Which teams are most impacted by LeBron James not touring for free agency?

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We told you earlier that LeBron would not be going on a worldwide tour of his free agent destinations as had been previously reported. But the question now is, which teams are most impacted by that decision? Let’s take a look at the candidates and rank the impact this has on their chances on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “no change” and 5 being “dramatically impacts.” 

New Jersey Nets: Like we filled you in earlier, the Nets will get first swing, and they’re bringing Jay-Z as their big bat. James decision not to tour the free agent cities helps the Nets quite a bit, evening the field. Why? Because they’re not in Brooklyn for another two years. James knows all the free agency spots, having visited then already. But trying to pitch him on the draws of Newark versus the other locations for two very long years was going to be a hard sell (no offense, Newark). Now the Nets can bring in their basketball impact, with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, and the financial benefits of being involved with Jay-Z and Prokhorov. Two years from now this would have hurt the Nets. But meeting James in Akron may be a blessing in disguise in the Nets’ now slim-hopes of landing the King. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 3 (Positive)
Los Angeles Clippers: James hosting the Clippers in Los Angeles is a mixed bag for the still-headless club.  On the one hand, bringing James to the LA hot spots and showing him the gorgeous weather would have been a nice boost for them, the best part of their pitch, really. The team’s not very good, on top of being perennially snake bitten, so pitching James hard on the glamorous life in LA would have been ideal. On the other hand, not bringing him to LA means he won’t see how deeply that city is invested in Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and how James will always be viewed as a sideshow to the other LA city. Plus, there’s always the chance of James being heckled in public by devoted Kobe zealots who can’t seem to get over comparisons of the two, despite them playing completely different positions with different skill-sets and games.The overall impact is negated by these conflicting factors. Let’s face it, the Clippers have no shot. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 2 (Neutral)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Home court advantage. With James not going to see the bright lights of the bigger cities, it means more time for him to be home, with everyone wanting him not to abandon them. The Cavs walk out of this arrangement in even better position to re-sign him. If you’re anything like me, whenever I visit a place, I’m constantly saying “I could definitely live here” whenever I’m having a good time (I said that precise thing about Omaha, Nebraska last night. I could not live in Omaha, Nebraska). With James not leaving town, it means that the other cities’ advantages in non-basketball matters will be negated. This is a huge asset for the Cavs, who will be relying on the fact that James has won 60 games with the clubs in the past two seasons, and home, after all, is where the heart is. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Positive)
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls could show him the great dining and awesome Chicago way of life if James were to visit, sure. But unlike Miami or Los Angeles, they don’t have great weather. Unlike New York, Chicago isn’t the center of the cultural universe (though it’s definitely close in orbit). So what does this mean for Chicago? Simple. They can walk into the meeting and say “If you want your best chance over the next ten years to win a championship, you’ll choose Chicago. Thanks for your time.” and walk out. Okay, they won’t actually do that. But they could. With Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose as the core assets, the Bulls can focus on basketball with James, and that is a huge leg up for them. Chicago itself has a global reputation that precedes it. The Bulls can use that as an advance and then focus on the team and it’s two-max-free-agent cap space. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Positive)
New York Knicks: Well, they’re screwed.  The Knicks had a luxurious feast being prepared by a top-name chef. Everything was in place to show James why he should choose the greatest city in the world. And now? Trying to sell the Knicks without New York is like trying to pitch a father of two on going to Disneyland from the bar. It just sounds like a lot of hassle compared to where you’re at. The Knicks feature a series of swapped picks over the next few years, and their next best player is a young Italian sharpshooter named “The Rooster.” Mike D’Antoni may have to resort to offers like “I’ll make sure you break Wilt’s scoring record” or “We can get you a sextuple double.” This is a pretty big disaster for Knicks fans. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Negative)
Miami Heat: It has not been a great week for the Heat. First, the Chicago Bulls managed to dump off Kirk Hinrich’s contract, meaning they can now offer nearly two-max free agents, the same as the Heat. Then this news, which devastates the Heat’s chances. Let’s face it, the Heat are clinging to two things. 1. If James comes to Miami, Dwyane Wade will re-sign. And that’s still a very good pitch. And 2. the weather. That’s it. The team is in complete ruins, having dumped off everyone to make room for free agents, except there’s no guarantee of there being anything to surround the two big fish. Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley are literally the remaining core. And when you shape that up against the other teams vying for James? Only the Knicks are in worst shape. When the Clippers can show they have a roster closer to a championship than you do? You need the weather. And oh, was the weather a big deal. Throw in the friendly tax laws, which James will be reading on some sort of PowerPoint presentation instead of seeing in action, and the Heat are still one of the top bidders, but this is not good news for them. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Negative)

Report: LeBron James wins overall All-Star fan vote

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For the first time in a dozen years, a player has won the All-Star fan vote for consecutive years.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett have all taken turns as leader since Yao Ming claimed the vote lead in 2005 and 2006. Apparently, LeBron will retain the top spot he held last year.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The fan vote means less than ever, with media and players also playing a role in who starts the All-Star game and a draft assigning players to teams. But the leading fan-vote-getter in each conference still matters, as those will be the captains for the draft.

