Lockout, new labor deal could keep foreign players overseas

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This year, foreign-born players filled up the NBA draft board like they haven’t in years — four of the top seven picks were foreign born, as were 13 selections overall (21.7 percent).

The ongoing lockout and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement could change that in the future.

That is particularly true if the owners get their way with a hard cap and reduced or eliminated exceptions (like the Bird exemption, that let teams go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents), suggests Jonathan Tjarks at RealGM (via TrueHoop).

In the name ofincreasing parity, the owners’ CBA proposal institutes a hard salary cap which would lower player salaries across the board. The removal of the Larry Bird and mid-level exceptions, in particular,would have a devastating effect on the salaries of the “middle-class” of players. Combine that with a reverse-order draft where poorly managed teams in small markets can gain complete control over international players for at least four years, and we’re likely to see more foreign players following the path of Fran Vazquez.

Vazquez was selected #11 by the Orlando Magic in 2005. But instead of joining Dwight Howard in the Magic’s front-court rotation, Vazquez spurned the NBA and signed a lucrative deal in Spain. Even though he wouldn’t have been an All-Star, theopportunity cost of a lost lottery pick haunts Orlando to this day. Andwith the scarcity of talented big men in the league, askilled and athletic 6’10 230 forwardcapable of playing in the paint would have easily carved out a 10-year NBA career.

Zach Harper at True Hoop also points to Dimitris Diamantidis, a guard who certainly could have played here but shunned the NBA to stay in Europe. Right now Vazquez and Diamantidis are the exceptions, but that could change.

There will always be an allure for the NBA — it is the best league on the planet. If you want to test your game against the best, you come here. Also, even with the restrictions, a star in the NBA can make more money than in Europe.

But the NBA has a rookie salary cap — someone like Ricky Rubio had to take a pay cut to come to the NBA, what he is banking on is making bigger money in his second contract (four to five years down the line). There’s a risk there, particularly if you a middle class player in the NBA who may never see that big payday. And the NBA owners seem intent on cutting back what any player can make. If a player can make similar money and get more minutes overseas, what is the incentive to come here and play?

To highlight this situation, Tjarks uses a case from this past draft.

This year, Nikola Mirotic, a 20-year old 6’10 sharp-shooter, signed a two-year extension that will keep him under contract with Real Madrid until 2015. His exorbitant ($3.6 million) bailout caused his draft stock to plummet, and he slipped from the lottery to the No. 23 selection (of the Chicago Bulls)…

Currently, the plan is to wait at least two to three years until his buyout becomes less onerous. But at that point, the Bulls, one of the most promising young teams in the NBA, will likely be locked into long-term deals with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. They certainly won’t have the cap room to offer Mirotic a big contract, and if he continues his upward path, he’ll likely be worth more to a European team than the mid-level exception the Spurs used to sign (Tiago) Splitter, if it even exists after the lockout.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.