Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

Duncan, James set to re-sign


VIDEO: Digging in on the Cavs’ offseason moves

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two best free agents of 2015 (and given good health, the two best bargains of the coming season) didn’t reach agreements with their teams until Thursday, the ninth day of free agency and the first day when deals could be officially signed.

Of course, we knew all along that Tim Duncan and LeBron James were going back to San Antonio and Cleveland, respectively. But we were waiting on the terms of Duncan’s deal and for James to break his silence and/or get back from his vacation.

According to our David Aldridge, Duncan will be back with the Spurs for just $5 million this season, meaning that his former back-up, Aron Baynes, will be getting more money from the Detroit Pistons. It also means that the Spurs have additional flexibility under the salary cap after they sign Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge (to a max contract starting at $19.7 million), with cap holds for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard on the books. They could have about $2.2 million to offer a new back-up center.

James, meanwhile, is taking the maximum allowed from the Cavs, as expected.

He can opt out again next season and sign a more lucrative deal for 2016-17. And it would make sense for him to become a free agent again in 2017 (for the fourth straight summer) to really get paid after that, when the salary cap reaches its peak and when the Cavs have his full Bird rights.

The Cavs have new deals in place with James, Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert, as well as with the returning Mo Williams. They’ve yet to reach agreements with restricted free agents Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson, and J.R. Smith seems to be hanging in the wind at this point.

Cleveland also has yet to find a deal for Brendan Haywood‘s non-guaranteed, $10.5 million deal for next season.

The right time for Donovan in OKC


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his recovery and new coach Billy Donovan

ORLANDO, Fla. — Eight years after a head-fake that seemed to put him in charge of the Magic for several days, Billy Donovan was back in Central Florida as an NBA head coach.

Now 50, the one-time Billy the Kid, is trying to learn his way around Oklahoma City, shagging rebounds in practice for Kevin Durant and convinced that his shared ideas with general manager Sam Presti finally made this the right time to jump to the NBA.

“Knowing Sam over the years, I think the biggest thing for me in the decision was I really felt when I took the job at Florida, I felt like I was really aligned with (athletic director) Jeremy Foley and his vision,” Donovan said between games Monday at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “I think a lot of times in job situations you want to make sure that that’s the case.

“Sam, I thought, the first time we sat down and really talked about this, he really laid out what the organization stood for, what it was about, what the core values were about, what he envisioned going forward, how he wanted to go forward, the things that were important to him as a general manager. And I identify with all those things. I felt aligned with those things and I think I shared a lot of those same values with Sam. That was first and foremost the most important thing to me.

“Anytime you’re working with somebody, are you always going to agree on everything? No. Are there gonna be some differences? Yes. But at the core of it, we’re working in the same direction.”

Donovan, who had agreed to a non-compete clause with the Magic that banned him from taking another NBA job for five years, was hired just eight days after the Thunder fired Scott Brooks on April 22. It could, quite simply, be the most important hire the franchise ever makes.

That’s because the 2015-16 season is pivotal for OKC for far more than just wins and losses. Durant is entering the last year of his contract before becoming a free agent next summer. Russell Westbrook’s contract is up in two years. The Thunder now have less than 12 months to convince Durant to stick with the franchise that drafted him and then hope that his magnetism will be enough to keep Westbrook.

Fact is, depending on how those scenarios play out, the Thunder could be playing in the 2017 Finals or taking part in the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery. It’s that wide gap that’s at stake.

Donovan, who made the University of Florida a national power in his 19 seasons there, winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007, could be the key to it it. Durant has already said he likes the new coach’s hunger and attitude as a basketball junkie.

Theirs is a budding relationship that could literally determine the balance of power in the league in the coming years. Durant is on the record saying he approved of LeBron James returning to Cleveland to be close to home last summer and LaMarcus Aldridge leaving Portland for his native Texas in the past several days to play for the Spurs. He spoke of admiring those players for doing what made them happy. It brings up the possibility of Durant going to his native Washington, D.C., in a year or going to any other NBA city that might catch his fancy.