LeBron will be one. Warriors Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were neck-and-neck for the other captaincy.

Last I heard, the NBA was leaning toward giving the top overall fan-vote-getter the first pick in the All-Star draft, but that hadn’t been formally decided. So, it’ll probably be on LeBron to select his top choice among the other eight starters, who will be announced tonight. (All starters must be drafted first, so each team still has five starters.)

One more time: Let LeBron make that pick on television. He doesn’t mind.

Austin Rivers: Maybe I got a chance because Doc is my dad, but I know my swagger keeps me from succumbing to negativity

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Austin Rivers was the No. 10 pick out of Duke in 2012, and he struggled mightily his first few years in the NBA. His gaffes are so jolting, his teammates mock them. Yet, Rivers still carries himself as if he’s a star.

Chris Paul reportedly despised Doc Rivers over the Clippers coach’s favoritism toward his son. Former Clipper Glen Davis said Austin got paid because of his dad. Jamal Crawford reportedly chafed at the Clippers’ initial offer to him a couple years ago because it was lower than Austin’s.

These are issues Austin has been hearing about and handling for years.

Monday’s Clippers-Rockets game – Paul’s return to L.A. – was a breaking point, though.

An injured Austin stood on the sidelines talking trashing during the game, sparking a confrontation that got Trevor Ariza and Blake Griffin ejected. After the game, Austin reportedly continued jawing with Ariza as the Houston forward charged toward the Clippers’ locker room (drawing a two-game suspension).

Again in the crosshairs, Austin is opening up.

Rivers, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“People can say whatever they want about me and my father [LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers],” the guard told ESPN during a lengthy interview Wednesday night. “I get it. I can even put my ego aside and understand why people don’t like the situation. When I was growing up and I’d see the coach’s son, you’d be like, ‘He sucks. He’s only on the team because of his dad.’ So I get it.”

“People are like, ‘Well, his dad gave him his chance.’ Is that true or not? I don’t know. It might be,” Rivers said. “[But] could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?

“I know what the narrative is on me,” Rivers said. “It’s because I come from money and I have a swagger and confidence about me.

“[But] if I didn’t have this confidence or swagger in myself, I wouldn’t be built to handle the negativity that I’ve gotten. I would’ve already broken down years ago because I’ve gotten this since high school. I’ve turned it into a fuel and it’s helped me. I go into each away arena and it’s rough, because of the s— I hear. This chip on my shoulder, this swagger and confidence, it helps me. If I didn’t have it, I would not be in the NBA.”

“I’m not saying poor me. There’s people that have real problems,” Rivers said. “So don’t feel bad for me. I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. I’m having my best year yet. I’m trying to get back and healthy so I can help our team.

This is more relatable than Austin has ever sounded, and I applaud him for sharing a more authentic point of view rather than maintaining the facade of an aloof superstar. He deserves better treatment from the public than he has gotten, though he’s responsible for the much-maligned persona he has displayed.

Austin hasn’t received nearly enough credit for how much he has improved. Part of that is due to just how bad he was when he entered the NBA, but he has gotten steadily better. That shows how hard he works.

Some of the criticism of Austin and Doc is fair. Some is not. They probably should have better-anticipated what Doc trading for then re-signing Austin would be perceived, inside and outside the Clippers. But it’s too late to undo those deals, so they’re trying to manage the situation the best they can.

Austin’s interview here is a good step.

Reunited with Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza embracing role as Rockets’ glue guy

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Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza went out for dinner together Dec. 8, 2011. They were back in Paul’s condo when the star point guard was thrown headfirst into one of the NBA’s biggest controversies.

New Orleans agreed to trade Paul to the Lakers, but the league – which was operating the New Orleans franchise while it was for sale – vetoed the deal.

“It was crazy,” Paul said.

Paul and Ariza, then New Orleans teammates, have reunited with the Rockets. This time, Ariza might have more than a front-row seat to Paul’s saga. Ariza could be a central character in the story.

Of course, Paul came to Houston to escape the Clippers, team up with James Harden and try to win a championship. But Paul also said his friendship with Ariza “had a whole lot to do with it.”

