Winners and losers to this point in NBA free agency

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Teams began entering into agreements with free agent players shortly after midnight Eastern on July 1, but due to a league-imposed moratorium on activity, no deals can be officially signed until July 10.

We’re almost there, and plenty of the top names available have indeed been swooped up by teams looking to make a splash next season. While there are still some major impact players left on the market, let’s take a look on some of the winners and losers to this point in the free agent sweepstakes.

WINNER: Houston Rockets. Dwight Howard chose Houston as the place he’ll sign for the next four seasons, even though his deal contains an opt-out after three that could either see him walk, or sign an extension to remain there into the twilight of his career. In addition to Howard, the team is locking up shooters like Francisco Garcia and guys that can contribute meaningful minutes off the bench if called upon like Omri Casspi.

It remains to be seen if Houston is done making moves, or if they’ll look to do something with the contracts of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. But for now, pairing Howard with James Harden is a huge win for the Rockets organization.

ALSO A WINNER: The Lakers. It’s true that the Lakers wanted Howard to stay in Los Angeles, and were willing to see their payroll exceed $90 million next season (even before luxury tax penalties, which would have been massive) to make that happen. A max contract for five years was what the Lakers happily would have offered for Howard’s services, but now that he’s gone, the reality that he was never a match for the franchise can finally be allowed to sink in.

Howard didn’t enjoy playing with Kobe Bryant, felt marginalized in Mike D’Antoni’s system, and never embraced the pressure of playing for a franchise where championships were not only expected, but demanded. Shaquille O’Neal was right about Howard to a certain extent, and even if he had chosen to stay with the Lakers, trouble would have been brewing in that relationship very soon, and it would have caused more harm than good for both sides.

The Lakers have nothing to do in free agency but wait a season until they have an almost completely clean slate from a salary cap perspective, but it seems as though they dodged a bullet where Howard was concerned, despite the organization’s best efforts to sign him.

LOSER: Milwaukee Bucks. We qualified these characterizations up top by saying it’s as of right now, with plenty of time left for things to change. But at the moment, Milwaukee isn’t looking all that sharp. The Bucks traded for J.J. Redick at the deadline last season, only to deal him away to the Clippers in the three-way trade that sent  Eric Bledsoe to the Suns, which netted Milwaukee nothing more than a couple of future second round draft picks.

Combine that with Monta Ellis appearing as though he’ll leave, along with the yet-to-be-resolved situation with Brandon Jennings, and it’s been a rough go of it so far. The team did add O.J. Mayo as a more cost-effective (but less dynamic) replacement for Ellis, and signed a solid veteran big man in Zaza Pachulia. But none of that screams improvement for a Bucks squad that finished six games below .500 last season, and it appears as though they’re grabbing players to fill roster spots without much of a long-term plan for success.

LOSER: Utah Jazz. The Jazz had two high-quality, unrestricted free agents in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. There were rumors that at least one would be dealt at the trade deadline last season, because it would have made sense to get some assets in return for guys you weren’t planning on signing once the season was over.

The trade deadline came and went, however, and both Jefferson and Millsap remained on the roster. Utah fought for the final playoff spot in the West, before ultimately succumbing to Houston and the Lakers to finish the season as part of the group of teams in the draft lottery.

Now, Jefferson has chosen Charlotte, and Millsap has agreed to play in Atlanta. The Jazz, meanwhile, chose to start from scratch by taking on the bad contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins from the Warriors.

WINNER: The Clippers. There was no question that Chris Paul would stay in the big market of Los Angeles and take all of that guaranteed money that staying with his current team would provide. But the Clippers tried their best to screw things up by having ownership publicly hang Paul out to dry where Vinny Del Negro was concerned, and Paul wasn’t at all happy with how that whole saga played out.

It’s amazing, however, what a few shrewd moves can do to quickly change those perceptions.

The Clippers managed to get Doc Rivers to leave the Celtics to become their head coach, before going out and solidifying the roster in hopes of making a deeper postseason run next year. L.A. retained Matt Barnes, added Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick in the trade that sent Bledsoe out of town before his salary demands became too unmanageable, and then replaced Bledsoe with a similar but more reasonably priced version of a backup for Paul in Darren Collison.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: Nets, Pistons, Bobcats. The view you have on the moves that these three teams made largely will depend on your opinion of how to best go about building an NBA franchise.

