it would match any sheet for Parsons, and the Rockets may well match this one. But it may cost them a chance at Bosh, which Houston views as the perfect power forward to play alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden.

And the Rockets, of course, are further hampered because Bosh has expressed a preference to continue playing with LeBron James. But Bosh may not know where James is going to play next season in the next 72 hours, as James decides whether to return to Miami or go home and play with the Cavaliers, the team that drafted him first overall in 2003 and that is near his Akron hometown.

The Rockets tried to work out sign-and-trade scenarios with the Mavericks for Parsons before they officially received the offer sheet. But once Houston was given the paperwork, under league rules, it could no longer entertain sign and trade possibilities. The Rockets can now only match or not match.

If the Rockets do match, they won’t be able to trade Parsons for one year without his consent, and they can’t trade him to the Mavericks at all. Nor can his contract be reworked in any way.

The option year is especially vexing to the Rockets and owner Les Alexander, according to a source. They couldn’t trade Parsons without his okay during the first year as stated above. That would leave them only one season with him before he could potentially become an unrestricted free agent — the same summer that Howard could opt out and be unrestricted. Howard and Parsons share the same agent, Dan Fegan.

This scenario unfolded after the Rockets declined their 2014-15 team option on Parsons, making him a restricted free agent. If the Rockets had picked up that one-year option, Parsons would have become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, able to sign anywhere. The reasoning behind that decision was that even though Parsons could get offer sheets in 2014, the Rockets planned to match anything. And it gave the team time to try and sign Parsons to a long-term deal before he hit unrestricted free agency.

MCW feeling good about self, Sixers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with the NBA TV crew during Summer League

ORLANDO — It seems there are always questions about Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the offseason.

A year ago they were mostly about his struggling play and shaky start at the Orlando Pro Summer League. This year they revolve around his recent shoulder surgery.

“I’m good and I’m still ahead of progress,” Carter-Williams said when he dropped in at in the Amway Center to watch Philly’s youngsters. “I’ve been shooting the ball and I have full range of motion in my shot back, so I’ve just kept working out and do what the doctor has told me to do to get back to 100 percent.

“I really don’t have too many limitations. I really can’t do any heavy lifting right now, so I’ve been doing the simple things like swimming and shooting the ball and dribbling, things that don’t require a lot of weight or me to reach backwards. I’m going to start doing a lot of heavy lifting just to bulk up, once the shoulder gets there.”

Of course, last summer’s question marks turned into a debut NBA season that was an exclamation point as Carter-Williams became only the second Sixer to be named Rookie of the Year. He finished the season as the top rookie in scoring, rebounding and assist average.

He sat on the bench Wednesday watching last year’s fellow first-round Draft pick, Nerlens Noel, continue his comeback from a torn left ACL. All along, Carter-Williams was wishing he could be out on the court, too.

“It’s been tough (just watching),” Carter-Williams said. “I wish I could be out there playing and doing what I love, but I know it’s a process and it’s best for me to chill out a little bit and get healthy.”

His rehab schedule has him working three days a week and even though he will travel with the team the Las Vegas Summer League, Carter-Williams will only take part in practices and not compete in games. The normal recovery time from surgery for a torn labrum is two to four months, which means he should be at full strength and ready to go when training camp begins in late September.

Carter-Williams says he’s ignored rumors that have put his name into trades and didn’t panic when the Sixers chose point guard Elfrid Payton with the No. 10 pick in the Draft before trading him to Orlando a short time later, stressing that he’s kept in constant touch with general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown.

“I’ve been with Sam and Coach this whole time,” he said. “Regardless of the rumors or who said what, we stayed in communication and we’re always on the same page. “I’m happy with what the team did. Sam and Coach still have a plan to be put in and I’m real excited.”