Three Rockets starters – Paul, Ariza and Clint Capela – will be free agents next summer. Paul is the obvious priority, and general manager Daryl Morey said Clint Capela, who will be restricted, “couldn’t price himself out” of Houston.

The Rockets already have nearly $76 million in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). New owner Tilman Fertitta has expressed limitations on paying the luxury tax.

So, where does that leave Ariza? And perhaps more importantly, how would whether or not Houston re-signs Ariza affect Paul?

“Trev, like I said, is a good friend of mine. We talk about any and everything,” Paul said. “But, when that decision comes, I’m sure we both will make the best decision that’s best for my family and best for his family.”

If the Rockets discard Ariza to to sign another of Paul’s friends, LeBron James, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Really, worldly veterans like Paul and Ariza would likely understand if Houston lets Ariza walk even without replacing him with LeBron.

But how much risk do the Rockets want to take? Would they chance losing their big acquisition after only one season? Remember, they were reportedly reluctant to deal Ariza in a package for a third star last summer because of his Paul connection.

That bond is already showing this season.

When Paul’s new teammates questioned Ariza after the trade about Paul’s’ personality, Ariza assured them Paul, though extremely competitive, is a “real nice dude.” Houston is outscoring opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when Paul and Ariza share the court. And in Paul’s highly charged return to L.A., no Rocket answered the emotion of the night more than Ariza, who got ejected then reportedly led a post-game charge into the Clippers locker room, drawing a two-game suspension.

His point guard might be (re)new(ed), but Ariza still has the same overall job description – steady, unheralded contributor.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time,” Ariza said.

His production is in line with Ryan Anderson’s and Eric Gordon’s. But Anderson’s salary nearly triples Ariza’s, and Gordon – who also earns more money – gets the plaudits of being reigning Sixth Man of the Year because he comes off the bench.

Ariza’s modest windfall: comfort. In his fourth straight year with the Rockets, this stint in Houston has been his longest anywhere.

A second-round pick in 2004, Ariza shuffled between the Knicks, Magic and Lakers. He excelled in the 2009 playoffs, helping the Lakers win the title in a contract year. But the Lakers let him walk to sign Ron Artest (who later changed his name to Metta World Peace) – a particular disappointment for Ariza, who grew up in Los Angeles. So, Ariza agreed to terms with the Rockets for nearly $34 million over five years. But in his only season with an above-average usage, Ariza underwhelmed, and Houston traded him to New Orleans, where he teamed with Paul. In cost-cutting mode after Paul, New Orleans sent Ariza to the Wizards. He parlayed a career year in Washington into a four-year, $32 million contract with the Rockets in 2014.

Along the way, Ariza developed a 3-point shot that wasn’t at all on his résumé his first few seasons. He picked up tricks of the trade defensively. And he displayed professionalism and a strong work ethic.

He isn’t an elite outside shooter, but he shoots well enough to provide clearly efficient scoring and floor-spacing. He isn’t an elite defender, but he can credibly guard all five positions. Important and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of his game, he maintains his two-way effectiveness over long stretches.

Only Ariza, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Jrue Holiday and Ben Simmons rate as above average both offensively and defensively by ESPN’s real plus-minus while playing 35 minutes per game.

The 32-year-old Ariza is easily the oldest of that group. He keeps in excellent shape, playing 36.2 minutes per game, an age-playing time combination matched by only LeBron James, whose workload has been deeply dissected.

While Luc Mbah a Moute was injured and before Houston signed Gerald Green, Ariza played more than 41 minutes in six straight games last month.

“I’m real aware that we’re playing him too many minutes,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But he says, ‘Coach, I’m fine. It doesn’t bother me.’ During the game, he’s never winded.'”

Ariza’s steadiness is historic considering how he entered the league. Since the NBA instituted a two-round draft in 1989, he ranks eighth among second-rounders in career games:

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Ariza says he has always focused competing against the man in front of him, not caring about where he was drafted or contract status.

That approach has taken Ariza a long way in his 14-year career. He has earned a healthy living playing basketball and respect from teammates and coaches – but not job security.

He’s key to the Rockets’ present and future, but with his contract expiring, that can mean a number of outcomes.

“It’s there. You know it’s there,” Ariza said. “But you that’s not what I put all my focus into.

“I’m just going to go out and play my game and do my job, and whatever happens happens.”

Bulls’ Kris Dunn breaks teeth on dunk landing (video)

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Kris Dunn struggled in the first three quarters of the Bulls’ 119-112 loss to the Warriors last night. Then, he and Chicago played better in the fourth quarter.

Yet, that was the worst period for Dunn – because this happened.

Bulls:

Ouch.