If you’re of the opinion that you need to get worse before you can get better, by bottoming out to clear cap space and then earning high-lottery draft picks in order to secure a young and talented roster, then it’s more than likely you’re not in favor of the moves made by these franchises.

Let’s start in Brooklyn, where the Nets are never going to pursue that model as long as billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov is running the show. He favors immediate success and relevance above all else, so bringing in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to add to a starting lineup already featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez is pretty much going to be the way things are done in Brooklyn for the foreseeable future.

The bench depth, along with just how effective Pierce and Garnett can be at this late stage of their respective careers, will be serious questions in terms of just how far the Nets can go during a run through the postseason. But on the flip-side, they’ll be a top-four team in the East, and will be extremely intriguing to watch.

As for the Bobcats and the Pistons, both teams made similarly big moves to add star power immediately instead of waiting (or in this case, continuing) to try to rebuild in the conventional way. Charlotte added Al Jefferson from the Jazz, and Detroit went out and got Josh Smith from the Hawks.

Neither of these moves make a ton of sense when you consider the rest of the players currently in place on the respective rosters. But at some point, teams need to stop being terrible in favor of being just bad in order to give the fans a certain level of hope, and give them a top-level talent to root for while adding a few more wins to the season-long struggle to develop the youth for the future.

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.

Mike Brown still waiting on Tyronn Lue to pay up overdue bet

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mike Brown is ready for Tyronn Lue to pay up on a nearly two-decade-old bet. Yep, Lue owes him $100 and Brown plans to accept it at long last – perhaps even during the NBA Finals when they see each other.

All this time Brown never wanted the money he earned by beating Lue in a shooting contest when the Cavaliers coach was an NBA newcomer, yet Golden State’s acting coach – who spent two stints leading Cleveland – joked how Lue can surely afford it these days.

“I’m glad he finally admitted that he owes me money because for many years he wouldn’t admit that he owed me money. He does owe me $100 and since he got his new deal hopefully he can afford to pay me now,” Brown said Saturday post-practice. “I asked him many time for it but he’s denied it. He’s denied that the game ever took place.”

Lue insists he has tried to pay up – time and time again, to no avail.

“Mike, I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. That’s all I ever know about Mike,” Lue said Saturday. “I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take the money so he says I always owe him. He’s always been a great guy.”

The 40-year-old Lue was rewarded with a contract extension after the Cavs’ championship run last June for the city’s first major sports title in 52 years. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit to the Warriors, and now the teams are preparing to face off for a third straight year.

“I think what it has to do with, it has to do with the fact he’s got a nice, long, fat contract with the Cavs and he realizes that he can finally afford to pay me the money that he owes me for the shooting game back in 2000 or whenever it was,” Brown said with a grin.

Brown acknowledged he cannot recall any other details such as how many shots each man made, saying: “I don’t even remember, that was back when I was in shape and a good shooter. He’d kill me now”

“Yeah, he was with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost,” Lue said. “He wouldn’t take the money so from now on 19 years in a row always says, `You owe me $100.’ He won’t take the money. Always been close to Mike and I like Mike a lot, respect him a lot.”

 

Bob Myers’ care for people goes long way as Warriors GM

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When Bob Myers hosts a dinner party, he is the guy who once it’s all over has a pretty good read on the entire evening: who had a great time, who held something back, which couples are getting along, who might be dealing with a life challenge but chose to keep it private.

“All those things go through my mind, without me trying to. Some people, none of that goes through their mind,” Myers said. “They ate, and did what they did. I don’t know why those things are. I don’t know how you are. … We all have different intuitions and skills.”

Usually, he is spot on. And his instincts also carry over to the workplace.

The Golden State Warriors’ general manager has that same kind of feel for his entire operation – from those staffers behind the scenes, to the coaches, the MVPs and the role players, helping to forge a tight-knit team in its third straight NBA Finals.