Morning Shootaround — July 10


VIDEO: What might LeBron James do next in free agency?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: LeBron leaves meeting with no decision made | Uncertainty reigns in Anthony’s decision | Report: Nets to pay $90M in luxury taxes | Report: Bulls pick up pursuit of Gasol

No. 1: Reports: LeBron leaves meeting with no commitment to Heat — Well, the LeBron James-Pat Riley-Miami Heat summit in Las Vegas is done and the team has no more of an idea of where LeBron will choose to play next season and beyond. The choices, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, seem to come down to the incumbent Heat and his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Depending on which report you read, the decision may happen soon … or, who knows when. First, here’s Wojnarowski first on the meeting:

Superstar free agent LeBron James met with Miami Heat president Pat Riley on Wednesday in Las Vegas and left without committing to a new contract, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

No decision date has been set, a source close to James told Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears.

James and his agent Rich Paul met with Riley on the same day the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to a three-team trade to clear enough salary-cap room to make James a maximum contract offer, opening a path for his possible homecoming, sources said. The Cavaliers are also pursuing a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, contingent on James returning to Cleveland, sources told Yahoo Sports.

If James leaves Miami, Chris Bosh‘s intention is to also leave the Heat, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Bosh has been speaking with the Houston Rockets, who are prepared to clear enough cap room to offer him a four-year, $88 million contract.

If the Cavs can’t get James, their backup plan remains making a run at signing free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves will demand Andrew Wiggins, the Cavs’ No. 1 overall pick from last month’s NBA draft, be a part of any proposed deal, sources told Yahoo Sports.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard and Brian Windhorst also have a report on the meeting and what might be next for James:

LeBron James met with Miami Heat officials for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas but emerged without a decision about his future, sources told ESPN.com.

James and his agent Rich Paul are done meeting with teams, according to sources close to the situation. James now will talk with his family and make his choice.

There is no timetable for James’ decision, but with him reportedly planning to attend the World Cup this weekend in Brazil, a decision before then seems likely.

The Rockets’ position, however, got more complicated on Wednesday when their restricted free agent Chandler Parsons signed a three-year offer from the Mavericks for more than $45 million, which the Rockets have three days to match.

If the Rockets match, they will lose the requisite cap space needed to sign Bosh. They can match the offer and still afford Bosh, but only if they sign Bosh first. To make room for Bosh, the Rockets will need to execute at least two trades, likely involving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, to clear cap space.

The Heat were represented at Wednesday’s meeting with James by president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg. James was joined by Paul. This was the first known face-to-face meeting James has held since officially becoming a free agent on July 1. James’ agent met or spoke with officials from the Mavericks, Rockets, Suns, Cavaliers and Lakers last week, but James was not present.

James spent Wednesday morning and evening working out, playing pickup and speaking to high school and college stars at his LeBron James Skills Academy basketball camp.

 

Parsons puts Rockets on the clock

While the clock nears midnight for every team riding the free agent merry-go-round, it’s ticking louder now for the Rockets.

With small forward Chandler Parsons agreeing to terms on a three-year contract worth more than $45 million with the Mavs, the Rockets will now have to speed up their pursuit of Chris Bosh or risk losing both players.

Mark Stein of ESPN.com first reported that Parsons tossed in his lot with the in-state rivals from Dallas.

The plan and hope all along by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was that the team could land one of the big-name free agents — LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Bosh — and then go over the cap with Bird Rights to re-sign Parsons.

Timing is everything.

As soon as the offer sheet from Dallas is signed and delivered, the Rockets will have three days to match. That means that the Rockets, who have reportedly made a four-year maximum offer to Bosh of $85 million, would have 72 hours to close that deal. If they don’t and move to match Parsons’ offer instead, they would lose the space under the salary cap to sign Bosh.

Of course, the trouble is that Bosh is evidently waiting for James to make up his mind on where he’ll play in October. It’s believed that if James returns to Miami, Bosh will join him and Dwyane Wade in a continuation of the Big Three with the Heat. The longer James dallies and Bosh waits in line, the situation becomes more precarious in Houston.

That’s the reason Morey was on the phone talking to the agents for Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng and Paul Pierce today, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

That clock is ticking.

