Where do the bucks stop for Brendan Haywood?

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Depending on how you classify players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Brendan Haywood is likely the top center in this free agent class. He’s a skilled defender and a seven-footer who can finish open opportunities; in the NBA, that’s a combination that brings a serious paycheck.

Now that the games have begun, Haywood is being pursued from a number of interesting angles. On the one hand, there are the incumbent Dallas Mavericks, the team that traded for Haywood mid-season. At the time, it was made clear that the Mavs’ real target in the Josh Howard trade was not Howard’s replacement, Caron Butler, but the defensive big man who could help to anchor the Dallas D. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson even said as much. However, Brendan may not have been feeling the same love by the end of the playoffs, after he and Rick Carlisle butted heads on a few occasions.

Still, Dallas can offer Haywood more money than any other team over the cap by using his Bird rights. While other contenders are throwing Brendan the full mid-level exception, Dallas is expected to offer around $8 million per year. That’s a substantial difference, particularly if the Mavs sign Brendan to a long-term deal.

The competition is pretty intense, though, and a lot of Brendan’s decision likely hinges on how the top tier of free agency shakes out. The Cleveland Cavaliers have expressed their interest in bringing in Haywood to replace Shaquille O’Neal, a move that really only makes sense for Brendan if LeBron James is still on board. A sign-and-trade seems to be the Cavs’ only option; they began free agency technically under the salary cap (which means no mid-level exception), yet their cap holds will prevent them from making any serious plays for Haywood’s services.

Plus, wouldn’t it be a bit weird for Haywood to play alongside a once reviled opponent in LeBron James?

The Miami Heat have also contacted Haywood, which presents a far more interesting opportunity. While it’s still unclear whether LeBron would really want to return to the Cavs, it seems as though someone of note is going to end up with the Heat. Dwyane Wade is resolved to bring a notable free agent to South Beach, and even if it’s not LeBron or Chris Bosh, it could present a great opening for Haywood. The other center options are slim, and Brendan could likely do a lot of good (and make quite a bit of coin for himself) playing alongside, say, Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire. That free agent trio doesn’t quite have the drawing power of a the James-Wade-Bosh supergroup, but it’s the foundation of a contender: an MVP caliber wing, a high-scoring, offensive-minded forward, and a big center with a mind for defense.

Haywood has also caught the eye of the reigning Eastern Conference champs, and given the Celtics’ success over the last few seasons, I’d expect that they could at least keep Haywood on the line. But again, the only realistic option for Boston is to use their full MLE to sign Haywood, and for a player who hasn’t really had a big NBA payday of yet, that may not be enough. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN threw out the idea of a sign-and-trade for the retiring Rasheed Wallace, who could subsequently be bought out. I just don’t see the angle for Dallas. If Haywood is going to walk anyway, why would the Mavs agree to take on additional salary (even if it is just a smaller chunk of Sheed’s total salary) just to see him go?

Ultimately, total dollar amount is even more important to a player like Haywood than it would be to a James or Wade, who not only have plenty of years ahead of them, but endorsement opportunities galore. Brendan’s already 30, and this could be his last substantial NBA contract. That should motivate him to sign with the highest competitive bidder, even with other intriguing options on the table. Unless the Heat, Cavaliers, Celtics, or others can put together a package to rival the Mavericks’ potential offer financially, the odds are Haywood re-signs in Dallas for a deal worth more than the MLE.

UPDATE 11:57 AM
: According to Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld, the Detroit Pistons are also offering Haywood their full mid-level exception. However, they’re the Pistons. They’re obligated to pay the dynamic duo of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva almost $80 million through ’13-’14. Need I say more?

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.