Charlotte Bobcats v Phoenix Suns

Fear of tax may make this slower-than-usual trade deadline

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All-Star weekend usually signals the official start of a frenzied week of rumors and eventually trades in the NBA. Everybody is in town — this year Houston — and general managers are talking face-to-face rather than texting and by Tuesday trades are picking up steam.

But maybe not this year.

If there was a buzz in Houston it’s that the luxury tax is scaring teams off big deals, and a lot of the trades you do see go down will be about lowering salary heading into next season more than improving the team on the floor.

The Raptors would love to move Andrea Bargnani but nobody else wants to play along and take on his $12 million next season. The Bobcats are desperately trying to move Ben Gordon but are finding few takers for the $13 million he is owed next year. Put Kris Humphries and the $12 million he is owed next season on the list. Even guys like Josh Smith are seeing reduced interest because even though he is in the last year of his deal if you trade for him you’ll have to try and re-sign him next summer and he wants five years, $90 million.

Starting next season the full weight of the tougher luxury tax kicks in as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Gone is the dollar-for-dollar tax (for every dollar you are over the luxury tax line the team paid an additional dollar penalty), replaced by a weighted tax that hits you heavier the father you are over the cap. Plus if you are over three years in a row a repeater tax comes in on top of that.

It’s got teams thinking long term and being cautious.

Oh, there will be trades — Josh Smith is the big name. Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap likely get traded out of Utah.

But most of what you will see is deals for guys such as J.J. Redick, DeJuan Blair, Omri Casspi and others. What you will see are smaller deals as teams make moves to save a few dollars, especially teams like the Warriors that are just a million or so over the luxury tax line and see no reason to pay it now.

The goal of the new CBA was to flatten out the tallent pool by making it too expensive (and restrictive in terms of trades) to be over the line. We’ll see how it works, but most teams are certainly scared of the new taxes.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.