OKC’s Adams trying to find comfort level


VIDEO: Steven Adams talks about his performance so far in Orlando

ORLANDO — It was a rookie season in which Steven Adams’ crunching elbows and physical play around the basket became well known.

Turns out he’s got a sharp tongue for trash talk as well.

When Willie Reed of the Pacers used two hands on his back to try to keep him from burrowing down into the lane, the Thunder big man turned with the best zinger so far in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“Hey, you won’t be able to do that in the D-League,” Adams said.

The 7-foot wise-cracking New Zealander scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and turned the ball over five times in game three of the project to turn him into more of an offensive weapon in Oklahoma City.

Nobody is going to confuse him for Shaquille O’Neal or even a lumbering, aging Jermaine O’Neal at this point. But it’s been acknowledged all along that Adams is a project.

“We want to see Steven being able get the ball in the low post more and creating from there,” said Thunder assistant Darko Rajakovic, who is running the summer league bench. “He showed a couple of really good passes from the low post and a couple of pretty good moves and we have to be happy with that. It’s something that is adding to his game and is going to be an emphasis for the rest of the summer.”

Adams averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game as a rookie and the idea is to finally get some offensive production out of the middle of the Thunder lineup where Kendrick Perkins has barely registered a blip for years.

But while there’s every reason to believe that Adams can be that inside game to balance the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right now it all comes down to getting him to embrace the role.

“I’m still a newb(ie), bro,” Adams said. “It’s getting better from when I started. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can do. They had that big 19 (6-foot-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku), who’s huge. I tried to back him down and got it stripped out. So I said, OK, I should use my speed against him. Just different reads like that.

“I’ve got to get comfortable with it and try to get more confident in getting the ball. Right now, I’m quite far away. I ain’t quite as demanding. It could be an option next year, but I’m not sure.

“If I was more confident with my moves, I’d be more demanding because I’d know I’d be able to score straightaway. That’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”

Through three games, Adams is averaging 9.3 points and shooting 9-for-15 from the field. More troublesome are his antics at the foul line, where he’s made just 11 of 23 (47.8 percent).

“Free throws, bro,” he said. “Free throws. Free throws. I’m working on that.

“I haven’t put up anything over the summer. We had a two-week break and I got advice to do nothing. At the end of the (NBA) season it was like, ‘He sucks at free throws.’ Now it’s ‘Oh my God. It’s rubbish.’ So I’ve got to get back to just sucking at free throws and we’ll go from there.”

Popovich doesn’t see end of Spurs’ road


VIDEO: Despite an “exit interview” after the latest NBA title win, Popovich is going nowhere

Remember during the playoffs when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that on the day Tim Duncan finally walks out the door on his NBA career, he’ll be 10 minutes behind him?

Maybe it’s time for us to start envisioning the 38-year-old Big Fundamental rolling on past 40. Or 42. Or…

That’s because Popovich seems to be making no plans to leave soon, agreeing to a multiyear extension to continue as head coach of the team he’s led to 967 wins and five NBA championships since taking over on the bench 18 games into the 1996-97 season.

With all the uncertainty and turmoil that has kept the waters churning through the free agency period this summer, the Spurs have simply kept rowing their boat straight ahead.

Where’s LeBron James going? Who knows? What’s Carmelo Anthony thinking? What does it matter?

In San Antonio, there are ties — and professional goals — that bind.

The confetti was practically still falling from the rafters of the AT&T Center when Duncan announced that he was picking up the option on his contract and returning for 2014-15. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are also under contract through the end of next season. The Spurs wasted no time in signing free agents Patty Mills and Boris Diaw to new deals. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is eligible for an extension, but nobody at all is worried that it won’t get done.

Popovich has often joked that his wagon is hitched tightly to Duncan’s. But during The Finals, Pop said that he wanted to continue and didn’t see any reason to stop.

One reason Popovich would stop, maybe, is his age — 65. But he’s often said that once you’ve had a couple of bottles of wine and taken a few weeks off, there’s nothing else to do except plan for the next training camp and the next season.

