LeBron says stars that want to win need to sacrifice dollars

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In the summer of 2014, LeBron James can and likely will opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat.

And that has led to a raft of preparations and speculation about what’s next — the Lakers have cleared out enough cap space to offer a max deal that summer (even if they sign Dwight Howard this summer), there is speculation he will want to return to Cleveland to pair with Kyrie Irving, and the list goes on and on.

My bet would be on him turning around and inking a new five-year deal with the Miami Heat — I don’t think he goes anywhere. But that’s not much fun to speculate about.

Wherever he lands, LeBron doesn’t expect to get paid his full value. And he said he’d make sacrifices for the team, he told ESPN’s Bryan Windhorst (go read all his comments).

“I have not had a full max deal yet in my career — that’s a story untold,” James said.

“I don’t get (the credit) for it. That doesn’t matter to me; playing the game is what matters to me. Financially, I’ll sacrifice for the team. It shows for some of the top guys, it isn’t all about money. That’s the genuine side of this, it’s about winning. I understand that.”

Already this year we have seen Oklahoma City and Memphis trade away top players — James Harden and Rudy Gay — because smaller market teams just can’t spend like that.

Even in bigger markets elite guys are going to have to take less than the NBA maximum salary — and that is already well less than they could earn on a true open market. Kobe Bryant will make nearly $30 million next year but what he means to the Lakers in terms of ticket sales, sponsorship deals, television deals and ratings dwarfs that (I’ve heard estimates of triple his salary).

LeBron likely would take less to stay in Miami (as he did with his last contract) and if he moves anywhere he can only be offered less than a max deal fro Miami. Not that any of this really fazes LeBron — he made around $40 million in endorsements last year, according to Forbes Magazine. Winning and stature frankly does more for his earning potential than what he can make off his regular contract.

Under the new and more punishing tax levels of the Collective Bargaining Agreement — the full force of which kick in next year — it’s going to be more expensive for teams that want to collect multiple superstars. The hope of small and medium market owners is this will flatten out the talent pool in the NBA as big-market owners can’t just decide they will pay the tax and hoard talent.

Except, I could swear I remember the owners of the Lakers and Nets doing exactly that this past summer. Even with the new tax looming.

Top players that want to win will find a way to team up — and that’s not bad for the league. The Celtics of the 1960s were a super team. The Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s were super teams. It continues on through Shaq and Kobe to Miami — NBA fans have shown with their eyeballs and dollars that they will watch these teams more than they have supported parity.

The simple fact is that wherever LeBron James plays other players will want to be. We can debate how much longer Dwyane Wade can play at an elite level and if LeBron wants to play with someone other than Chris Bosh, but the fact remains that Miami can lure plenty of talent while LeBron is there. And owner Micky Arison is smart enough to offer LeBron whatever he wants to stay.

It’s just that LeBron might not take it all.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders: