Posts Tagged ‘Portland Trail Blazers’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12

VIDEO: Steve Smith and Stu Jackson review the first day of Team USA mini-camp

Durant returns for Team USA | Lillard understands why Aldridge left Portland | Anthony a fan of Knicks’ offseason | Report: LeBron may participate in Wednesday’s practice | Markieff Morris wants trade from Suns


No. 1: Durant returns for Team USA — Oklahoma City Thunder star and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant hasn’t played in a basketball game since Feb. 19 when he was shut down for the season as he needed foot surgery. But word circulated yesterday that Durant would take part in some drills as Team USA holds its ini-camp in Las Vegas this week. Durant spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s mini-camp opener and says he’s feeling good and just happy to be playing again, writes our Steve Aschburner

Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-Star forward and the NBA’s 2014 Kia Most Valuable Player, had been sidelined by a right foot fracture that required bone-graft surgery. He played his last game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 19, limping into the sunset with more than a third of OKC’s schedule remaining.

While the Thunder sank in the standings and missed the playoffs, while head coach Scott Brooks got scapegoated and fired, while teammates Russell Westbrook won the scoring title and attracted MVP votes, Durant was left to recuperate, rehab and reflect on the game he loved and missed like never before.

“You remember Christmas as a kid? It’s like that,” Durant told reporters after Team USA’s first session Tuesday.

“I can go 100 percent. I’m not going to play 5-on-5 just yet, but everything else is no restrictions,” he said. “I’ve got to play against some guys to see. But I feel like I’m back to myself.

“I haven’t played since February. So of course, I’m human. I’ll go through a little bit of rust. But I think after two trips down, I’ll be all right.”

“You take it for granted a little bit,” he said of the game to which he’s devoted so many hours. “I missed the routine the most. Getting up, going to practice, getting my shots up before practice, I missed all that part. Hanging out with the guys in the locker room before the game, I think that’s what I missed the most. You can take that type of stuff for granted. I think I did and I learned my lesson.”

OKC trainer Joe Sharpe is one of three NBA trainers working with Team USA. That should reassure Thunder fans that Durant won’t overdo things even in this controlled environment. Besides, the 6-foot-10 forward doesn’t want to go re-setting his own recovery clock.

“It’s a long process, man,” Durant said. “I just tried to stay patient with it. … I have my days where I’m like, ‘Man, it’s not getting any better. I’m sick of working out. I’ve been working out for a year, I’m ready to play.’ … Feels good to stretch my legs a little bit.”

Durant, 26, said that his layoff has been made to feel even longer by the number of strangers or acquaintances who suddenly seemed interested — with him way less than 100 percent — in testing him.

“So many people been trying me though,” he said. “I walk down the street, everybody wants to play me 1-on-1. … The competitive juices are just boiling in my body and I’m just ready to play.”

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Blogtable: Playoff teams poised for a fall?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team

VIDEOSteve Smith takes stock of the NBA offseason

> Which of last season’s playoff teams is in for the biggest dropoff in 2015-16? Name one from each conference, please.

Steve Aschburner, I could start by asking for our working definition of “big,” because in the East, the Brooklyn Nets could win 38 games again (or something close) and slip out of the playoffs with another sub-.500 record. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks could fall from 60 victories down to 50 or fewer in the wake of roster changes, yet still claim a top-4 seed. In the West, the obvious candidate figures to do both: Portland will tumble from the playoffs and win a lot less often than last season (51-31). Four of five starters gone, that’s all the heavy analysis needed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn and Portland. The Nets will be down there scraping the bottom of the East barrel with Philly. Portland won’t fall as far, but the drop will be harder for a team that looked like a rising contender two seasons ago before losing 4 of 5 starters over the summer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, this is easy, like summertime. The Blazers are due for a sizable dip after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. We’re talking a possible 20-game slide. And then there’s Brooklyn. While the Nets probably won’t fall much from winning 38 games a year ago, making the playoffs again as a 30-something-win team will be sketchy, even in the shoddy East. Just imagine how poor they’d be had they kept Deron Williams.

John Schuhmann, Brooklyn and Portland are the obvious answers. The Nets were the eight seed in the weaker conference and weren’t even that good. They had the point differential (minus-236 for the season) of a 31-win team, with a bunch of narrow wins and blowout losses. And though he had the worst season of his career, Brooklyn was a much better team when Deron Williams was running point than when Jarrett Jack (the new starter) was out there. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are quality players, but they need a real point guard to maximize their production. The Blazers have the point guard (used with a pick the Nets traded for Gerald Wallace), but not much else after losing four starters in free agency.

Sekou Smith, The Portland Trail Blazers will have to work a miracle not to take a giant step back given who and what they lost this summer. Damian Lillard is one of my favorite players in the game today, but without the core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Lillard together this season, I can see some struggles for coach Terry Stotts and his crew. The Atlanta Hawks are going to be a playoff team and one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but a 60-win team again … I don’t know if they’ll be able to match the majesty of the finest season in franchise history. They had so many things fall into place last season. I just don’t know if they can count on all of those good things lining up the way they did for a second straight season, given all that has happened since they melted down against Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, After dominating the East during the regular season, the Hawks are going to find it difficult to win 60 games again in the absence of DeMarre Carroll – especially with several conference rivals appearing to have improved this summer. Even so, Atlanta is certain to return to the playoffs – the same can’t be said of the Blazers, who have already gone younger since the departure of Aldridge.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog The obvious team to watch in the West is the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez and traded Nic Batum, and now have to figure out a path to rebuilding around Damian Lillard. In the East, how about the Atlanta Hawks? Which is to say, I don’t think they’ll miss the playoffs entirely or anything like that, but last season they had that magical January, had a mostly injury-free regular season, and ended up winning 60 games. This year they’ll have to learn how to get along without DeMarre Carroll, hope they get lucky lucky with health, and have to play most of the season with a target on their backs. A 50-win season would still put them in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and it would also be a significant drop from last year.

Report: Cavs deal Haywood, Miller to Portland

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers have reportedly found a landing place for the $10.5 million, non-guaranteed contract of Brendan Haywood, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. The Cavs won’t be getting a player back in return, however.

The Blazers are able to absorb the contracts of Haywood and Miller, because they have about $25 million of cap space, thanks to the departures of four starters. Haywood’s contract would have become guaranteed on Aug. 1, so the Cavs had to get rid of it (via trade or by waiving him) by then.

The Cavs will get two trade exceptions in the deal, one worth $10.52 million and another worth $2.85 million (Miller’s salary). Miller exercised his player option in June, but won’t be making another run at a championship with his close friend, LeBron James. Even if the Blazers waive Miller (like they’ll do with Haywood), the Cavs can’t re-sign him for a year.

As the Cavs’ roster now stands (with qualifying offers for Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson on the books), the trade takes their 2015-16 luxury tax bill from $58.1 million to just $16.5 million, but with just 10 players under contract.

Re-signing Thompson and Dellavedova to starting salaries greater than their qualifying offers will take that tax bill higher. So will filling out the rest of the roster. There’s still a need for another wing (either J.R. Smith or his replacement), and Sasha Kaun could be added to the frontline.

The trade exceptions are good for a year and could be used to add more talent, either during the season or in free agency next summer. But for every additional dollar of salary they add with a future trade, the Cavs would be paying $3.25 or more in luxury tax.

Blogtable: Thoughts on playoff seeding?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on new playoff seeding? | 2015-16 All-Bench Team | First woman coach or president?

VIDEO: Is the playoff seeding tweak a good thing?

> It looks like playoff teams will be seeded 1-8 next season based on won-loss record alone, with no lift in the seedings for a division title. Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or much ado about nothing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s a good thing, because geography already plays enough of a role in the pursuit of an NBA title in the assignment of East vs. West affiliation. No need to have arbitrary division groupings trump actual W-L records. For those teams to whom a division title still matters, they can hang the banners in their rafters or at their practice facilities and keep dreaming of bigger prizes. But the rest of us don’t have to dwell on what often is a big-fish, small-pond achievement.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s a good thing.  The regular season is all about compiling the best record for playoff seeding and home-court advantage, and simply seeding 1-8 is the most fair, sensible system.  Portland getting the No. 4 seed based on winning a weakened Northwest Division last season warped the Western Conference bracket and resulted in a 55-win defending champion San Antonio team getting bounced in the first round.  In addition, the Rockets were given home-court advantage over the Clippers in the second round based on winning the Southwest title, despite losing the first two tiebreakers.  Ranking 1-8 makes everything clean and rational.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIt’s due. Nobody cares about division standings — seriously, who remembers who won the Atlantic two years ago? — and this way, teams will be properly seeded based on record, as they should. Long time coming.