Therefore it’s all about Donovan, how much he can impress Durant, the kind of hooks he can sink into Westbrook.

Eight years after he could have made the jump to the NBA in Orlando, it’s the time, the place, the leap of faith the Thunder are making with the grown-up version of Billy the Kid.

Morning Shootaround — July 6



VIDEO: Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson is confident and focused on the challenge and his goals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire | Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul | Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? | Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story | Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers

No. 1: Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire — Desperation has set in for the Los Angeles Clippers, much like it did late last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency. With DeAndre Jordan bolting for Dallas and the four-year, $80 million deal they offered, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are left to scour the big man market for a replacement. They’re not exactly fishing in the same waters that Jordan swam in last season for the Clippers, when he was building block in the middle for a championship contender. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

The Clippers, who lost center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, are taking a strong look at [JaVale] McGee, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have roughly $2.2 million in exception space left to pay a player beyond the league’s minimum salary slot of $1.4 million.

Rivers also is expected to speak with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Stoudemire strongly considered the Clippers before signing with the Dallas Mavericks after the New York Knicks agreed to a buyout of his contract in February. Stoudemire has interest with several teams, including the Clippers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, league sources said.

For McGee, the Clippers could be an opportunity with a contender to re-start his career. McGee had a couple promising years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets before injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Nuggets traded him, along with a first-round draft pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through last season. He played in six games for the 76ers before being waived.

McGee, 27, was close to signing with the Boston Celtics last season, but wanted a player option for the second season to preserve his flexibility with this summer’s free-agent market.

McGee signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season.

In seven NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards, Nuggets and Sixers, McGee has averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

***

No. 2: Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul — Omri Casspi is one player who is apparently on board with the master plan in Sacramento. The veteran forward broke the news of his agreement on a deal to return to the Kings and continue working as a role player in a rotation headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, who is fond of his sweet-shooting forward (Casspi shot 40 percent from deep last season). Casspi handled the general news (via Twitter). This is just a small piece of the drastic overhaul Vlade Divac is trying to engineer. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some context:

The mandate for Vlade Divac was clear.

The Kings must improve drastically in 2015-16.

So the vice president of basketball and franchise operations has been overhauling the roster in an effort to boost the Kings from Western Conference doormat to playoff contender.

Adding point guard Rajon Rondo, small forward Marco Belinelli and center Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafting center Willie Cauley-Stein give the Kings a new look and appear to address the Kings’ biggest weaknesses.

Divac isn’t necessarily done. The Kings will try to add wing depth, which Sunday night entailed the re-signing of Omri Casspi, who confirmed via Twitter a two-year deal worth $6 million.

And All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be traded, as his issues with coach George Karl have not been resolved.

But as the roster is, the Kings expect to improve. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs but to win more than the 29 games they did last season.

With the new downtown arena set to open for the 2016-17 season, the Kings need an improved product to sell tickets.

The Kings wanted better passing, perimeter shooting and defense. Rondo was brought in to improve the passing and give Karl another ballhandler and facilitator.

Belinelli will be expected to help Sacramento’s shaky three-point shooting. Koufos and Cauley-Stein add depth, size and defensive versatility.

If Cousins stays, he and forward Rudy Gay are the only players certain to start. Divac has said Gay will play “a lot” of power forward this season, which necessitated adding another small forward.

Darren Collison was signed last summer to start at point guard, but with Rondo set to make $9.5 million next season, it seems unlikely the four-time All-Star will be a backup.

Karl wants to run more sets with two point guards, but Collison is only 6 feet, and Rondo is 6-1.

Ben McLemore started at shooting guard last season but could come off the bench or play small forward if Gay starts at power forward.

