Los Angeles Clippers Introduce Chris Paul

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.

Late turnovers, dubious foul call on DeMarcus Cousins sinks Kings vs. Bulls (VIDEO)

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The Sacramento Kings committed a costly turnover during a tie game with just 14 seconds to go to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Thankfully, they were gifted with a missed Dwyane Wade layup to give them another possession!

Well, they would have been if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t called for one of the softest fouls you’re likely to see this NBA season.

That gave the Bulls a chance to convert two free throws — of which Wade hit one — and then an opportunity at the other end to tie or win.

Unfortunately, Cousins lost the ball on the next Sacramento possession, which sealed the game for Chicago, 102-99.

Cousins was not happy with the outcome of the game, thrashing a garbage can in the hallway of the United Center and giving some interesting quotes to reporters.

Everyone set your mobile notifications for tomorrow’s L2M report.

Marcus Morris tips in game-winner over brother Markieff as Pistons best Wizards (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Marcus Morris scored 25 points and tipped in the winning basket at the buzzer, leading the Detroit Pistons to a 113-112 victory over Washington on Saturday night for their third straight win.

Reggie Jackson had 19 points and eight assists, while Tobias Harris added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who let a 16-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter before Morris’ big bucket.

John Wall finished with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Markieff Morris added 19 points and nine rebounds for Washington, which had its four-game win streak snapped.

The Wizards took a 112-111 lead on Bradley Beal‘s two free throws with 1:13 left. Detroit had numerous chances to win on its final possession before Marcus Morris tipped in Harris’ missed runner with no time left.

The Pistons led 98-82 after three quarters, but the Wizards fought back, getting within six at 105-99 on Markieff Morris’ layup. The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes before Washington gained a 110-109 advantage on Morris’ dunk with 2:14 remaining.

Washington scored the first nine points of the game, but the Pistons took their first lead, 20-19, on Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer and led 30-26 after the first quarter.

Detroit took its biggest edge of the half, 41-30, on Reggie Bullock‘s 3-pointer. The Wizards got within three points on two occasions, but trailed 61-55 at the break.

The Pistons controlled the third quarter, building their lead to 16 points on Ish Smith‘s free throw to end the period.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Danuel House Jr. (right wrist fracture) and Ian Mahinmi (knee) did not play. … Washington played its third straight close game, beating New York 113-110 and Memphis 104-101 in their last two. … G Trey Burke played college basketball at Michigan. He finished Saturday with seven points off the bench.

Pistons: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (left rotator cuff strain) did not play. … Detroit capped its five game West Coast trip with a 102-97 win over the Lakers and beat Atlanta 118-95 in their first game back at the Palace. … Pistons F Marcus Morris and Washington F Markieff Morris are brothers and former teammates in Phoenix.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Monday at Charlotte.

Pistons: Host Sacramento on Monday.

Watch Nik Stauskas — yes, Nik Stauskas — posterize Thabo Sefolosha (VIDEO)

Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) of Canada, reacts after making a shot while being fouled as Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, of Switzerland, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
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Nik Stauskas — sometimes better known as Sauce Castillo — is mostly known for shooting 3-pointers for the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s why, when he dunked all over Atlanta Hawks wing Thabo Sefolosha on Saturday, it was even more surprising.

The play happened late in the second quarter, and it really was all Kent Bazemore‘s fault. He tried to hack at Stauskas instead of using lock and trail defense at the 3-point line, leaving poor Sefolosha to unexpectedly help out down low.

Via Facebook:

Yeah, nothing you can do about that. Saucy.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.