John Schuhmann, Basically a good thing, with a dash of much ado about nothing. All divisions aren’t created equal and schedules within the conference are even enough that division affiliation shouldn’t play a part in how teams are seeded in the playoffs. At the same time, the outrage over seeding has been a bit overblown. You still have to win 12 games to get to The Finals and the best team in the conference will almost always get there, no matter how the teams are seeded.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt’s a good thing. Division titles? Plenty of folks who love the game are not sure what divisions these teams play in. They know come playoff time the top 8 from each side of the conference divide are making it into the field of teams vying for a championship, and ultimately that’s all that really matters. There was a time and place for the divisional format and its importance. That time has passed. And we all know the next step is taking the top 16 regardless of conference, but that’s a question for another day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt’s the right thing. Divisions play into regional rivalries, but they shouldn’t be subsidized by a higher seeding. The Spurs will tell you that this is important – their championship hopes would have been elevated by this rule last season.

Lang Whitaker,’s All-Ball Blog: I think it’s much ado about nothing. But at the same time it does make me wonder, why do we still have divisions if there’s no incentive to winning your division? So a team that wins their division can have a banner-raising ceremony? And what happens down the road if a division is particularly terrible, so much so that a team wins their division and still doesn’t qualify for the playoffs? I suppose in some ways this reflects the way the world works today, as we are a flatter planet and less local than ever.


Morning Shootaround — July 21

VIDEO: Becky Hammon, Spurs win Summer League championship


The Spurs keep winning | Cavs, Smith meeting this week | Lawson gives Rockets another dimension | Paul Pierce is coming home

No. 1: The Spurs keep winning The San Antonio Spurs have set up a modern-day NBA dynasty, and manage to continually contend the last few decades. This summer has been no different, as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in free agency, and then yesterday their Summer League team, coached by Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, knocked off the Phoenix Suns to win the Las Vegas Summer League. As our John Schuhmann writes, the basketball may not always be great at Summer League, but you always get good stories

First, there was Becky Hammon, the first ever female Summer League head coach, leading her team to a 6-1 record and the title her in Las Vegas. A year ago, she was playing for the San Antonio Stars. And already, she’s got some head coaching experience.

“I’m just trying to progress as a coach,” Hammon said about her 10 days in Las Vegas. “It was eye-opening in a lot of different areas for me, just how much my mind was reeling during timeouts.”

But Hammon clearly wasn’t reserved in her new role. She took charge in the huddles and gave the refs the business when a call didn’t go her way.

“It was just a great learning process for me,” she said. “And the guys had to take my mistakes – and I made plenty – and we just kept hanging together as a group.”

A big part of that group and another great story was Jonathon Simmons, who was voted the championship game MVP after scoring 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Simmons played at two different junior colleges before finishing his college career at the University of Houston. He played a season in the ABL and then made the Spurs’ D-League team through an open tryout two years ago.

After playing three games for the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, the Spurs gave Simmons an NBA contract. He came to Las Vegas and averaged 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Summer Spurs.

“It’s just a blessing,” Simmons told The Starters after the game on Monday. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m still kind of shocked right now. But I’m just ready to get to work.”


No. 2: Cavs, Smith meeting this week After going to the Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith opted out of his contract to test the free agency market. And though plenty of money was flying around during the free agency period, Smith’s name was rarely heard. Now, with most of the free agents off the market, Smith remains available and, as he said to’s Joe Vardon, Smith understands that opting out may mean he’ll make less next season

“That’s always part of the gamble of opting out,” Smith told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Monday at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, where the NBA players’ union held its summer meeting.

Smith has kept a low profile during the NBA’s free agency period, which is a bad thing for a player who opted out of his contract to seek a raise.

He was the Cavs’ starting shooting guard during the regular season after he was acquired via trade in January, but Smith struggled in the Finals – his last and best chance to increase his earning potential.

Asked if he regretted his decision to decline his contract option, Smith said “Uh, I mean, yes and no.

“No because I’ve gotten offers that I wanted, I mean numbers that I wanted, it’s just different situations,” Smith said. “Right now it’s just a matter of seeing what the Cavs come back to me with. Right now they give me the best opportunity to win.”

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It is believed Smith was seeking somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range annually, and he declined to disclose which teams his offers may have come from.

There are only three teams in the NBA that still have the cap space to give him a raise from last year: the Portland Trail Blazers ($16.4 million in cap space); Philadelphia 76ers ($16.3 million); and Indiana Pacers ($11.5 million).

But the Pacers only have the space in theory– a cap snafu with free agent Monta Ellis temporarily voided his free-agent contract. He will sign there and Indiana will be out of cap room.