***

No. 3: Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? — Don’t let that little detail of LeBron James not having agreed to a deal yet deter the Cleveland Cavaliers from doing his bidding. The reported interest in Brooklyn veteran swingman Joe Johnson is legitimate and a very real possibility, given the Cavaliers’ ability to make it happen with the existing contracts of one of their prized (and another not-so-prized) big men. Our numbers man John Schuhmann breaks it down:

A trade of Haywood (with a salary of $10.5 million for 2015-16) and Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million) for Johnson would work under the league’s trade rules. Haywood’s contract is completely non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him, erase that $10.5 million from their books and save almost $70 million next season ($19.5 million in salary and $49.1 million in luxury tax, because they would be subject to repeater levels).

Of course, Johnson has been a very good and very durable player for the Nets over the last three years. The deal represents a decision of saving money vs. competing for a playoff spot.

It also represents a choice between saving money this season and saving cap space for next summer. Johnson has just this coming season left on his contract, but Varejao has three more years left on his deal. His 2017-18 salary is completely non-guaranteed, but $9.4 million of his $10.4 million salary for 2016-17 is guaranteed and would eat into their 2016 cap space.

The Nets could trade Varejao for an expiring contract. One suggestion from the Twitterverse: Varejao to the Los Angeles Clippers (who are desperate for a center to replace DeAndre Jordan) for Jamal Crawford, who has just one year left on his deal at $5.7 million. (The Clippers would have to include an additional piece).

Of course, the Cavs could make that swap themselves if they choose not to go for Johnson, who would take their own luxury tax to the sky. They will surely have other options with Haywood’s non-guaranteed contract. But this deal would create one heck of a lineup.

***

No. 4: Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story — The Raptors continued their summer revival with the addition of Cory Joseph, a native son formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. Joseph’s return to The North is more than just a good story, writes Michael Grange of the SportsNet:

At about 11:15 Sunday night Joseph announced to his 61,700 Twitter followers that he was leaving the San Antonio Spurs in free agency to sign with Toronto.

It was a simple message for an athlete who is known for his no-nonsense approach, but it spoke volumes about how far Canadian basketball has come and where it’s going. Joseph will be just the second Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, following Jamaal Magloire who suited up for one season at the end of his career.

He left as part of the first wave of elite Canadian basketball players who were convinced rightly or wrongly that if they wanted to make it to the top of the sport they needed to head to the United States as teenagers.

For Joseph it couldn’t have worked out better. He won national recognition at Findlay and a scholarship to the University of Texas, and in 2011 became the first Canadian guard to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft since Steve Nash when the San Antonio Spurs took him 29th overall. He learned his craft in one of the most respected organizations in any sport and has a championship ring to show for it.

The difference is that while Magloire was an outlier, Joseph represents the front edge of the wedge. Masai Ujiri has always said he won’t put a passport ahead of talent when building his team, but the number and quality of Canadians coming into the NBA – eight first-round picks in the past five years with more coming – means that recruiting homegrown players could provide the Raptors a competitive advantage going forward.

Calls to the Raptors GM and Joseph’s agent Rich Paul weren’t immediately returned but Joseph has been on the Raptors radar for years now. It’s believed they tried to trade for him twice but were rebuffed by San Antonio.

According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard the Raptors let their money do the talking, with Joseph signing a four-year deal worth $30-million, a huge jump in salary for a career backup who has earned just $5.3 million total in his four NBA seasons.

Is it worth it?

The Raptors love Joseph’s defensive acumen. By their analysis he immediately becomes their best perimeter defender. Moreover they love the humility he brings to the job and his simple passion for his craft. He made a believer out of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich when – as he was struggling for playing time as a rookie – he asked to be sent down to the NBA D-League to get some run.

But the Raptors see upside as well. The term of his deal extends past that of all-star Kyle Lowry’s, who will likely opt out of his contract two summers from now. While no one within the organization is prepared to declare Joseph ready to push Lowry as a starter, the dollars and term they gave him suggest they are betting that he’s still improving and could provide them an option there in time.

