With rumors abound, Lakers near a franchise crossroads

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Though the formalization of the new CBA proceeds at a slow churn, the NBA rumor mill is already in mid-season form. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard — both in the final year of their respective contracts — are suddenly ready to be shipped every which way, and media outlets of every form are examining the possibility of certain teams landing the big fish of next year’s free agent class.

The most popular rumored destinations are, shockingly, a pair of usual suspects: the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Clearly the new collective bargaining agreement has rocked basketball sensibilities to their very core.

The Knicks are a particularly odd case because they seem to be included in the discussion without regard for practical considerations. I’m sure Chris Paul would love to play alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony…just as I’m sure he’d love to play alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Desire alone won’t will Paul to New York any more than it’ll get him to Miami, as the Knicks lack the cap space to sign him outright next summer and no longer have the assets to sell the Hornets on a trade. The financial pieces just don’t seem to add up to link Paul to the Knicks, but then again: stranger things have happened.

The Lakers’ position in such rumors is slightly more believable, if only because Los Angeles is inching toward a franchise crossroads, and actually has the pieces necessary to facilitate some kind of deal. The underlying truth that drives the Lakers involvement is the fact that their core is unstable in the long-term; the salary commitments to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum are only set to get more and more ridiculous as time goes on, eventually reaching a critical point by the third season of the new collective bargaining agreement. It may be too early to panic in anticipation of a development a few years down the line, but realistically, the Lakers should begin planning for their future — both in terms of that particular season and life after Kobe in general — as soon as possible.

As remarkable of a player as Bryant is, things don’t typically bode all that well for 33-year-old wing players staring down the twilight of their careers. His ridiculous work ethic will no doubt keep him productive for a long while, but the days of Bryant anchoring a team with his ridiculous output are numbered, if not already flittering away. Yet Kobe will be paid $25 million this season, $28 million next year, and $31 million in 2012-2013 — just in time to take up nearly half the room under the newly fortified luxury tax line. Oh, and Los Angeles only has to find room for Pau Gasol’s salary of around $19 million for each of the next three seasons, the two years remaining and $31 million remaining on Andrew Bynum’s deal (and a likely extension beyond that point), a new contract or replacement for Lamar Odom, and a roster full of competent role players alongside that enormous financial commitment to Bryant.

If Jerry Buss is willing to cut the check for an unprecedented luxury tax bill, then the Lakers have a shot at preserving their current core. But even then, there is no guarantee that the trio of Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum will be able to score L.A. another championship. This isn’t really the kind of situation that a general manager and owner can just stew on; something’s gotta give, as the Lakers will likely either start to feel their on-court performance become stale over time, or be saddled with three giant contracts that prevent the construction of an adequate supporting cast.

The Lakers may never make a serious run at Howard or Paul, but considering where they stand, they’ll certainly entertain the notion. It’s difficult to say exactly what Los Angeles would be willing to surrender in the process — or the resolve with which they’ll explore those superstar options — but the potential and mechanics of a possible deal are there, as are some very real motivations for the Lakers to rework their roster on the fly.

Reports: Rockets not done, looking at Paul George, other possible third big star

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If you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors, you can’t have enough elite talent on the roster. Which is turning the Western Conference into a Game of Thrones.

Houston has James Harden and just added Chris Paul — and GM Daryl Morey is not done, he’s targeting Paul George and other stars. That according to multiple reports from ESPN, starting with Jeff Goodman.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey not done yet, source told ESPN. Harden and CP3. Will try to add a third star to compete with Warriors.

The logistics of this would be difficult, but not impossible. The Pacers want a first-round pick, which the Rockets can include if the Pacers will wait until 2020 (the Rockets 2018 pick goes to the Clippers, 1-3 protected, which means they can’t trade 2019). With Sam Decker traded to LA, the Rockets may not have a young player of interest outside of Clint Capella (the Pacers have Myles Turner at center), but the Rockets could make other trades to get what is needed, or a third team could become involved.

The Rockets just traded for DeAndre Liggins, for example (getting them means they are going over the cap, which means they will have the full mid-level exception of $8.4 million to use come July to land another player).

Also possible, the Rockets look for a way to land Paul Millsap (or maybe a lesser version, like Serge Ibaka) in free agency.

The point is the Rockets are going all in — they see the window as now and, unlike much of the rest of the West and the NBA, they are not going to wait and hope for the Warriors to wilt in a few years.