Smith said he had some “discussions” with the Blazers but they didn’t go anywhere. So if the offers came from organizations outside of Philadelphia, they’re gone.

Smith has always said he wanted to come back to the Cavs, and he reiterated that point on Monday.

“I definitely want to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “The coaches, the team, everything about the situation, it’s perfect for me.”

Asked for the reasons why he does regret his contract decision, he said “just because I would be secure and I would already know I’m where I want to be.

“I wouldn’t have to go through this whole thought process anymore,” he said.


No. 3: Lawson gives Rockets another dimension So much of the Houston Rockets’ offense last season ran through James Harden, and understandably so — Harden is one of the NBA’s best creators. But with their trade for Denver’s Ty Lawson, as Jonathan Feigan writes for the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets feel like Lawson provides a new dimension to their offense that will give Harden the help he needs

They knew they needed more, with everyone from star guard James Harden to general manager Daryl Morey pointing to a need to add another playmaker. So when the Rockets on Monday completed their trade for point guard Ty Lawson, Morey did not immediately point to what Lawson has done or could do for the Rockets; he cited the quest that began when the season ended.

“A lot of what we had hoped to accomplish before next season he’s able to do,” Morey said. “He’s another guy that can attack the basket, can shoot, can make plays for others.”

Days after the season ended, Morey precisely described that need. Even then, he knew the Rockets would chase LaMarcus Aldridge, but would be unlikely to land him. He believed the Rockets would keep the bulk of their own free agents. But he knew even with better health and improvement, the Rockets would likely need help in the backcourt.

“Coach (Kevin McHale) feels and I agree, we could use another playmaker on the perimeter,” Morey said then as if he had skipped to the end of the book. “If it is something we can address, we will. Play off the catch playmaking. There are times people are loading up on James. To have a guy that can play off the catch, attack the basket, finish, make a play, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find.”

The Rockets found that with Lawson, needing to give up only spare parts and a protected first-round pick because Lawson’s trade value shrank so greatly with his second DUI arrest of the past six months. Lawson was in rehab when the deal was completed and when he spoke to McHale on Monday.

Morey said the Rockets believed Lawson’s rehabilitation gave them confidence he will overcome issues and move past incidents he acknowledged are the type that “have a history of potentially recurring.” But he described the risk of obtaining Lawson as part of all deal-making. There was no doubt about the void that needed to be filled.

“As we saw, especially when we played tougher teams last year, we struggled against teams that would really load up on James Harden. We feel that will be a lot more difficult for teams to do now.”

“People always used to … say our point guard position was terrible, the worst, whatever. I always pointed out that Pat Beverley was a really good player. He’s just maybe suffering compared to all these perennial All Stars we go against in the West. Obviously, we’re still going to be going against those very difficult All Stars, but Ty Lawson is somebody who gives you a top 10 point guard in the league, somebody who can really help us.”

While Beverley can be the 3-and-D point guard that meshes well with Harden, Lawson is a second ball handler and playmaker needed when teams try to wrap their defense around Harden. With the second unit, he not only can be a needed playmaker, Lawson’s strengths – running an up-tempo offense and playmaking in pick-and-roll – fit well with Corey Brewer on the break and Clint Capela on pick-and-rolls.

“Coach McHale and Ty spoke for quite a while again today,” Morey said. “Coach McHale left that conversation feeling very good. Ty does not come in expecting anything. He just wanted to join a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a bunch of other guys he knows on the team like Trevor Ariza. I do think it does work either with him as a starter or off the bench.

“When James is off the floor, I do think Ty is going to add a lot and when James is on the floor it’s going to be much more difficult to double team James off pick-and-rolls when you have a secondary playmaker like Ty on the floor.”


No. 4: Paul Pierce is heading home It took him nearly two decades, but after 17 seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce has returned home. After years with the Celtics, Nets and Wizards, the Inglewood, California native signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and, as Gary Washburn writes in the Boston Globe, Pierce is already playing a big part with the Clippers…

“It’s been pretty wild,” Pierce said of convincing Jordan to pass up a max contract offer with the Dallas Mavericks and return to Los Angeles. “I think that whole saga took a form and shade of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be.

“I made my decision to be a Clipper. DeAndre [Jordan] changed his mind to be a Clipper.”

After verbally committing to the Mavericks, Jordan had second thoughts and began contacting Clippers players. A contingent of players, led by Pierce, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, headed to Houston to speak to Jordan.

