Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes

“New” Lakers still not as good as same ol’ Thunder


This was supposed to be a statement game for the “new” Lakers — new coach, new system, new emphasis on defense and now a new point guard to organize it all. The Thunder, they didn’t change much of anything from last year.

Well, the game was a statement all right — the Thunder are much better right now. If you have any doubt that Oklahoma City is the team to beat in the West, you just need to watch them when they are clicking.

Oklahoma City was a step ahead of the Lakers starting with an 11-0 run to open the second half and they went on to a comfortable 102-93 win.

Oklahoma City was literally a step ahead — on top of its pregame white board in the locker room was the instruction to get out and run on the Lakers. Get points in transition. They did some in the first half but in the third quarter Russell Westbrook took the message to heart and changed the game.

“You’ve got to give a guy like Russell Westbrook credit,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “In the third quarter, he just came out, put his head down and went one on four and either scored or got fouled every time he came down the floor in that third quarter.”

Westbrook had six field goals in the third quarter — which was one more than the Lakers scored as a team. Lakers guard Ramon Sessions said the plan was to go under the pick-and-roll with Westbrook and make him shoot the jumper. Which he did — he’d use the space to make a little drive to the elbow then shoot and knock it down on his way to 36 points for the game.

After the game the Lakers tried to find solace in a first half where they were more physical and used their length to jump out to a 30-18 lead after one quarter. They tried to see a new Laker team that can compete with the Thunder when they play the right way. Andrew Bynum was very aggressive (particularly early) and had 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, plus 13 rebounds. Kobe Bryant had 23 points but needed 25 shots to get there, with Thabo Sefolosha doing a good job forcing him off his spots.

But the old Lakers had Lamar Odom coming off the bench and the new Lakers have nobody who can change the game that way. When the Thunder bench entered in the second quarter they quickly cut the Lakers early lead in half. Derek Fisher did part of that damage with 7 points on drives and jumpers — he was in revenge mode and it made him play maybe the best he has all season.

At the half the Lakers were up 5, but the big three for the Thunder — Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden — were a combined 10-for-37. You knew things were going to change.

You knew the Thunder’s statement was coming. They made it with hustle, getting 19 offensive rebounds and seemingly every offensive rebound.

One game in March does not a potential playoff series determine, but the statements from this game are the statements we have seen these teams for a while now. The Lakers are good but they don’t seem to have all the pieces of a contender — consistent defense, weak transition defense, good bench depth at the two and four, and they still struggle to shoot consistently from the outside.

The Thunder are deeper, more athletic, more complete. And they have an energy that helps them overcome their flaws. And when all else fails they can just put their head down and run past the Lakers.

Knicks waive Lou Amundson, four others to keep Ron Baker

New York Knicks guard Ron Baker (31) goes to the basket against Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) and guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Ron Baker was one of the top undrafted players, and the Knicks scooped him up quickly.

They probably didn’t realize just how much they’d need him.

New York’s rotation point guards are Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, who both carry unsettling injury histories. Additionally, Rose missed most of the preseason while successfully defending himself in a rape lawsuit.

The Knicks can’t afford to go without a third point guard, and Chasson Randle‘s injury left Baker.

But because the they have 15 players with guaranteed salaries – Baker isn’t one – the Knicks had to waive Lou Amundson, who just signed a guaranteed deal. New York also waived Randle, J.P. Tokoto, Damien Inglis and Cleanthony Early, none of whom had fully guaranteed salaries.

Other candidates with guaranteed salaries who could’ve been waived: Sasha Vujacic, Marshall Plumlee and Maurice Ndour.

The bigger mystery than why the Knicks chose Amundson to waive is why they gave him a fully guaranteed contract in the first place.

Reports: Celtics waive No. 51 pick Ben Bentil, offering R.J. Hunter or James Young for second-rounder

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars passes in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 85-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Celtics new they drafted too many players, which is why they convinced No. 16 pick Guerschon Yabusele and No. 23 pick Ante Zizic to remain overseas and No. 58 pick Abdel Nader to sign with the D-League. That will allow Boston to maintain exclusive NBA negotiating rights on all three players.

