Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani reacts after hitting a shot during their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City

Report: Andrea Bargnani “a lock to be moved”

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It sounds like the Toronto Raptors are finally ready to give up on Andrea Bargnani. The first pick of the 2006 draft has displayed tantalizing potential and has put together short bursts of production throughout his seven seasons in Toronto, but his deficiencies as a defender and a rebounder have become increasingly more difficult to overlook.

You can see why Toronto has stuck with Bargnani, even as he became the scapegoat for many of Toronto’s  recent failings. There are very few 7-footers in the world that possess the shooting stroke Bargnani has, and even though he made virtually no strides in other areas of the game, he did make marginal improvements as a scorer almost every season.

But that’s the problem with a one-dimensional talent like Bargnani. If that one thing abandons you, what are you left with? Bargnani’s connecting on just 39.8 percent of his shots this year — a dreadful number no matter how tall or small you are. Perhaps predictably, Toronto has become noticeably better defensively while Bargnani has sat out with an elbow injury, putting together a 6-2 record without him in the lineup.

Add everything up and Marc Stein’s report makes an awful lot of sense:

“One source close to the situation said Friday that Bargnani remains “a lock to be moved.” That naturally depends on finding a taker for the underachieving Italian forward, but (Kyle) Lowry’s contract shouldn’t be too hard to attach to a trade, valued at $5.8 million this season and with only $1 million guaranteed of the $6.2 million he’s owed next season.”

Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Bargnani has two years and $23 millions dollars left on his contract after this season. That’s a tough pill to swallow for any team, especially for a guy not playing at all right now, but getting Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon as a reward for taking on Bargnani’s contract might be enticing enough for some team out there.

Toronto, meanwhile, is in a weird spot. A glance at their roster would lead you to believe they’re primed for a rebuilding period if they could shed Bargnani’s contract, but Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo recently decided to pay the uninspiring wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields a combined $15 million dollars a year going forward. Add in that the Raptors likely won’t have their 2013 first round pick (the pick is top-3 protected) because of the Lowry deal with Houston, and it would seem that Colangelo clearly has no interest in rebuilding.

That’s what makes the Bargnani decision even more critical. The Raptors need a real player in any deal for Bargnani in order to contend, but they probably don’t want to lose Lowry for their future, or Calderon for their present. Selecting Bargnani number one overall instead of LaMarcus Aldridge set the franchise back, but forfeiting a valuable asset just to get rid of him would only seem to compound the mistake.

Toronto needs to look in the mirror more than anything else. Are they contending or rebuilding? Are they skewing young or rolling with veterans? Are they planning on improving in free agency or through the draft? Bargnani isn’t the star you can dream on, but trading him may provide Toronto the direction they so desperately need.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.