“I wasn’t there last year with that team, so I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought but I was on the outside looking in,” Pierce said. “I think guys cleared the air if there was any tension, but I think a lot of the media made it more than it was.”

After spending 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce played one season in Brooklyn after a trade, and then signed last summer with Washington. Despite an impressive playoff performance and raves from teammates, Pierce opted out of his Wizards deal this spring and signed a three-year deal with the Clippers.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to come home, finally,” Pierce said. “I grew up a Laker fan but playing on all the Boston Celtic teams . . . there’s no way I could go there — so this was the next best choice. And it’s always been a dream to play in front of my family and friends.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson‘s new contract will be a bargain a few years down the road … Quincy Acy says he’s returning to the Sacramento KingsDamian Lillard released his second song of the summer …

Morning shootaround — July 15

VIDEO: The Starters break down the playoff seeding tweaks


Silver speaks on several topics | USA Basketball casts wider net | Paul George the power forward? | Is Porzingas perfect for NYC?

No. 1: Silver speaks on several topics Last night in Las Vegas at Summer League, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference to discuss topics discussed at the Board of Governors meeting. This served as de facto state of the league address, as Silver discussed topics ranging from playoff seeding to future labor relations to intentional fouling rules. As our Steve Aschburner writes, perhaps the most immediate topic addressed was next season’s playoff seedings, where winning a division from now on may carry a little less weight

Winning an NBA division might get a lot less satisfying next season.

It’s not the most prestigious accomplishment as it is, once the postseason revs up and conference championships feeding The Finals render forgettable those modest crowns of the Atlantic, the Central, the Southwest and so on.

But if a recommendation out of the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas gets enacted as soon as this autumn, division titles would lose more than cachet. They wouldn’t carry the guarantee of a Top 4 berth in the Eastern or Western conference playoffs.

Instead, the qualifying teams in the East and West would be seeded 1 through 8 according to regular-season records. That is the likely outcome, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments after the annual summer meeting of the league’s owners.

“It wasn’t voted on yet,” Silver said, “because we wanted all the owners to have an opportunity to go back and discuss that recommendation with their general managers and their coaches, and we’ll vote on it before the beginning of the season. It’s my expectation that that change will be adopted.”

Under the current system, the three division winners in each conference are assured of a Top 4 spot in the seedings, regardless of record. Last season, for example, that put Portland at No. 4 even though the Trailblazers’ 51-31 record ranked sixth-best in the West.

The Blazers didn’t get homecourt advantage in the first round — that went to No. 5 seed Memphis, with the Grizzlies beating Portland in five games. But the format didn’t seem to reward Memphis’ 55-27 performance, it dropped San Antonio to No. 6 despite an identical 55-27 record and it might not even have served the Blazers or their fans.

In winning its first division title in 16 years, Portland clinched the Northwest with two weeks left in the regular season thanks partly to the absence of other threats. Oklahoma City was the only other team in the division to top .500 and the Thunder were hampered by injuries in missing the postseason for the first time in six years.

Silver didn’t offer any specifics beyond the general goal of 1-through-8 seeding. There apparently still is enough sentiment among the owners that the divisions be retained — an Atlantic banner hanging in the rafters or at a practice facility might not mean much to Boston or New York, but it still might matter in Toronto, for instance.


No. 2: USA Basketball casts wider net The next Olympics are still a year away, but USA Basketball is already looking at some of the NBA’s brightest younger players in looking to assemble the 2016 Olympic team. As ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, expect to see some new faces at Team USA’s mini-camp in August

Sources told that USAB has extended invitations to Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Memphis’ Mike Conley, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Orlando’s Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo and Utah’s Trey Burke to its Aug. 11-13 camp on the campus of UNLV.

USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo, meanwhile, tells that next month’s camp will actually serve as more of a “reunion” for various players who have worked under Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski in the past two Olympic tournaments and the past two world championship-level events. As opposed to the full-scale practices and the intrasquad scrimmage that Team USA would typically hold in preparation for a major competition, Colangelo said Tuesday that next month’s gathering will instead feature two days of noncontact workouts and “an all-star game of sorts” on Aug. 13 that will feature the various marquee players in attendance who are healthy enough to play.

Yet Colangelo stressed that USA Basketball is making attendance at the three-day event mandatory for invited players if they are interested in securing a spot on the Yanks’ 12-man roster for next summer’s Olympics in Brazil, even if the player is rehabilitating from an injury or otherwise not yet cleared to join in on-court activities.

