Clippers-Spurs Game 3: Surprise! The Spurs are better.

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It’s over. Or, it may as well be.

The Spurs could have won Game 3 in the usual, undramatic, calm, cool, collected 15-point cruise victory they have every other game since April 11th, but this is honestly almost worse. The Clippers held a 24-point lead in the second quarter.

They lost, 96-86. The Spurs at one point rattled off a 24-0 run. It was a debacle. It was a meltdown. It was a collapse, a chokejob, a massive failure, and it shows the wide gap between these two teams in terms of class. The Spurs were never rattled being down 24, never looked down. Relaxed, calm, confident. Chipped away at the lead, got it within reasonable distance, then burned past them. And the reason’s pretty simple. They’re better. Much better. They were better before the series, they’ve been better during the series, and it says a lot about both teams.

The Clipppers beat the Grizzlies behind a series of bizarre circumstances. Reggie Evans hit 50 percent from the line in 3 of the 7 games. The Clippers offense was lights out. Memphis’ offense was both hobbled and independently terrible. The Clippers never really had a chance in this series because in a lot of ways, they never should have gotten past Memphis. Give the credit for playing to and above their reasonable ptoential to advance, but this is who they are. A team down 3-0, who gave up a 24-point lead at home in a little over a quarter of play.

There’s talk of the Spurs resting starters in Game 4, to save energy on a back to back for Duncan and the Big 3. But it’s extremely unlikely given Popovich’s respect for his opponent and the fact that you don’t want to risk aggravating the Clippers to the point they start fighting for their lives. The Spurs have them on the edge of oblivion and the Clippers know it. No reason to force feed them hope through anger.

The Clippers can start looking to next year. Chris Paul will watch the Lakers continue to play at least one more game in all likelihood as the team he landed with is exposed for needing contributions at both ends from Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin. Nick Young will hopefully develop, Mo Williams may be set free to bring in better wing depth, Caron Butler’s hand will heal, and Blake Griffin must, absolutely must, develop a better offensive set.

How did the Spurs come back? Well, they shot 30 percent for the first 14 minutes and 40 seconds. They shot 53 percent the rest of the time. The Clippers shot 64 percent that first 14:40. They shot 38 percent the rest of the time. The Spurs just defended better and hit shots. Really as simple as that. Kawhi Leonard changed the complexion of the game with corner threes, hustle steals, breakaway points, and working off-ball for easy looks. The rookie continues to impress as a player who does anything asked of him. Tim Duncan adjusted to Blake Griffin’s moves after a hot start, at one point blocking a driving dunk attempt from Griffin. It was a lesson from the master to the young gun, and hopefully Griffin will learn how to play better in the playoffs.

So the Spurs are up 3-0, and the series may as well be over. The only real thing we’ve learned from Game 3 is what we knew before: the Clippers aren’t ready, and the Spurs are in a class all their own.

DeMar DeRozan: Talk of Raptors’ changes overblown

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri called for a “culture reset,” alluding to an offense less reliant on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan isolations.

DeMarre Carroll, traded from Toronto to the Nets, doubts the Raptors will change much.

Know who agrees with him? DeRozan.

DeRozan, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

“I think the media kind of blow it out of proportion like it’s going to be something dramatic, like a complete dramatic 180-degree change,” DeRozan said, who was back in Toronto helping out with the Raptors’ Basketball Academy at Humber College on Monday. “It’s not that at all. It’s just moreso locking in and understanding what it takes to win from every single position. Everyone just know from our failures, guys stepping up and being better leaders, not just me and Kyle but everybody. I think once we lock in and everyone holds themselves accountable, everything else will come around perfect. That’s all it is.”

DeRozan didn’t disagree when it was suggested more ball movement might be demanded this season, but he did say the anticipated level of change by many outside the team is completely out of whack with the reality. The offence is still going to run through himself and Kyle Lowry.

This is shaping up to be a problem. Ujiri made this grand proclamation then brought back the same core – Lowry, DeRozan and coach Dwane Casey. This was the danger, that they were too comfortable with the status quo.

We’ll see how it actually plays out. DeRozan has a strong track record of improvement, and the Raptors might be forcing him to see the game differently by playing him at point guard.

But there at least appears to be a disconnect somewhere between the front office and players.

Rumor: Cavaliers trying to dump salary in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Another stated goal is to dump off some salary and reduce the luxury tax bill.

