UPDATE (7:36 PM EST): The league has announced that Kevin Love will indeed serve as Yao Ming’s injury replacement for the All-Star Game. Before we all get too excited: what does it say about the All-Star system that there’s actual jubilation when players are chosen correctly?
At this point, it should be regarded as truth without need for explanation that Kevin Love is worthy of an All-Star selection. The sky is blue. The sea is green. And that scoring and rebounding machine suiting up for the Minnesota Timberwolves is damn deserving of a trip to Los Angeles for All-Star Weekend.
It just wasn’t in the cards, as an ultra-competitive pool of viable All-Star candidates left Love out in the cold when the reserves for the team were announced on Thursday. David Stern still has yet to declare Yao Ming’s injury replacement for the Western Conference All-Stars, but that one spot is Love’s only chance of making the team this season. That’s ridiculous considering Love’s production this season. No other player matches Love’s 21 points per game and 23.3 total rebounding percentage this season (indicating that he grabs nearly a quarter of all misses on both ends of the court while on the floor), and only one other player in the history of the NBA (Moses Malone) has been able to produce at that level for an entire year. His team may be miserable, but Love has been exquisite.
Exquisite enough that Love himself felt he should have made the team, even if he wasn’t entirely surprised by the news of his exclusion. From Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (via SLAM Online):
“I’ve been better,” he said, “but I wasn’t very surprised.”
Love said he learned after Wednesday’s home loss to Memphis that he probably wouldn’t be included when the East and West reserves were announced during TNT’s Thursday night NBA coverage.
“I truly and firmly believe in my heart that, solely on play alone, I should have been in there,” he said.
If there’s any justice, Love will be Stern’s pick to make the team as a reserve, though even that inclusion would likely come as bittersweet. Love really should have been selected the first time around, and though being included as a replacement is really only a technicality, it should never have come to this.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.