USAB already knows that Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Indiana’s Paul George and the Cleveland Cavaliers duo of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will not be ready to take part in basketball activities at the camp, because they are recovering from their various serious injuries from the past year. But Colangelo’s view is that “it’s important for everyone to be here as a sign of commitment for ’16.”

VIDEO: Managing Director Jerry Colangelo talks USA basketball


No. 3: Paul George the power forward? After seeing the Golden State Warriors rely on a small lineup in their run through the NBA Finals, NBA teams around the league are considering their own smaller lineups. The Indiana Pacers expect a healthy return from Paul George, who has already publicly registered his disinterest in playing major minutes at power forward. But as Pacers president Larry Bird said at a press conference yesterday, George doesn’t make those decisions for the Pacers …

Larry Bird’s sales pitch was good enough to get two free agents to sign with the Pacers.

He’s still trying to convince Paul George that playing power forward will be a good move, too.

After announcing the signings of three players Tuesday, Indiana’s president of basketball operations made his most extensive and direct comments yet about playing the 6-foot-9, 220-pound swingman at a new spot.

“I’m not going to get into a battle about where Paul George will play,” Bird said. “He’s a basketball player and we can put him anywhere out there.”

Bird believes George will be freed to do more offensively and be healthier if he’s not chasing players around the court.

But the debate has raged all summer.

While critics contend the two-time All-Star could get overwhelmed by bigger, stronger opponents inside, Bird believes the two-time all-NBA defensive player will hold up just fine and will actually be a more productive player.

The flurry of offseason moves has left no doubt that George will get some time as a stretch four. The question is how much time?

Before heading to Florida to watch the Pacers’ summer league team play, coach Frank Vogel told reporters he had not determined how much time George would log at power forward. On Saturday at a local basketball camp, George said that while he’s willing to play anywhere, he didn’t anticipate playing 30 minutes per game at that spot.

Bird made one thing clear Tuesday.

“He don’t make the decisions around here. But I did it, and I loved it after I did it,” Bird said, drawing laughter.


No. 4: Is Porzingas perfect for NYC? When the Knicks selected Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingas fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, boos rained down from the crowd in Brooklyn, mostly from Knicks fans unfamiliar with his name and his game. But in just a few Las Vegas Summer League appearances, as’s Shaun Powell writes, Porzingas is showing he may be a perfect fit for New York City

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall thinks he should be making more money than Reggie Jackson … The Lakers are making moves to strengthen their analytics department … The Thunder traded Perry Jones III to Boston … Catching up with former Knicks lottery pick Frederic Weis

Morning shootaround — July 14

VIDEO: What to make of the DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl situation


Karl, Cousins meet | Blatt reflects on year one | Nets begin youth movement | Change in playoff seeding?

No. 1: Karl, Cousins meet One of the running subplots all summer has involved the Sacramento Kings, who continue to try and rebuild their roster. Coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins have publicly disagreed this summer, but yesterday at the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League, the two finally were face-to-face. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Karl says they can make the relationship work

“I just said hello to him this afternoon,” Karl told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think it’s something we have to rush through. You got two guys that are very frustrated with losing, two guys that are somewhat stubborn and two guys that love to compete.

“Sometimes, that doesn’t work the first time you hang around. But you have to take your time to make it work. I’m very confident to make it work.”

Karl was given a four-year, $14 million deal to coach the Kings on Feb. 8. Days later, Cousins made his first NBA All-Star appearance. Karl had an 11-19 record coaching the Kings last season.

The rift between Cousins and Karl grew after Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported before the NBA draft that Karl wanted Cousins traded. Cousins responded by tweeting out an emoji of a snake in the grass. A day later, Karl said Cousins was the Kings’ best player but the franchise needed him to be “committed and dedicated to being in Sacramento.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was so upset with Karl that he seriously considering firing him, a league source said. Cousins wanted to be traded before the draft, a source told Yahoo Sports, but no deal was consummated.

“Cousins felt like if Karl wanted [him] to be traded then he wanted to be traded, too,” a source close to the situation said.

Cousins declined comment when asked about Karl by Yahoo Sports on Sunday and simply said he was “straight” [good]. New Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports that he expects Karl to be the coach when next season begins.

When asked what he needed to do to reconnect with Cousins, Karl told Yahoo Sports: “Communicate. Get everything honest. Come to whatever you want to say, an agreement on what he wants from me and what I want from him. Just be professional about our jobs and communicate.”

Divac said he would play a strong role in helping Cousins and Karl get on the same page before next season.

