Pau Gasol says a trade seems more likely this season after being sent back to the bench

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Before the Lakers took the floor in Chicago against the Bulls on Monday, Mike D’Antoni announced that Pau Gasol would be removed from the starting lineup in favor of going small, with Earl Clark getting the minutes at the starting power forward spot.

This decision, D’Antoni told reporters, was not just for one game, but a long-term solution to try to get his system more firmly in place. Efficiency statistics were cited that said when Gasol and Dwight Howard play together, the team ranks near the bottom of the league, but when just one plays, the team’s numbers are much improved.

It may turn out to be the right decision, and it may not. If Gasol plays with the rest of the starters in crunch time, as he did against the Heat when he played the entire fourth quarter after coming off the bench, then it’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of the team’s rotations.

Except for one thing: It is to Gasol.

He was extremely vocal and pointed in his remarks after that Miami game, saying he absolutely wanted to return to the starting lineup. Now that he’s been overridden in this request by the whims of his head coach, Gasol said he feels now more than ever that he may be a part of a deal that sends him out of town before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Craig Sager reported this early in Thursday night’s TNT telecast, as seen in the video clip above.

“Pau Gasol I talked to before the game,” Sager said. “He is not at all happy with the decision. He says I have never been a role player in my life. I don’t like it right now. I said, what about the possibility that maybe your time with the Lakers could be coming to an end at the All-Star break or the trade deadline? He said it certainly looks like a possibility to me.”

We’ll have to see how Gasol and the team react over the next few games to get a sense of whether or not this was in fact a good decision from a lineup standpoint, or if it was simply a desperate move by a head coach willing to try anything at this point, even if it means alienating one of his tram’s best players.

[Video clip via LakersNation]

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.