But that still left three draft picks – No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson and No. 51 pick Ben Bentil – joining the Celtics’ roster. There isn’t enough room for all three, and Bentil – the only one without a guaranteed salary – is getting the boot.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

If Bentil clears waivers, Boston can assign his D-League rights to its affiliate. He would remain an NBA free agent. However, another team could claim him first, waive him itself and then assign him to its D-League affiliate. Whichever team waives Bentil last will be on the hook for his $250,000 guarantee. It’s also possible a team claims him and keeps into the regular season.

I’m not high on Bentil, who hogged the ball for a lot of bad shots at Providence. But he has talent, and I’d love him on my D-League team. It’s also not my $250,000 to spend.

Sadly for the Celtics, waiving Bentil was already expected. They still need to shed someone with a guaranteed salary to meet the regular-season roster max, and James Young and R.J. Hunter are the most likely to go.

Of course, Boston doesn’t want to lose one for nothing.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

I believe Hunter is more valuable than a second-rounder in a vacuum, and Young also might be. But there’s limited incentive in preemptively trading for a player who will likely become a free agent otherwise. Sure, you get your pick of the two, and you avoid fighting other teams for him. But you also get him on a rookie-scale contract rather than what could be a cheaper deal.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics trade one before they have to waive one, but they don’t have much leverage.

More Collective Bargaining Agreement details emerging

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are on track for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon, and details are emerging about the new deal.

Here are some more.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

There is currently not enough support for an amnesty clause among NBA owners as they continue negotiations for a new deal with the National Basketball Players Association, sources told

Under the new deal, players are expected to be able to sign contract extensions two years after the date of their original signing. Currently, they have to wait three years.

Restricted free agents also will be able to agree to offer sheets with teams starting on July 1 instead of waiting until July 7. The window for teams to match these offer sheets will be reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours.

Also, teams will no longer be able to pull qualifying offers to restricted free agents, as is currently allowed before July 31.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA Development League will offer teams the chance to add 16th and 17th roster spots, and pay players differently based upon their assignments in either the league’s minor league or as part of the parent team, league sources said.

I’m unsurprised the new CBA won’t include an amnesty clause. When the salary cap rapidly escalated under the new national TV contracts, it made it very difficult to find onerous contracts. The few teams with amnesty-worthy deals probably can’t convince other owners to approve an amnesty clause. The other owners don’t want to give a small minority of teams a competitive advantage. Though amnesty is good for players – amnestied players still get paid and then have the freedom to choose a new team, and it creates an immediate job opening – not enough of them would benefit to push this.

Allowing contract extensions sooner can be helpful, but it doesn’t get to the crux of why the current CBA made veteran extensions too prohibitive. Extensions can add only a maximum of three years to a contract. Too often, players prefer to wait for free agency, when the max contract length is four or five years.

I’m unsure what it would look life if only restricted free agents, not unrestricted free agents, can sign July 1. There has been talk of eliminating the moratorium, though the feasibility of doing so is questionable. Windhorst doesn’t address unrestricted free agents, but omitting them suggests their status won’t change – but I’m skeptical. If restricted free agents can sign before unrestricted free agents, will teams rush to sign players to offer sheets and fill cap space before unrestricted free agents become available? That’s essentially the opposite of the current system. Reducing the matching window is good. Teams used to have seven days to match an offer sheet, but contract details are no longer relayed through standard mail and fax. With the instantaneousness of the internet, there’s no need to hold people in limbo even three days.

Keeping qualifying offers binding is another good move. I’m honestly surprised the league has avoided a dispute over whether a player accepted a qualifying offer before it was pulled. This change removes the possibility of a squabble and puts a fair onus on a team to stand by its qualifying offer. If you’re going to make a player a restricted free agent, you shouldn’t have the right to cool the market on him and then pull his qualifying offer only once conditions change.

Additional NBA roster spots are not my preferred direction for greater D-League integration, but perhaps it’s the best bridge. NBA teams will pay D-League players more if those teams get exclusive rights on the players. Because players on D-League contracts are NBA free agents, no matter which affiliate they’re on, NBA teams have little incentive to pay major money to D-Leaguers. I’d prefer NBA teams hold the NBA rights of everyone on their D-League affiliate, but not  every team has an affiliate. Perhaps, once that changes, this system will be tweaked. This solution is fine for now.

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms


The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.