“It’s going in a good direction,” Divac said. “I have a goal for the two to be in a great place. And they will be.”


No. 2: Blatt reflects on year one Last season was Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt‘s first season as an NBA head coach. He’d spent decades as a coach in Europe, but as Blatt explained yesterday in Las Vegas, coming to the NBA was a completely different experience, writes Tim Reynolds for The Associated Press

Blatt – a wildly successful coach in Europe before getting his long-awaited chance to lead an NBA team for the first time last season – was a panelist on Monday at a scouting school in Las Vegas, part of a group that was discussing some of the ways coaches prepare for games at various levels. And he detailed several differences between the European game and the NBA one.

“When I came to the NBA I was under the impression that this was going to be a breeze,” Blatt said. “I’ve been coaching for 23 years at the highest level in Europe. I coached in the national-team environment, coached professional teams, coached Euroleague teams and I thought I thought I knew basketball and I thought I knew how to coach. Which, in my mind, I did.

“But I realized that when I came over here it was a very, very different game with a whole new set of problems and a whole slew of things to deal with inside and outside of the game.”

He figured out some of it, apparently, on the fly. The Cavaliers struggled for the first half of the season, then wound up rolling to the Eastern Conference title behind LeBron James. They fell in the NBA Finals to Golden State, a loss that came with point guard Kyrie Irving out for most of the series and forward Kevin Love out for all of it because of injuries.

“We were playing every game with a different team,” Blatt said. “We started off with one team, then we lost one guy so we had to change a little bit of the way we played. Played a few more games and another guy went down, played with a different team, that guy came back, then all of sudden we were playing with half of our old team and it just kind of went like that as we went along.

“I’m really (angry) we didn’t play the final series with all of our players,” he added.


No. 3: Nets begin youth movement The Brooklyn Nets attempted to start in Brooklyn with a splash, assembling a high-priced team and promising to win a title. Three seasons later, after that big money dream didn’t come to fruition, the Nets are now going in a different direction, shedding contracts and going after young and athletic players. As Alex Raskin writes in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets’ new path is a youth movement

They still have Brook Lopez, who last week re-signed for three years and $60 million to remain the Nets’ longest-tenured player. But now general manager Billy King is pivoting away from the model that had the team spending an NBA record $90.57 million in luxury taxes in 2013-14 as it lost a reported $144 million.

Because of last week’s buyout of point guard Deron Williams, the Nets saved more than $40 million in wages and luxury taxes and are now under the luxury-tax threshold for the first time since moving from New Jersey. And instead of losses, the Nets’ profit margin might finally resemble their black uniforms.

According to several sources within the Nets’ various ownership groups, there is real hope that the team will turn a profit for the first time in over a decade.

Being profitable wasn’t necessarily the goal of the Nets’ new strategy. Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov can afford to pay the losses. What he and the team can’t afford is another disaster like the 2013 trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over from Boston while denying the Nets control of their first-round pick until 2019.

Pierce wasn’t re-signed last summer and King officially began picking up the pieces at the Feb. 19 trade deadline when he dealt Garnett to Minnesota for power forward Thaddeus Young.

Now, after re-signing both Lopez and Young—Young’s deal is for four years and $50 million— for the foreseeable future, the Nets are on a completely different path.

“We needed to come to Brooklyn with a team that, I thought, could win a championship,” King said. Thursday when the Nets announced the deals. “Now we’re in the mindset of: we don’t have a lot of [draft] picks so we’re trying to find a lot of diamonds in the rough and guys that can bridge the gap for us, so to speak, with the youth movement.”


No. 4: Change in playoff seeding? Each conference in the NBA has three divisions. Win your division, and you’re guaranteed a top-four seed in the NBA playoffs. Except, maybe not anymore? According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, at yesterday’s meeting of the NBA’s Competition Committee, first steps were taken that could potentially change the NBA’s playoff seeding rules

The NBA’s competition committee closely examined the league’s playoff seeding procedures on Monday, potentially paving the way for a change to the rule that currently gives a top-four seed to a division winner regardless of record, league sources told

The Board of Governors, which meets Tuesday, will be updated on the discussion, though it’s possible that a specific change won’t be recommended to the Board for a vote until October, a person familiar with the discussions said.

As part of the discussion about whether a division winner should automatically qualify for a top-four seed, the committee also examined whether a division winner should get a tiebreak over a non-division winner with a better record. No consensus was reached on the issue, sources said.