The other reason, of course, is that things won’t be quite so easy once Duncan really does hang it up.

But there is also that part of Popovich that will enjoy the challenge. Following right behind Duncan would be too easy.

Seeing the franchise make the transition into the next era behind Leonard and whatever new faces come in will be too much for a career teacher to resist.

The Spurs way is not cutting corners, not skipping steps. There will come a time when Popovich walks out the door, but not until he knows the organization he helped mold into a model franchise knows where it’s going.

Hayward must grow with new salary

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors

While much will be given to Gordon Hayward, much will be required, too. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Now that Gordon Hayward has the max offer sheet — four years, $63 million — courtesy of the buzzing Charlotte Hornets, there’s no reason to debate whether he’s worth such big bucks that will top $14 million in Year One.

The 6-foot-8 small forward/shooting guard will be one of just seven players at the wing positions under contract (at the moment) for next season to make at least $14 million: Kobe Bryant, James HardenJoe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Kevin Durant.

But it hardly matters if Hayward is worthy of such a deal or not. It’s what he’s getting. A lot of teams have a lot of cap space to fill and the Hornets, who nabbed free agent Al Jefferson from the Jazz last summer and are eager to add more scorers after finishing 24th in offensive rating (101.2 points per 100 possessions) last season, didn’t see a better option so Michael Jordan green-lighted his front office to go all-in for Utah’s restricted free agent.

Hayward can’t sign the offer sheet until Thursday and then Utah will have 72 hours to match. The club has consistently sent signals that it plans to do just that. Hayward would then return as the face of the Jazz, a club that won 25 games last year and one he apparently would prefer to leave behind for the further-along Hornets, a surprise playoff team last season in the inferior Eastern Conference. (Hayward reportedly was in discussions with other teams including Phoenix, but chose Charlotte.)

If Hayward indeed returns to Utah (and our David Aldridge details why the Jazz are well-positioned to match), any personal disappointment must be kept private and dismissed quickly. A contract of this size must be owned.

Hayward, 24 and entering his fifth season in the league, will have to be motivated to lead a quick team buy-in with new coach Quin Snyder, and establish himself as the voice inside the locker room. Hayward is admittedly the quiet type, and there’s nothing terribly wrong with that — it took Dirk Nowitzki time to turn up his volume — but on such a young team that includes second-year point guard Trey Burke and incoming rookie Dante Exum, Hayward is the player to which all eyes will turn.

An encouraging attitude and positive body language on the court will be essential, too. The youthful Jazz are going to struggle this season, there’s no way around it. For $63 million, Hayward will be expected to keep the team moving forward through tough times. He can’t hang his head or appear disengaged when things go wrong, as he did at times last season. He’s got the baby-face look, and there’s not much he can do about that, but he’ll be playing on a man’s contract, and expected to perform as such.

As for his production, hopefully Hayward will be spending the majority of the summer in a gym shooting thousands of jumpers. Each season his scoring average has increased and, in fact, he put up career-best numbers last season in scoring (16.2 ppg), assists (5.1) and rebounding (5.2).

However, his overall shooting percentage (41.3) hit an all-time low and his encouraging 3-point shooting from 2012-13 (41.5) dropped to a career-worst 30.4 percent last season as his attempts increased to a career-high 280.

Alongside Burke and Exum, especially as the rookie gains his footing as the season progresses, and Derrick Favors down low, the 3-point shot should be on high on Hayward’s menu on most nights. Utah last season finished 25th in the league in 3-point percentage (34.4) and 23rd in 3-point attempts per game (6.6). Hayward is capable of giving both categories a significant boost.

With the big pay day, come bigger responsibilities. Hayward must be prepared.

Market for Stephenson might move, though concerns remain same


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks about his season with the Pacers in 2013-14

Lance Stephenson might or might not be happy with the Indiana Pacers’ contract offer to him. But he has to be happy with the Charlotte Hornets’ contract offer to Gordon Hayward.