***

No. 5: Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers — The finger-pointing in Portland figures to go on for months, years even, in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to head home to Texas and the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. He said he wanted to be the best Trail Blazer ever, only to depart as soon as it became a possibility. There will no doubt be hard feelings, but John Canzano of the Oregonian insists Aldridge is not to blame for this breakup:

This all brings us back to the Blazers, ultimately. They have a difficult time attracting free agents. They’ve struggled with continuity. They have a general manager in Neil Olshey eager to make his draft picks shine, cementing his legacy. And I wasn’t surprised the news of Lillard’s five-year, $125-plus million contract extension was leaked on the opening day of free agency.

The Blazers had all summer to make that announcement. But it came on a day when a league record $1.4 billion in contracts were handed out in other NBA cities and — down deep — the Blazers knew Aldridge was a ghost.

Olshey long ago hitched the franchise wagon to Lillard. He drafted him in 2012, and when he became Rookie of the Year the following season, he was marketed and promoted to the point that it chapped Aldridge.

He was Bat Man. Lillard was Robin. Right? But the organization, led by Olshey’s own narrative, prematurely flip-flopped those roles. It cost them today.

I wrote a column two seasons ago about Portland alienating Aldridge by going too far with the Lillard-palooza. Aldridge reached and out told me how much he liked the column. The Blazers decided prior to last season that they’d spend Aldridge’s final season under contract celebrating his milestones, pitching him as the all-time Mr. Trail Blazer.

To their credit, Aldridge and Lillard worked well enough together on the court. They’re both too intelligent and socially aware to take their philosophical differences public. But they were co-workers, and not great friends. Those deeply entrenched in both camps told me on multiple occasions, basketball aside, that the two men were not huge fans of each other. Which only makes Lillard’s inability to get a face-to-face sit-down with Aldridge in that 11th hour trip to Los Angeles less shocking.

Aldridge and Lillard played together three seasons. Aldridge gave the Lakers and Kobe a few minutes of face time. He met with the Suns. He dined publicly with Gregg Popovich. Anyone else find it telling that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t even meet up? That he treated Lillard like the Knicks? That the franchise’s “Thing 1″ and “Thing 2″ weren’t in solid contact from the end of the season says a lot.

Even if Lillard and Aldridge had been tight, turning down the Spurs and the chance to finish your career in your home state would have been difficult. It’s why you can’t really blame Aldridge, can you? This is business, after all.

This break-up of the Blazers was bound to happen. You had Olshey’s players (Lillard, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum, in particular) and you had a leftovers from all the general managers of owner Paul Allen’s basketball past. Last season had the feel of a finale all along. That Popovich and the Spurs benefit from the chaos inside another NBA franchise should come as no surprise. Uniformity of vision is what sets the Spurs apart. It’s part of how he’s built an empire.

Olshey won’t much like this column. Neither will Lillard or even Aldridge. But as long as we’re handing out blame for the breakup of a team that won 50-plus games, what’s fair is fair.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent fever is proving the value of “3 and D” skillsets  The Hawks continue the house cleaning by firing long-time training staffers … Oh, and Happy Birthday Pau Gasol …

Pistons’ Johnson already aims at LeBron


VIDEO: Stanley Johnson leads the way in the Pistons’ win

ORLANDO, Fla. — The summer league crowd has been looking forward to Monday’s scheduled matchup between Stanley Johnson and Justise Winslow.

There’s plenty of intrigue and backstory. Detroit took Johnson with the No. 8 pick in the June 25 draft, allowing Winslow to slide to Miami at No. 10. Did the Pistons make a mistake? Will the Heat rookie seek to prove them wrong?

Never mind that the pair are long-time friends. They ate dinner together Saturday night and planned to take in a movie Sunday and couldn’t care less about the so-called showdown.

Besides, after a silky smooth and effective 24 points and nine rebounds in the Pistons’ 77-69 win over the Clippers on Sunday at the Orlando Pro Summer League, Johnson has his sights set on bigger game than a rookie buddy he’s played with an against about a dozen times.

“Play against LeBron [James] — that means something,” Johnson said flatly. “He is the best player in the league and I want to be the best player in the league too, so I have a target on him. I will keep reaching for that goal. … He is a team player so I have to be a better team player to be on the same level as him. Did you see that Game 6 against Chicago where he had like 14 points and 14 assists and controlled everything? The best players win a lot of games, so it is not about your points or your rebounds.”