This season, Portland received the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by winning the Northwest Division with 51 victories. The Blazers were seeded higher than the Grizzlies (No. 5) and Spurs (No. 6), who each won 55 games.

Commissioner Adam Silver, who was present for the meeting, said during his pre-Finals address that giving a seeding advantage to division winners was a rule that could be changed “fairly quickly.”

“We are very focused on the divisional seeding process, and I think we are going to take a very close look at whether we should seed at least 1 through 8 by conference as opposed to giving the division winner that higher seed,” Silver said. “That is a vestige of a division system that may not make sense anymore.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Seth Curry is using Summer League to make his own nameLarry Nance Jr. has quickly emerged as a fan favorite in Las Vegas … Patty Mills will miss the Australian National Team’s upcoming tour …

Morning Shootaround — July 13

VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”


No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.



No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:


The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.


No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”


No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Thunder match Kanter offer sheet, face heavy tax bill

VIDEO: Video: Darnell Mayberry on Portland’s offer to Enes Kanter

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder are willing to pay a lot of money to keep Enes Kanter.

In a deal first reported by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder have informed the Portland Trail Blazers that they are matching the four-year, $70 million offer sheet that Kanter signed on Thursday.

As their roster currently stands, Kanter will cost the Thunder $16.4 million in salary plus more than $24 million in luxury tax for the 2015-16 season. Without him, they’re under the tax line. With him, they’re $13 million over it.

They could lessen the tax bill by unloading one or more players to one or more teams who are under the salary cap (or have a big enough trade exception). If they managed to trade D.J. Augustin, Perry Jones III and Steve Novak, without taking any salary back, their tax bill would be down to about $6.7 million. A team’s luxury tax bill is determined by their payroll at the end of the season, so those moves wouldn’t have to be made immediately.

Still, $16.4 million in salary plus anything in luxury tax is a hefty price to pay for a guy who is a disaster on one end of the floor. Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in 26 games with the Thunder last season, but was awful defensively. He’s only 23 years old, but has never been able to keep ball-handlers in front of him when defending pick-and-rolls.

After he arrived, the Thunder allowed 110.4 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would have ranked last in the league) with Kanter on the floor and 103.3 (a rate which would have ranked 16th) with him on the bench. Even in Kanter’s 238 minutes on the floor with Serge Ibaka (before Ibaka was lost to a knee injury), OKC allowed 109.2 points per 100 possessions

And with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook doing the heavy lifting on offense, it’s fair to wonder if Kanter is worth anything near a max contract. But Durant’s pending free agency could certainly be a factor. Not matching the Kanter offer sheet could have been seen as the Thunder being unwilling to pay the price for competing in the Western Conference.

On the other hand, matching could be seen as spending their money in the wrong place.

Trail Blazers make play for Kanter

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Restricted free agency has been pretty darn restricted over the last few years.

This summer, 12 restricted free agents (including Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard) have already re-signed (or agreed to re-sign) with their current teams. Only one – Kyle O’Quinn, via sign-and-trade deal from Orlando to New York – has changed teams. And no restricted free agents had signed (or agreed to sign) an offer sheet … until Thursday.

With the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews, the Blazers have more than enough cap space to offer Kanter a maximum contract, which would start at $16.4 million. Portland already has four true bigs – Ed Davis, Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee – on the roster. Newly signed Al-Farouq Aminu is also, at his best, a power forward. But at 23 years old, Kanter would give them another building block as they transition from two straight 50-win seasons.

The Thunder will have three days to do match the offer sheet once they receive it. Doing so would cost them more than his salary.

If they choose not to match, the Thunder would have 14 players under contract and be about $2.5 million under the luxury tax line. If they did match the offer sheet, they’d be looking at more than $26 million in luxury taxes, in addition to the extra $16.4 million of salary.

OKC could try to unload the contracts of D.J. Augustin ($3.0 million next season), Perry Jones ($2.0 million) and Steve Novak ($3.8 million) to lower their tax bill on a team or teams that still have cap space. The departure of Augustin would put some pressure on 14th pick Cameron Payne to step in right away as the backup point guard, but the other two wouldn’t necessarily be missed.

Of course, the Thunder have the depth up front – with Jones, Mitch McGary and Nick Collison behind Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams – to deal with the departure of Kanter.

The Thunder got Kanter in a deadline trade in which they gave up Reggie Jackson and a protected first round pick. Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in 26 games (all starts) after he arrived, but is a disaster defensively; The Thunder allowed 110.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He played only nine games with Ibaka before Ibaka was lost to a knee injury.