Top 10 most interesting NBA free agents to watch

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Lockout? You mean those months last year we didn’t have basketball as owners fought to put constraints on themselves because when it comes time to bid for free agents they don’t trust themselves to be rational?

What lockout? Less than 48 hours into the 2012 summer free agent frenzy owner rationality has gone the way of the Dodo. They are once again throwing money around like they are buying hotels to put on Broadway and Park Place. Unless you thought Omer Asik is totally worth $25 million.

Here are the top 10 most interesting free agents to watch this summer. These are not just the 10 best players on the market, but rather the guys who will make owners forget everything they said during the lockout. The guys it will be fun to watch. There is no Tim Duncan on here — he’s a free agent but he will re-sign with the Spurs. Smart, but not interesting. Below are the guys who make free agency fun.

1) Deron Williams. Part of the fun of following free agents is the “anything can happen” factor. Not here. It’s Brooklyn or Dallas. But he is on top of the list because he is the best player available this year — there are maybe 10 true franchise players in the NBA and he is one. You can build a contender around him. He will radically alter the situation of the team that gets him and the team that doesn’t.

2) Eric Gordon. He is a restricted free agent — the Hornets can, and if they are smart will, match any offer for him. But he is meeting with everyone — Pacers, Rockets, Suns, Blazers — trying to get someone to offer him a max deal (four years, $84 million). We’ll see. He’s the best young two guard in the league and if a team is looking to steal Gordon a max offer is what it may take.

3) Steve Nash. Yes he is 36 years old and has had long-term back issues. But he remains one of the best pure point guards in the game, a master of the pick-and-roll. On the right team he can take them from good to great. A guy who sells tickets, who brings in sponsors. The bar has been set — Toronto offered $12 million a year for three years. The Knicks and other teams are trying to find sign-and-trade deals that will get near that number and lure Nash to a better team.

4) O.J. Mayo. He’s interesting to watch because he’s a two guard who can score but is a guy who wants a bigger role than the one he had in Memphis as option number three, or four, at times five. While a lot of guys on this list want to go to contenders, if Mayo does that he will be in the same spot. The Celtics are interested, as are the Nets and Suns. Wherever he lands the new start should do him good.

5) Roy Hibbert. How valuable is an All-Star center? The Trail Blazers have reportedly already offered the young All-Star center a max deal. True quality centers are hard to come by and come at a price. The only question is will the Pacers match it? My question is how do they not? They are average without him.

6) Ray Allen. He will turn 37 next month, but one of the best pure shooters the game has ever seen can still do what he does best — he shot 45 percent from three last year. Boston has reportedly offered him $6 million a year to come back. The Miami Heat have made him a priority but can offer only half that — but they are much closer to a ring than the Celtics. Especially if they have Allen (you saw in Game 5 of the finals what the Heat look like when guys knock down threes around LeBron and Wade). So, what matters most to Ray Allen?

7) Jason Terry. The veteran two guard can light it up as a starter or coming off the bench. Pretty much every team that needs a shooting guard has come calling — the Clippers, the Celtics (although they have one in Avery Bradley), Grizzlies and Suns that we know of. Terry’s people reportedly told the Mavericks they would be given the option to match any offer and keep him, but how much does a retooling Mavericks team want to spend on him? Look for him to get about $5 million a year for three years (he is 34).

8) Jamal Crawford. If Jamal Crawford can find his stroke from a couple years ago when he was Sixth Man of the Year he brings another very valuable two guard to the market. The 76ers, Suns, Clippers, Celtics and Pacers have all reached out in the opening day of free agency. Crawford opted out of a $5 million deal for next season with the Blazers, he’s going to want more than that and more years.

9) Jameer Nelson. Orlando is focused on trading their best player away and trying to jump-start the rebuilding process there. But they are also about to lose their second best player to free agency in Nelson, a quality point guard. Nelson walked away from $8 million next season to hit the market, he likely will not make that much per year but can get a multi-year deal and some security. The Lakers have expressed interest, but they can’t offer much ($3 million a year for three years). Nelson is the guy a lot of teams will turn to second or third, after they lose out on guys like Nash and Williams. If Nelson is patient, the market will come to him.

10) Ersan Ilysova. Not a household NBA name but the best stretch four on the market — he shot 45.5 percent from three last season and grabbed 8.8 boards per game. In the right system he has real value. The Bucks may want to keep him if they are smart, but the Spurs, Cavaliers, Raptors and Nets reportedly all have some interest. The Spurs are a very interesting fit for him. But we’ll have to see about the money.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”