But in case anybody is counting, Johnson has plenty of both in the first two days of Summer League play. He came off the bench in the opener and now has 37 points, 13 rebounds and four assists and is shooting 15-for-22 from the field in two games.


VIDEO: Stanley Johnson on his big game vs. the Clippers

He started on Sunday and showed the complete package of skills that had the Pistons rank him as the No. 2 small forward on their draft board and make Johnson the pick ahead of Winslow. He battled through contact to finish strong around the basket, pulled up to nail a 3-pointer and was coolly confident late when he drove and stepped back to nail a short jumper.

“He is a really smart player,” said Pistons summer league coach Bob Beyer. “He is always grabbing coaches and wants to look at additional tape. He wants mistakes pointed out to him. He really is a sponge. He wants to learn everything he can. He absorbs everything.

“I think the thing that’s most impressive it’s the calmness to his game right now. We’ve thrown a lot at him in a very short time and for any player it’s quite the adjustment from college to the NBA. But he has really has grasped concepts very quickly. And he spends a lot of time off the court trying to become a really good NBA player.”

Johnson has not tried to do too much, making simple, effective passes rather than forcing things to happen.

“That goes back to his poise as a player,” Beyer said. “Some guys don’t want the ball in that position. Stanley is starting to demonstrate that he does want that ball. He has confidence in his abilities that’s been kind of an added plus.”

Johnson’s confidence comes off as less swagger than merely being certain of who he is and can become.

“To me, I have no pressure here,” he said. “I’m not out here trying to have the best game of my life. I’m not trying to have the worst game of my life. I’m just trying to be myself. Coach [Stan] Van Gundy tells me, ‘You don’t have to score a point.’ That was his words. ‘All you have to do is play defense and play hard.’ At the end of the day, what he says matters and that’s it.

“I think I should dominate every game, honestly. I’m not gonna sell myself short because it’s Summer League or it’s the Cavs or playing the Lakers. To me, it’s about every game having the same effort. Just keep with that, keep with that and if I can dominate, I’ll dominate. But as long as I give the same effort, that’s all the matters.”

Wade, Heat do the right thing


VIDEO: Wade agrees to one-year contract with Miami

It was, of course, the only deal that made sense for both Dwyane Wade and the Heat.

It didn’t get Wade the maximum amount for which he was eligible and it still doesn’t make him the highest-paid player on the Miami roster next season (Chris Bosh, $22 million). But Wade got his raise from the $16 million due before opting out and leaves him the option of hitting the jackpot next summer when the salary cap is expected to go through the roof. Assuming, that is, Wade can stay healthy and prove that he’s still at an All-Star level in a season when he turns 34.

That age and the questions about his durability are why Heat president Pat Riley was only too happy to give Wade the bump for next season, while also keeping his options open for the Summer of 2016 free agent-palooza. Then Riley went right from the handshake on the deal to boarding a plane for L.A. where he was scheduled to have dinner Thursday night with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

From the moment that LeBron James turned his back on the Heat to return to Cleveland, there was no way Riley was going to allow his team to wallow in mediocrity for long. Since missing the playoffs last season, the Heat have gotten point guard Goran Dragic to re-sign for five years and $90 million and had talented rookie Justise Winslow fall in its lap at the No. 10 pick in the draft. Pencil in a recovering Bosh (blood clots) and center Hassan Whiteside, entering the last year of his contract, and the Heat have an opening night lineup that could probably stand toe-to-toe with any team in the Eastern Conference.

According to reports, Wade has lost 10 pounds so far in his commitment to getting back into top physical condition and now he’s again a key part of a team that can make noise. Without Bosh at the end of the season, Wade showed that he was still capable of performing at a high level and now going into his 13th NBA season has a platform to shine.

Wade simply wasn’t going to get a longer term deal from any other team that paid him top dollar for 2015-16, leaving only the alternative of taking less to go elsewhere — Cavaliers, Lakers, Clippers — out of spite.

