ProBasketballTalk's free agent roundup: Let the party begin

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Free agency is underway — although it has unofficially been underway for weeks through back channels. Everyone has been talking to everyone. So, consider midnight the end of the NBA’s “we’re looking the other way at all the tampering” season.

And the start of the real free agent craziness.

Below is a roundup of where things stand right before all sane people go to bed.

* LeBron James is in an undisclosed location in Akron (as if everyone in Akron doesn’t actually know where he is). Dwyane Wade is in Chicago. Chris Bosh is in Chicago, too. Coincidence?  All three are ready to receive visitors, starting at midnight. Or Thursday morning in LeBron’s case. No real news here, just thought you’d want to know where they are camping out.

* Wade did get a call just after midnight from Pat Riley asking him to
remain with the Heat. Which he is likely to do anyway. So maybe they
also talked about recruiting. Or the oil spill in the Gulf. Or how Drake is overrated. Who knows?

* The Hawks wasted no time in offering Joe Johnson a six-year, $124.5 million max deal. Pretty soon he’ll take it, he wanted to stay home and would have done so for less. The Knicks had a 2:45 hour meeting with Johnson and offered him the max, but they can only offer five years and about $27 million less. And rumor is he only would consider New York if LeBron went, Johnson doesn’t want to be the No. 1 guy anywhere (more comfortable in the 1a or 2 role), particularly in New York.

The Hawks wanted a deal that would handcuff the franchise in three or four years. Apparently.

* The Knicks also are expected to meet tonight with Mike Miller while in Los Angeles.

* The Cavaliers are meeting with seemingly everyone and anyone: Brendan Haywood, Ray Allen, John Salmons and Mike Miller.

* Dirk Nowitzki may be a free agent but he flew all the way from Germany to meet face-to-face tonight with the Mavericks to hammer out a longer term deal. He is going nowhere but Dallas.

* Rudy Gay officially got a qualifying offer, so the Grizzlies can match any deal he is given. Line the one Minnesota is rumored to be offering not long after midnight tonight.

* Boston is expected to sit down with Paul Pierce, who opted out of his $21.5 million owed next year, and figure out a new deal. With Doc Rivers coming back for one more run, you can bet the two sides find a way to bring Pierce — the talisman for the Celtics — back.

* Maybe the biggest surprise of the day was Memphis not extending a qualifying offer to Ronnie Brewer — a young (25) player on the rise and a hard-nosed defender that the Grizzlies gave up a first round draft pick before. They let him walk for nothing. It saves $3.8 million but they get no players in return for him. Penny wise and pound foolish.

* Also, San Antonio’s Richard Jefferson entered the free agent market. Shockingly. He opted out of a $15.2 million deal for next season, under the theory that he could recoup that money with more money over the next four years or so. It makes sense if somebody gave him $10 million a year for four years. But he is more likely to get three years at $6 million. And then he doesn’t look as smart.

Of course, Baron Davis did the same thing a few years back and got a huge contract from the Clippers. (Which they now regret.) Time will tell, sometimes general managers do the craziest things, but it looks like Jefferson cost himself a lot of money.

Dirk Nowitzki on Mavericks sexual harassment allegations: “It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking.”

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Dirk Nowitzki is the face of the Dallas Mavericks franchise, the best player in Dallas history, the future Hall of Famer who led them to a title.

Nowitzki was not named in the bombshell story detailing sexual harassment in the Mavericks’ workplace, nor were any of the players, coaching staff, or basketball operations people. It was all on the business side of the house. That doesn’t mean Nowitzki wasn’t going to be asked about it, as was done by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

“It’s tough,” Nowitzki said after the team practiced at USC in advance of a Friday game against the Lakers. “It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. I’m glad it’s all coming out. I was disgusted when I read the article, obviously, as everybody was. I was shocked about some of the stuff.”

“So really, really disappointed that our franchise, that my franchise, that stuff like that was going on,” Nowitzki said. “It’s very sad and disappointing. But I think [Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban] is trying to step up and lead this franchise to the right direction, and that is hiring investigators, finding out all the little details that we have to know as a franchise what really was going on. I think Mark is going to step up here …

“As a franchise, obviously, we feel bad for the victims and for what happened to some of these ladies. Like I said, it’s truly, truly disgusting. Our thoughts and prayers are definitely with some of these victims.”

That’s exactly what Nowitzki (and the other players) should say. We are all disgusted having read what was going on, and clearly since the misconduct started with a former CEO it sets a tone for the organization that this is acceptable. It is not.

There would be no reason that Nowitzki and other players would have or should have had any idea what was going on over on the business side of the Mavericks organization. Mark Cuban on the other hand… there are still questions to answer, even if he is saying and doing the right things now.

LeBron James on 1-16 playoff seeding: ‘Let’s not get too crazy’

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The NBA’s first newly formatted All-Star game went well (especially for LeBron James). It’ll probably go even better next year when the All-Star draft is televised.

Adam Silver also discussed breaking from another tradition – playoffs divided by conference. The NBA commissioner said 1-16 seeding has gotten “serious attention” from the league office.

LeBron, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“I would disagree with that,” James said Wednesday afternoon following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first practice since the break. “I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the postseason.”

“It’s cool to mess around with the All-Star Game, we proved you can do that, but let’s not get too crazy about the playoffs. You have Eastern Conference and you have Western Conference. You have Eastern Conference champions, you have guys from the Eastern Conference that win the big dance and sometimes you have it from the West as well.”

LeBron has won seven straight Eastern Conference titles, usually traversing an easier road to the NBA Finals than the Western Conference champion. With the West projecting to remain better for the foreseeable future, does this hint LeBron plans to stay East and wants to keep his advantage? Remaining with the Cavaliers seems slightly more likely now, though maybe LeBron will leave for the 76ers or some other Eastern Conference team. I doubt he knows yet, but I also think he cares about his conference-title streak for legacy reasons – to the point it could affect his free agency. So, this could be preemptive lobbying.

In the past, LeBron has had Silver’s ear. But Silver specifically said in Los Angeles he wasn’t concerned with the tradition issues LeBron raises.

I’m not either.

The NBA has always split the postseason by East and West, but teams have been too fluid between the conferences to feel beholden to the current setup. Current Eastern Conference teams Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic have all been in the Western Conference while in their current locations. And vice versa with the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. (The New Orleans Hornets were in the Eastern Conference before they became the Pelicans and surrendered their history to Charlotte, and the Pelicans are now in the West.)

To Silver, the obstacle is travel. Concern is frequently raised about the possible effects of cross-coast playoff series.

I’m more concerned about the regular season.

Right now, teams play 52 intra-conference and 30 inter-conference. To most logically implement 1-16 seeding, the NBA would have to balance the regular-season schedule. That not only means more travel, it means more awkward start times due to time-zone difference. East Coast fans don’t want to stay up until 10 p.m. to watch their favorite team tip off during Western Conference road trips. West Coast fans don’t want to rush home from work or school to see their favorite team tip off at 4 p.m. during Eastern Conference road trips.

And then there’s the biggest and maybe only real issue: It’s virtually impossible to see enough Eastern Conference owners, who benefit from the current format, voting to change it.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.