The Cavs – who reportedly lost more than $40 million last season – are on track to become the first team in NBA history to pay the luxury-tax repeater rate. They’ve led the league in payroll, racking up big luxury-tax bills, the last two seasons. They even pulled the rare feat of carving out max cap space (used on LeBron James) then getting about the luxury-tax line in the same season three years ago, finishing second to the Nets in spending that season.

Cleveland now faces a luxury-tax bill north of $78 million – which would eclipse its 2015-16 mark ($54 million) as the second highest tax payment ever, trailing just 2013-14 Brooklyn (nearly $91 million).

Most teams would never spend as much as the Cavaliers have the previous three seasons. Most teams would never approach Cleveland’s costs this year, which include $142 million in player salaries.

But most teams don’t have LeBron.

Remember, the Heat cutting corners on spending contributed to LeBron leaving Miami. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly promised to spend unconditionally when LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Is cutting costs the message the Cavaliers want to send as LeBron enters a contract year?

If so, they have a few candidates for shedding:

  • Tristan Thompson – three years, $52,408,695 remaining
  • J.R. Smith – three years, $44,160,000 remaining (just $3.87 million of $15.68 million guaranteed final year)
  • Iman Shumpert – two years, $21,348,313 remaining
  • Channing Frye – one year, $7,420,912 remaining

All those players, roughly in order of salary, contribute to winning.

The Cavs should have little trouble unloading those contracts in an Irving trade. He’s so valuable, teams will incur a lopsided financial deal to get him. They’ll just send Cleveland less talent to compensate.

It’s the classic dilemma – money vs. on-court success. Teams evaluate this tradeoff every day.

For the Cavaliers, there’s just the additional pressure of LeBron’s looming free agency.

Just a reminder, Russell Westbrook has a max extension sitting out there

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Russell Westbrook is entering the final year of his contract, he can be a free agent in the summer of 2018.

On July 1 the Oklahoma City Thunder offered Westbrook a designated player “super max” contract extension of an expected $200 million, which would kick in after this coming season. It’s a massive offer that would lock Westbrook into the Thunder through his prime.

He has yet to sign it.

He may not sign it, he doesn’t lose much waiting it out. However, the Thunder remain optimistic he will sign, according to Fred Katz at the Norman Transcript.

The deadline for him to sign is the day before the regular season begins, Oct. 16.

 No other team could offer the same deal if Westbrook were to hit free agency. He could still receive a contract that starts at 35 percent of the cap if he chooses to become a free agent next summer but would receive only five percent raises per season and could sign for up to only four years.

Yet, the reigning MVP has made the Thunder wait almost a month, already. And it could end up being longer — maybe forever, though the organization remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Westbrook signing for the long term before the start of the season.

Why Westbrook should wait is that this contract doesn’t make him that much more money than simply waiting the season out, then studying his options next summer and signing a max deal next summer.

The Thunder can offer Westbrook 35 percent of the cap right now thanks to the new designated player provision (that deal would start at just under $35 million a year),  however, after this season Westbrook will have been in the NBA 10 years, which means every team can offer him that  same annual salary starting next summer. What OKC can offer are slightly larger raises and one more guaranteed year. That year is nice if Westbrook doesn’t think he can get maxed out in five years, but he likely can. So the real advantage is the larger raises, and that has not been enough to sway guys in the past because it’s not that much money.

Westbrook and Paul George should make the Thunder very interesting next season — this will be an elite defensive team trying to figure out the offense. If they do, this team becomes dangerous, but that is still a big “if.”

If Westbrook and George lift OKC deeper in the playoffs than expected, both could choose to stay in OKC. If, however, this doesn’t work out as planned, Westbrook has more options if he doesn’t sign the deal yet — he and George, also a free agent next summer, could leave together or go their separate ways. Also, not signing the keeps pressure on the Thunder ownership to keep spending and moving to make the team better now, rather than cut corners and save money.

Westbrook can make the Thunder feel good and sign this deal, but if he wants you can’t blame him.

Important news: Nick Young has gotten over his fear of dolphins

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Where NBA players really make improvements is over the summer. They can get in better shape, work on their jumper, improve their handles…

Or get over their fear of dolphins.

Which is what the new Wizards guard did this summer. Remember these tweets from Young’s then fiancée a couple of years ago?

He’s gotten past that fear.

I gave these dolphins another chance we cool now

A post shared by Nick Young (@swaggyp1) on

Next, just needs to pick up a right with Golden State and show that to the Dolphins — they respect titles.