Now the franchise icon gets to set himself up for a chance at the multi-year commitment next summer, while Riley and the Heat keep doing the full-tilt boogie to get back in the ring business. That’s a win all around.

Free agents ‘at 2015 prices’ trigger NBA’s Day 1 spending spree


VIDEO: Free agents winners and losers after Day 1

“Unfinished business” was the term Kevin Love used, more or less kicking off the first day of NBA free agency Wednesday with his announcement, via The Players’ Tribune, that he would be sticking with Cleveland Cavaliers in pursuit of LeBron James-led championships.

“Irrational exuberance,” though, was the label that came to mind as the shopping and the bidding and the spending (pledges of it, anyway, when deals actually can be consummated July 9) spiraled ever higher. That phrase was former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan‘s, used to characterize the overheated stock market during the dot.com bubble of the 1990s.

From Love and Cleveland teammates Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, from young franchise cornerstones such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard to DeMarre Carroll becoming Toronto’s highest paid player, the frenzy to find, pitch and lock up players at heretofore staggering amounts of money was more than even some players could grasp:

By 7 p.m. Eastern time, with several agreed-upon deals to go, NBA teams had committed approximately $1.1 billion dollars to players who hit the open market at 12:01 a.m. Among the biggest contracts: Love’s five-year, $110 million to stay with Cleveland, Davis’ five-year, $145 million extension to play for the Pelicans for the next six seasons and Lillard’s $120 million over five years to serve, perhaps, as Portland’s last tent-pole player as the Blazers face a potential rebuild.
And just because that sort of spending wasn’t unprecedented …

… doesn’t mean it wasn’t breathtaking.

With so much of the NBA’s business focused on the summer of 2016 – when the revenue from broadcast rights increases geometrically, taking the salary cap from about $69 million to an estimated $90 million – owners and general managers dug deep to cut deals at 2015 prices. Or, more accurately, at 2015’s percentage of payroll.

Look at it this way: an $11 million player by 2016-17, for example, will eat up the same amount of cap space as a $7.7 player this past season ($63 million cap). That could turn a number of Wednesday’s personal lottery payoffs into something if not reasonable by an average Joe’s or Jill’s standards, at least into something manageable.

One of the surprises of the day, then, was that so many players were willing to lock in rather than hold off or “gimmick-contract” their way to another bite at the platinum apple in a year or two. Love, perhaps thinking of his own troubling history of injuries, went “all in” with the Cavaliers, grabbing a deal that will still be in effect when James turns 35. Davis dried up the premature drooling in Chicago and probably 28 other markets by teams and fans hoping to pry him loose from New Orleans sooner than 2021.

Here was another surprise: Of the top 15 or so players who agreed to terms Wednesday, 10 or more (depending on your rankings) chose to stay put, re-signing with their current teams. Of those who will be playing elsewhere come autumn, Tyson Chandler‘s four-year, $52 million deal with Phoenix and Carroll’s four-year, $60 million package with the Raptors probably rate as the biggest moves.

(It will be interesting to see Carroll playing north of the border, technically making him an international player. He’s the guy who, when asked during the Eastern Conference finals what he might say to Cleveland’s feisty Matthew Dellavedova about his reckless play, wondered if the “foreigner” even spoke English. Like Australians, Carroll will learn, Canadians mostly speak English too.)

There was, of course, plenty of unfinished business. LaMarcus Aldridge was the straw stirring Wednesday’s drink, even as his interviewing of teams continued. San Antonio emerged as a likely destination for the All-Star power forward, if he does leave Portland, with the Spurs pitching a baton hand-off from Tim Duncan to Aldridge and a makeover on the fly with Leonard and the team’s aging core still formidable enough to contend.

Things didn’t go well, apparently, for the Los Angeles Lakers in their wooing of Aldridge. Word leaked almost immediately that the Blazers’ big man was unimpressed by a lack of vision for the on-the-court product. Glitz alone didn’t look as if it would cut it, with the Lakers said to be dropped from Aldridge’s list.

