Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose

Previewing NBA’s Christmas Day tip-off

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Time to unwrap the present of an NBA season — and just like the gifts under the tree there may be some assembly required. Condensed training camps and just two preseason games is going to mean some sloppy openers on Christmas day.

But they are games, which are vastly superior to antitrust lawsuits. So let’s see what you’ll be watching on that new 60-inch plasma television (or streaming on your phone and trying to watch when your parents and nosy aunt aren’t watching).

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, noon ET (TNT): The two teams that will battle it out for the Atlantic Division crown face off to start the season. I think the Knicks will win the war for the division because they will come together as the better offensive team with enough defense, and the Celtics will wear down. However, the battle for Christmas Day may be different with the new-look Knicks trying to figure things out and the Celtics slipping into old, comfortable roles before the wear and tear hits their bodies. If Paul Pierce sits (bruised heel, day-to-day) the Knicks probably have too much firepower.

Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m. ET (ABC): Winning this game does not make up for last June, but the Heat will come out fired up. Dallas is going to be a very good team this season, very versatile, but they are still trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Miami knows what it is doing — attack. Get out and run. While Brendan Haywood is solid he is no Tyson Chandler — Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have less to fear driving the lane in this game.

Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers 5 p.m. ET (ABC): All the talk is about Kobe Bryant and his wrist ligaments — the guy is going to play, do you really have any doubt? The bigger issue for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum will sit the game out on suspension (five games) for flattening J.J. Barea at the end of the Dallas series last playoffs. Without Bynum in the paint to alter shots Derrick Rose and company will get better looks. Plus, the Lakers are trying to figure out their new offense and the best defensive team in the league is a tough place to try and learn things.

Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 8 p.m. ET (ESPN): What is the over/under on time the announcers spend discussing the Dwight Howard situation? As Atlanta showed in the playoffs last year you can defend and beat the Magic if you have a big man who can at least impede Howard one-on-one. Meet Kendrick Perkins. Plus, that Kevin Durant guy is pretty good.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Hey Mark Jackson, welcome to the NBA coaching ranks. Draw up a system where you can stop Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Kwame Brown. Right now the Clippers are having a lot of fun playing and the Warriors have a new system, Stephen Curry is a game-time call and Monta Ellis could get handed a subpoena walking off the court. But watch this because the Clippers are just flat out entertaining.

Report: Kings also ready to trade Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison, foreground, is hugged by teammate DeMarcus Cousins in the closing moments of the Kings 109-106 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. At right is Kings guard Arron Afflalo. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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A driving force behind the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento keeps its first-round pick in the loaded 2017 draft only if it lands in the top 10 (though the 76ers hold swap rights). Otherwise, the Kings’ pick conveys to the Bulls.

Sacramento, only a half game better than the NBA’s 10th-worst team, figures to drop into the keep-pick zone without Cousins, the team’s best player.

But the Kings can intensify a fall through the standings by trading supporting players like Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings excised Cousins, and there are strong indications they are not done dealing, either. Sacramento is determined to restock the franchise with assets, and will be targeting rookie-deal players and draft picks in the coming days, sources told The Vertical. Free agents-to-be Ben McLemore and Darren Collison are available, sources said, as is Arron Afflalo, a solid bench scorer with a manageable contract.

Collison is the Kings’ starting point guard, and he’d be solid for a team seeking a rental. He’s making $5,229,454 in the final year of his contract. Trading a starter would certainly help Sacramento keep its pick in the top 10.

Afflalo ($1.5 million of $12.5 million guaranteed next year) and McLemore (who can be made a restricted free agent next summer) are producing far less. It’s less likely other teams covet them. At least keeping these two guards probably won’t lift the Kings too high in the standings.

Paul Pierce uses two phones at dunk contest, says props shouldn’t be allowed

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Paul Pierce — NBA veteran and emoji enthusiast — used not one but two smartphones to record the action during Saturday night’s underwhelming dunk contest. Why was Pierce doing this? Perhaps he wanted to have an extra copy of it because he doesn’t trust “the cloud”. Or maybe he’s doing some work as a social media manager on the sly. You know, getting a jump on that retirement thing.

Or maybe this is just something that Pierce really likes to do:

Whatever he’s doing, I’m not sure if he looks like a boss or like a goober doing it. I feel this accurately sums up Paul Pierce’s aesthetic.

Meanwhile, after Glenn Robinson III won the 2017 NBA Dunk Contest, Pierce had some thoughts that he expressed via Twitter.

Pierce may have a point. Jeremy Evans dunking over a painting of himself in 2013 immediately felt pretty ridiculous. But eliminating props entirely? I’m not so sure about that. How would they sell Kias then?

DeMarcus Cousins projects to miss out on at least $29.87 million due to trade

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings speaks with the media during media availability for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins was all smiles the moment he appeared to find out about his trade, or at least trade rumors of going, from the Kings to the Pelicans.

But once he examines the deal closer, he might not like every aspect.

Cousins stands to miss out on a lot of money — about $30 million or more — due to this trade.

Because he made All-NBA teams the last two seasons, he was eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension this summer. As a matter of fact, he reportedly planned to do just that with Sacramento reportedly planning to offer it. That extension projected to be worth $209,090,000 over five years ($41,818,000 annually).

But, once officially dealt, Cousins will no longer be eligible for that super-max extension. It’s reserved for players still with their original team or who changed teams only via trade during their first four years.

This is Cousins’ seventh season, dropping his max starting salary in 2018 from 35% of the salary cap as a designated veteran player to 30%. That projects to be $179,220,000 over five years ($35,844,000 annually) if he re-signs.

It’d be even less if he leaves New Orleans, a projected $132,870,000 over four years ($33,217,500 annually).

Notice how small that difference is now between his incumbent team and other suitors. By rule, the Pelicans won’t hold nearly the same advantage in keeping him as the Kings would have. In other words, New Orleans faces greater risk of Cousins walking.

And there’s no guarantee Cousins gets the max. You saw how little the Pelicans traded for him. That speaks to his value around the league.

Just over a month ago, Cousins appeared content to take $209 million or so and stay in Sacramento. Now, his financial future is far more uncertain. But this much we know: His max possible salary on his next contract just got lowered.

Is this the moment DeMarcus Cousins found out he was traded? (video)

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings attends practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins was set to answer questions after the All-Star game, when a Kings public-relations official said, “All-Star questions first, please. All-Star-game questions.”

“What other questions we got?” Cousins asked, seemingly unaware of his trade to the Pelicans.

The PR person whispered in Cousins’ ear.

“Oh, really?” Cousins asked.

More whispering.

“It’s whatever,” Cousins said.

Then, asked about his All-Star experience, Cousins smiled big and said, “It was amazing, man. I enjoyed the city of New Orleans. I love it here in New Orleans.”