Wes Johnson found his touch Saturday at NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — To put it nicely, Wes Johnson was a bit underwhelming last season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night inside Cox Pavilion, however, as the former fourth overall pick put together quite the performance against the NBA D-League Select team in lovely Las Vegas.

The wing player has been criticized for many things thus far in his brief NBA career, but Johnson left little to complain about as he scored 28 points while hitting 5-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc. Apart from the positive boost on the offensive end, Johnson generally just looked like he wanted to be more involved in the game of basketball as he stayed aggressive on both ends — even picking up a pair of beautiful blocked shots.

It shouldn’t be surprising that a top pick played so impressively, but there weren’t many that expected Johnson to accomplish what he did on Saturday night — even against second-tier D-League players — after shooting just 41 percent from the field earlier in his other two games this week while going just 2-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Other notable performances came from the following players:

  • The Portland Trail Blazers’ top two picks have got plenty of love this week as Meyers Leonard and Damian Lillard, but those two sat on Saturday. A Blazers pick still shined, though, as Will Barton put on a show en route to 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting — including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc — in a win over the Miami Heat.
  • Former first round pick Jimmy Butler had most of the hype on his way to 23 points on an efficient 10 shots, but Malcolm Thomas was out standing with 21 points and 16 rebounds as he attempts to make an NBA squad after a terrific year in the D-League. Marquis Teague’s shot wasn’t falling, but he played the point pretty well to round out the Bulls’ best players.
  • Wins and losses don’t matter much in Las Vegas (unless you’re at the blackjack table), but the Golden State Warriors were able to wrap up an undefeated Summer League season with an 80-72 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. It was an all-around effort, but Charles Jenkins was very solid in running the team on his way to 15 points and five assists himself. Klay Thompson was a DNP after doing all he needed to do through the Warriors earlier action.
  • Josh Selby put together another impressive performance as he made five of his eight attempts from beyond the arc as he continues to scorch the Summer League nets. Deon Thompson also looked very good with 14 points and six rebounds.
  • The Dallas Mavericks picked up an overtime win in the Cox Pavilion thanks to the play of second round pick Jae Crowder and his 21 points. Dominique Jones had been the team’s star player throughout Summer League, but upper back tightness forced him to exit the game after playing just 10 minutes.
  • Cory Joseph played well once again on Saturday as the San Antonio Spurs finished up their Summer League experience. He’s still not fully there as a point guard, but his 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists were a welcome addition. Tyler Wilkerson was also impressive, though his eight points, seven fouls and six rebounds in the box score don’t tell the most promising story.
  • The Clippers lost their fourth game in five contests, but Adam Morrison scored 18 points to finish up a pretty solid Summer League. Antoine Wright struggled mightily, though, and it seems as though his NBA drea may have come to a close.
  • Markieff Morris was Markieff Morris on his way to 25 points and 11 rebounds. Kendall Marshall was the star of the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League roster for the first time on Saturday night, however, as scored 15 points and dished 10 assists as his decision-making skills finally caught up to speed.
  • Xavier Henry hasn’t played like the first round pick he was just a few seasons ago, but he looked very good on Saturday afternoon en route to 21 points while being aggressive the whole game. 11 free-throw attempts aren’t something that happens often in the run-and-gun style of Summer League.
  • The D-League Select team finished 2-3 on the week after struggling down the stretch in multiple matchups. Mardy Collins was the team’s best player in Saturday’s loss — and one of the better players in the D-League this season — as he scored 20 points off the bench. Marcus Dove was solid throughout the week, too, contributing four steals in Saturday’s loss.
  • Dexter Pittman was the only Heat player to score in double figures as Miami mustered just 55 points against the Blazers, but the reason he’s worth a mention is for an ugly flagrant foul he was called for on the aforementioned Barton. I believe it was the first flagrant foul of Summer League — definitely the worst.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.