Other names remain in play: Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, Monta Ellis, Wesley Matthews, Rajon Rondo, Reggie Jackson, Dwyane Wade and James himself. Draymond Green reportedly got a deal done later in the day with Golden State, suffering a hiccup or two more than Leonard or Jimmy Butler as a restricted player who wasn’t required to secure an offer sheet elsewhere.

The Lakers had their Aldridge embarrassment while their East Coast counterparts as marquee franchise mired in current muck, the New York Knicks, registered barely a blip on Day 1. In the NBA of 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers committed in excess of $230 million to three players (Love, Thompson, Shumpert) while the Knicks looked to have trouble getting people even to take their calls.

That all could change Thursday, naturally. And we’re pretty certain to see fireworks Friday and Saturday, on both the Old Glory and new money fronts.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 205) Featuring Pete Philo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kristaps Porzingis knows all of the names that came before him, all of the international big men who were supposed to be game changers that didn’t live up to the hype.

The ghost of Darko Milicic, and others, lingers for a youngster like the Porzingis, the Latvian 7-footer the New York Knicks selected with the fourth pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

But Porzingis insists he’s different. He’s prepared to break the mold and is ready to embrace the pressure of playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

The question is does he have the chops to live up to his own words? 

And that’s a question guys like Pete Philo, the Indiana Pacers’ director of international scouting, get paid to figure out for their respective teams. Their work digging up the details on players most of us have never seen play in the flesh, can be the difference between success and failure for a guy like Porzingis.

Step 1 of the NBA’s summer hoops Holy Trinity is the Draft, which was handled last week with plenty of surprises, including Porzingis.

Step 2 is the Free Agent Fever (on NBA TV and NBA.com starting today and going strong until all of the big names agree to deals) going on right now.

Step 3, Summer League action in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas kicks off life fireworks on July 4.

We’ve got you covered on all three steps of the process on Episode 205 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Pete Philo. He joins us to talk Draft, the work that goes on behind the scenes and what that spawns in free agency, summer league ball and beyond.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Does Kristaps Porzingis have what it takes to snap the international big man jinx? Knicks fans certainly hope so, as does Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust

Take that, MJ and LeBron: Bulls’ Butler earns $46 million in single season


CHICAGO – All this talk about LeBron James, master strategist, working his contract levers, pulleys and buttons to become, in a few years, the NBA’s first player to earn $40 million in a season is fascinating.

But it’s already false.

Chicago’s Jimmy Butler already has done it. He did it in the 2014-15 season, actually. It’s just up to Butler now whether he wants to scoop up that enormous payday from the table sooner or later.

Follow along: The Chicago Bulls tried back in October to sign Butler, their diligent, developing shooting guard, to a reported four-year, $44 million contract extension. Butler, rather daringly, turned it down. He looked at that massive chunk of change – while still locked in to the rookie contract he signed as the No. 30 pick in 2011, worth just over $2 million last season – and shook his head no.

Butler believed in himself, in his skills, in the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the coaching staff and, most of all, in the work ethic that has returned significant improvement with every passing season. And sure enough, the 6-foot-7 product of Tomball, Texas, via Marquette had a breakout season: NBA All-Star, Most Improved Player award, a 20.0 scoring average, another All-Defense Second Team berth and a top-six ranking in win shares (11.2).

So on Tuesday, with Butler about to test restricted free agency, word got out that the Bulls were about to offer him a maximum-salary deal to blow away the competition. In fact, ESPN.com reported that Butler postponed or cancelled the typical wine-and-dine meetings with the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks.

There likely was going to be some wiggle room, eventually, in what Butler chose to do. Would he opt to sign a shorter contract to hit free agency again sooner, unrestricted and on the market with the heftier TV revenues in play? Sure, why not – Butler had gambled before and won.

But the size of Chicago’s alleged max offer made clear both how much the Bulls value Butler (any chafing with backcourt ‘mate Derrick Rose reportedly is overstated) and how gutsy and lucrative his risk-taking was: Five years, $90 million.