By doing nothing beyond waiting, Stephenson – the talented and erratic shooting guard who is testing free agency after four seasons of development and nurturing in Indiana – has seen the market change for good young wing players. Not necessarily his market to stay in Indianapolis, given Larry Bird‘s calculation of Stephenson’s pro & con bottom line: five years, $44 million, an average annual salary of $8.8 million. But the market overall, as determined by a pair of needy teams in modest-sized markets.

The Hornets’ decision to sign Hayward to an offer sheet for four years, $63 million (a max deal worth $15.75 per year) presumably has shifted things seismically not only for Stephenson but for Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng.

Depending on what you read or believe, Stephenson already was displeased with the amount of Indiana’s offer and/or Bird’s one-price strategy.

Some reports claim Stephenson was simply disappointed by the Pacers’ number and wants to see what else is out there. Some claim he rejected that deal and is looking to leave. Among the teams said to have interest, from passing to strong, in Stephenson: Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Charlotte and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Taking the speculation to yet another level, there was word out of Texas that the Mavericks might deign to offer a smaller deal with Stephenson if he spurns Indiana yet miscalculates and grows desperate enough to accept a worse payday. Good luck with that.

We all know how the game goes from here: If Avery Bradley is worth $8 million a year to Boston with his limited offensive impact and Hayward is worth nearly twice that to Charlotte and Utah – the Jazz have been open about their intent to match anything Hayward signed – then it might seem, in sheer basketball valuation, Stephenson should be further to the right on the pay scale than what Indiana has presented. There are a couple of disclaimers though:

  • The difficulty, or should we say near-impossibility, of attracting free agents to Salt Lake City. Epecially with the Jazz mired in the lottery. With a new, unproven coaching staff.
  • Hayward’s restricted status.

Both of those point toward a player perhaps getting overpaid. A market that can’t dangle some mix of beaches, balmy weather, nightlife, lucrative endorsements and instant winning often has to show more money. And with RFAs, if the current team has expressed its intention to match, a rival can only fatten the offer in hopes of discouraging that.

Indianapolis isn’t a glamour market but it has gone to two consecutive East finals, with a breakthrough possible again next spring, especially if Miami has a break-up. Stephenson is unrestricted, which means that the team that overpays him will be the one stuck.

And stuck is an operative word, leading to a couple legitimate disclaimers about Stephenson and his value:

  • The Pacers shooting guard has had an unusually patient and nurturing situation in Indiana. Bird has had his back from the start, drafting him in 2010 despite off-court incidents and behavioral concerns. The team’s veterans have encouraged and kept him in line for the most part. Even when Stephenson drove down his own value with some high-profile hi-jinks against LeBron James and the Heat this postseason, Bird wondered aloud if he should have spent more face time with the irrepressible player.
  • Teams, including the Pacers, wonder what Stephenson might be like off the court once he has an eight-figure, multi-year guaranteed contract. He might take that as validation of everything – good and bad – he’s been doing, rather than a deal offered flinchingly in the hope that his maturity might catch up to his skill level.

Bob Kravitz, longtime columnist for the Indianapolis Star, urged the Pacers not to budge beyond the five years and $44 million they already have offered Stephenson. “Stephenson will never have as good a support system (read: Bird) as he has now in Indianapolis,” Kravitz wrote. “He will never find a group of teammates more willing (however grudgingly) to put up with his antics, both on the practice court and in games. He will never find a fan base more willing to embrace him, a fan base that loves him despite all his warts, much like Ron Artest, the former Pacers All-Star now named Metta World Peace.”

And yet, the one spinout other teams wouldn’t have to worry about that should concern the Pacers is Stephenson and his possible growing impatience with being the team’s “little brother.” He could well be Indiana’s second-best player in 2014-15 behind Paul George but his salary could be fourth- or fifth-highest on the roster.

One thing the Pacers can offer Stephenson that other teams cannot is the comfort zone he has at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not just with the fans but in his eccentric “Bird Cave.” More pressing at the moment, though, for those who would consider him: caveat emptor.