“There’s a lot of things I have no clue on and then you bring people in to your blind spots and say, `Look, I’m not good at this, can you help me in this area?”‘ he said. “That’s also being self-aware. What does it mean? It just means we’re attentive to people. Everybody wants to feel appreciated. Everybody wants to know that they matter. We all matter in our own unique ways. So, does that help our team? I don’t know. It helps that we have really good players.”

Myers has found a balance being involved just enough in the day-to-day. Hands-on when needed while knowing when to back off.

One day, Myers stands in the middle of the center practice court meeting with Steve Kerr. He might be speaking to Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green. Another time, he leans against a back wall checking in with Mike Brown, who has been coaching the team during Kerr’s absence following a procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak stemming from complications after two back surgeries in 2015.

Myers does sit-ups on a stability ball while chatting up Stephen Curry, antsy for practice to wrap up so the GM can get to hooping himself.

That genuine care for the person and not just the basketball player that Myers shows in all he does went a long way in Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City last July to join the Warriors. Sure, a star-studded roster didn’t hurt either.

“He doesn’t walk around like he’s the leader. We know he makes the big decisions but we work together, all of us, him and Steve especially. If you see Bob walking with a group of Warriors employees, you wouldn’t know he’s Bob Myers, the president of the team. He just fits in with everybody,” Durant said. “We talk so much about great leaders being just ahead of the pack most of the time but sometimes that doesn’t have to be your personality. It could be encouraging, working with others, learning and listening. All those traits he has, and I think that’s why he’s ahead of the pack.

“That’s what drew me here.”

In a pre-playoff practice, the 42-year-old ex-sports agent and former player at UCLA stood holding a basketball while wearing sweats and no shoes – his typical, understated NBA executive style. He pulled on some bright blue high-tops and started stretching out his quadriceps for one of those regular staff pickup games he so enjoys because it allows him a break from being “leashed” to his smartphone.

Myers picks his moments, or, in some cases, Kerr assists. After Golden State fell behind 2-1 at Memphis in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, the coach called Myers over afterward and sought his input, a gesture the GM appreciates to this day.

He respects his role and the specific jobs of everyone who works with him. He doesn’t look at it as if he is above the rest.

“The best thing we can do is be who we are, whatever that is,” Myers said. “We’re all drawn to authenticity. We like people who are real. Sometimes real people are flawed, we’re all flawed. I think we connect with people who are open, exposed, willing to admit things they’re good at, things they’re not good at, try to be humble, try to be collaborative.”

Golden State wound up coming back to beat the Grizzlies on the way to winning it all in `15 for the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. The Warriors squandered a 3-1 Finals lead last year to Cleveland to miss a repeat title. Then, Myers – with help from Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Kerr – lured Durant away from the Thunder to make another deep run. An acquisition accomplished as a team, in Myers’ mind.

“He’s a listener and an observer and that’s what I love about him,” Kerr said. “He’s really, really bright and he understands people. The reason he understands people is because he watches and observes and doesn’t have to dominate the conversation.”

Myers might spend extra time watching the backups, who often stay late for extra scrimmaging to keep sharp.

He doesn’t interfere, yet they know he’s there.

“He’s got a really special quality of being here and then staying in the background at the same time,” Kerr said. “He gets it. I think that’s the way he approaches his life. He’s very modest and yet he’s very confident. He’s very knowledgeable and yet he listens. He’s never the know-it-all guy who has to show he’s the smartest in the room but he actually is the smartest in the room.”

When Myers moves about team headquarters in downtown Oakland he also blends right in with any group. That’s how easy he is to have around – and much like the scene at one of his dinner parties, he has a gauge on the vibe.

“He understands how important it is for him to be aware of everything that’s going on, how everybody’s feeling,” Curry said. “It’s a tough job, for sure, to have to balance, manage, all these different personalities and the ups and downs of the season. He’s bridged the gap between upstairs and downstairs. All that responsibility, it all pays out when we all succeed, and a lot of that goes to what Bob does on a day-to-day basis. … He finds a way to be personable, to be connected to every single person in our organization. And it’s very genuine. That goes a long way.”