To put it another way, that is $46 million more than Butler’s signing opportunity eight months ago. For one extra year on the previous deal, yes, but really for the production he already turned in and the potential he solidified this past season.

That is how Jimmy Butler became a $40 million-a-year man.

Cavaliers could help Spurs’ pursuit of Aldridge, but should they?


If the Cleveland Cavaliers make it back to the Finals next June and find themselves facing a familiar LeBron James nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs, remember this day.

This is the day, on the eve of NBA free agency 2015, that scenario began to seriously take root.

The LaMarcus Aldridge-to-San Antonio speculation already had a good head of steam, but clearing sufficient cap space — sending off Tiago Splitter or Boris Diaw, for instance, and likely more — to sign Aldridge away from the Portland Trail Blazers while taking care of the Spurs’ other summer business was going to be a challenge. If they didn’t get creative, GM R.C. Buford, coach Gregg Popovich and the rest might wind up dredging a rut in their roster so deep, they could end up taking two steps forward, one back.

Then this emerged Tuesday, the day before the week of free-agent moratorium:

By trading for Haywood and his non-guaranteed salary, the Spurs could cut him loose and use the salary cap space it frees up to take care of more pressing priorities beyond Aldridge. Like keeping Danny Green, the 3-point shooter and solid perimeter defender so essential to their Finals runs in 2013 and 2014. This would, of course, require precise bookkeeping and expert timing in a concrete if/then arrangement triggered first and foremost by Aldridge. As noted by Spurs beat writer Jeff McDonald:

It sounds great for the dynasty lovers down in Texas and, presumably, the Cavaliers would get something they want in return, either from San Antonio or a third team. But would it be enough to prompt them to facilitate the makeover ambitions of a serious rival for the NBA championship? The Spurs qualify as that pretty much every year, but landing Aldridge, re-upping Kawhi Leonard and not tearing down the rest of the roster would have them on the extremely short list that already has James and the Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors and maybe one other team or two.

Do you really want to have to beat a formidable opponent in June that you could have undermined way back in July, if only you hadn’t served up exactly what its architects and capologists were seeking?

Morning shootaround — June 30


VIDEO: How LaMarcus Aldridge’s move in free agency will affect other teams

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE JUNE 30 ON NBA TV: The Starters, 6:30 ET | Free Agent Fever, 7 ET & 11:30 ET ***

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers, Rockets first up with Aldridge | What would adding Aldridge cost Spurs? | Report: Gasol only taking meeting with Grizzlies | How much has Wade financially sacrificed? | Report: Knicks in lead for Afflalo, Monroe

No. 1: Report: Lakers, Rockets first up to meet with Aldridge  Portland Trail Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is one of — if not the biggest — big fish in this free-agent class. The Mavericks have clear hopes of going him, using the lure of the hometown team to get the Texas native back in his home state and give them a new building block for whenever Dirk Nowitzki retires. The Mavs will have to wait their turn, though, writes ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, as the L.A. Lakers and Houston Rockets will apparently be the first of many teams to make a recruiting pitch to the big man.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets will get the first opportunities to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge shortly after the free-agency period officially begins at 9:01 p.m. PT Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Aldridge also will meet with the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and with the New York Knicks on Thursday, league sources told ESPN.com.

According to one source, the chance of Aldridge staying with the Portland Trail Blazers is “very unlikely.”

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony has already called Aldridge, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

ESPN.com reported in May that both the Spurs and Mavericks strongly believe they’ll have a great shot to lure Aldridge back to his home state of Texas. But sources said last week that Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Lakers.

The Lakers, sources added, firmly believe they will now be in the Aldridge hunt. And there is a rising sentiment, sources said, that the Lakers have edged past the Mavericks on Aldridge’s wish list despite the fact that he was a high school star in Dallas.

The Spurs, sources say, continue to be Aldridge’s most likely destination if he goes through with the idea of leaving the Blazers to start anew. The contingent for San Antonio’s pitch to Aldridge is expected to include Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich, according to multiple media reports.

*** (more…)