Knicks fans celebrating Phil Jackson’s departure on social media

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When the Knicks hired Phil Jackson, he was a beacon of hope for an organization that had seen dark days. Jackson was going to keep owner James Dolan out of basketball decisions (he did that) and provide a direction for the franchise (he failed to do that).

Now, three year’s later, Jackson is out as president of the Knicks.

That had Knicks fans celebrating on social media.

HALLELUJAH.

A post shared by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

That’s just a small sampling. So all is good with the Knicks now, right?

Report: Clippers trading Chris Paul to Houston Rockets

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All last season and up through another disappointing end to the Clippers season, Doc Rivers kept saying he wanted to bring this Clippers’ core back — re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin because how often do you get a team this good together?

Jerry West was reportedly not a fan of the “run it back” plan. West won. CP3 helped his cause.

The Clippers are trading Paul to the Houston Rockets after the All-Star guard opted into the final year of his contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Los Angeles Clippers have reached agreement on a trade to send All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, league sources told The Vertical.

Paul, 32, agreed to opt in to the final year of his $24.2 million contract, clearing the way for the Clippers to execute a trade with the Rockets and bring back assets for Paul, league sources said.

The Rockets will send the Clippers a package that includes guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, forward Sam Dekker and a 2018 first-round pick (protected Nos. 1-3), league sources told The Vertical.

The deal does not pencil out as listed, and it may be on hold until July 1 so the Rockets can move other players off the roster to clear space, or they could include a number of other minimum-salary players on their roster to make it work. There are more details to come, but we get the big picture.

Paul told the Clippers he planned to sign with the Rockets as a free agent but it would better if they tried to work out a trade, according to Woj. Opting into the final year of his deal made this possible, without it the Rockets would have had to jettison Ryan Anderson (and get no salary back) plus Beverley to sign CP3 outright. Paul will become a free agent in 2018, but the Rockets will have his bird rights and can re-sign him to a $205 million max deal then. However, by doing this Paul gave up more than $7 million in salary this next season for a better chance to win.

What this means for the Rockets is if Mike D’Antoni can get Chris Paul and James Harden to play well together — not a sure thing, these are both guys who like to operate best with the ball in their hands, controlling the action — they become the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West. It also should be of note that Chris Paul has never played at a pace as fast as D’Antoni’s Rockets play at — CP3 is the best floor general in the game, but he is more deliberate. This is not a perfect fit, but these are two brilliant players and they saw their best chance as together.

This move also is a blow to the Spurs, Nuggets, and other teams that had Paul on their radar.

It’s a boost to Miami, Boston, and other teams that had free agent Blake Griffin on their radar, he is not returning.

For the Clippers, it means they will likely let Griffin and J.J. Redick go and start a rebuilding process, which may include shopping DeAndre Jordan. Do all that and the Clippers could have $70 million in cap space in 2018. Also, that LeBron James to the Clippers rumor, which was already on life support, is now DOA. Everything seems to be on the table. Whether Doc Rivers sticks around for this process remains to be seen.

Report: Kevin Durant will wait until late July, let Warriors sign other players, before inking his deal

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Kevin Durant isn’t going anywhere as a free agent this summer. He will remain a Golden State Warrior. He wants to stay and he wants to win, which is why he already said he would take a little less money so the Warriors could re-sign players such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Now he’s taking it to the next level, saying he will delay signing his deal — something he could start negotiating on July 1 — until the team’s other players are taking care of. That according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant plans to wait until after the team completes the bulk of its summer business before re-signing with the NBA champions, according to league sources….

“Look for (Durant) to sign later in the month,” one source said this week.

The Warriors first order of business this summer will be to sign Stephen Curry to a “designated veteran” super-max contract, a five-year deal starting at $34.7 million (assuming a $99 million salary cap).

Then they will go about trying to shore up their role players. Iguodala, Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West, and Matt Barnes all become free agents this summer. Iguodala is the one other teams are targeting — including the Spurs, Clippers, and Timberwolves — and it likely will take $10 million to $12 million a year for the Warriors to keep the guy who just finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.

Durant’s moves help with all of this. Durant is expected to sign a 1+1 deal with the Warriors (a two-year contract where he can opt out next summer and get a larger deal), then opt out next summer and get his deal starting close to $35 million a year.

The Warriors are trying to lock up their core for as long as they can, and they should be a force for the next four or five years. However, the price tag will get expensive, and it will be interesting to see how the Warriors handle that when it gets to 2019 and Klay Thompson‘s contract is up, or 2020 when Draymond Green is a free agent.