Barea, Cardinal replace Stevenson, Stojakovic in Maverick rotation

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According to HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy, J.J. Barea will start over DeShawn Stevenson for the Mavericks in tonight’s Game 4, and Brian “The Janitor” Cardinal will be moved ahead of Peja Stojakovic in the Mavericks’ rotation.

At first blush, this move does not appear to make a lot of sense. Stevenson has been quietly having a pretty good Finals. He’s defended both Wade and James fairly well (he seems particularly adept at taking James, who still seems to hate Stevenson, out of his game), and has averaged an efficient six points a game while making two-thirds of his three-pointers.

Barea, meanwhile, has loudly been having a terrible, terrible series. He’s averaging 4.3 points, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 turnovers per game, and has shot 21.7% from the floor and 12.5% from the three-point line. And he hasn’t exactly been making up for it on the defensive end.

Still, there are some possible motivations for Carlisle’s decision here. Stevenson is an efficient scorer, but his offensive game is entirely based around catching and shooting — as ineffective as Barea has been, he forces the defense to move and pay attention to him by constantly dribbling around the perimeter, working pick-and-rolls, darting into the paint, and pulling up for threes if he gets any space.

Miami now has two choices regarding their starting backcourt — take their chances with the glacial Mike Bibby chasing Barea around, or force Wade to expend far more energy on defense than he has when he’s been guarding Stevenson. Kidd, who will be guarding Wade to start the game, isn’t as good of a defender as Stevenson is, but Carlisle may be betting that the best way to slow Wade down on offense is to make him work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Cardinal over Stojakovic decision is easier to make — Peja’s only real NBA skill at this point is shooting, and he hasn’t been making shots, having made a grand total of one field goal and zero threes through the first three games of the Finals. Cardinal isn’t as good of a scorer as Peja is when he’s on, but he can stretch the floor well enough himself and earned the nickname “The Janitor” during his breakout year in Golden State for his blue-collar style of play. (Also, he kind of looks like a janitor.)

As Dirk Nowitzki mentioned after Game 3, Game 4 is virtually a must-win game for the Mavericks — if they lose, they’ll have to win three games in a row to win the finals, with the final two of those games coming in Miami. The fact of the matter is that Miami has outplayed Dallas fairly handily through the first three games of the series, and is one historic collapse away from being up 3-0, so a shakeup from Carlisle shouldn’t really have come out of left field.

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.

Bulls: No decision yet on Rajon Rondo’s future with team

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls are not ready to say whether veteran point guard Rajon Rondo will be back for a second season.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson says that “is still to be determined.” The Bulls can pay Rondo $13.4 million or buy him out for $3 million by Friday’s deadline.

Paxson spoke Tuesday during a news conference to introduce newcomers Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen, who were acquired from Minnesota for Jimmy Butler on draft night. The Bulls were planning to meet Tuesday with Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, who represents LaVine.

Paxson also says a buyout on Dwyane Wade after he exercised his $23.8 million option “has not been broached.” Paxson says the Bulls, at least for now, assume Wade will play for Chicago.

Report: Chris Paul met with Clipper officials to talk future of franchise, himself

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Chris Paul is going to talk to a lot of teams this summer, but if you ask people around the league, most seem to think he will re-sign with the Clippers. The ultimate reason is money: As president of the players’ union he helped steer the new CBA negotiations, which included changing the “over 36 rule” — limiting max contracts to players who turn 36 during the time of the deal — into the “over 38 rule.” That meant 32-year-old Paul could sign one more five-year max contract.

Paul also wants to win, and it’s hard to see how the assembled team in Los Angeles — which is certainly a top 5-7 NBA team, maybe a little higher when healthy — picks up a ring. Especially with the Golden State juggernaut not going anywhere.

Paul has started talking to the Clippers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

I doubt that discussion was much about money — the Clippers will offer a five-year max contract. That’s not even up for debate.

The discussion was how to build the Clippers into a contender. Will Blake Griffin, also a free agent, be back and be part of that? What about J.J. Redick? Can the Clippers get the cap space to lure huge free agents in 2018? LeBron James reportedly wants to come to Los Angeles, although whether he wants to be a Clipper is another question. (For the record, I don’t buy the idea LeBron would “never” be a Clipper. While it may be highly unlikely, people I have spoken to around the league closer to LeBron’s thinking say he wants to keep every option open, play out next season, then see where things stand. He would not fully rule out playing with Chris Paul, who could still be in L.A.)

The Clippers have backed themselves into a corner by trading away picks for veterans, and not developing young players into guys who can contribute in the rotation. When was the last time the Clippers had their Patrick McCaw or Dewayne Dedmon? Without those young, affordable players, it becomes hard to put a good roster together and keep it together. It’s part of what Jerry West — with some help from GM Lawrence Frank — need to bring to Doc Rivers’ Clippers.

That’s likely part of the discussion, too.

There’s a lot for the sides to talk about.

Michael Jordan sent Russell Westbrook personal MVP congratulatory note

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Russell Westbrook is one of the biggest stars in the NBA, he’s now an MVP, and he wears Jordan Brand Nikes.

Still, it has to be a bit humbling to get a personal, signed note from Michael Jordan himself.

Which is exactly what he got on Tuesday, a congratulatory note from the GOAT.

The note said (in all caps):

Congrats Russell.

I got buy first MVP award before my first ring, too… keep going!

It was then signed by Jordan.

Westbrook could probably fill a second home with memorabilia from his career, but this is one he’s likely going to keep safe.