In a crowded Pelicans backcourt, Austin Rivers wants to show he belongs

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LAS VEGAS — Austin Rivers’ poor start to last season got a lot of attention — he was genuinely awful. Historically awful. For the season he ended with a PER of 5.9, the kind of number that normally would suggest his next paycheck will come from Europe. It’s the worst PER ever for a rookie who played more than 1,000 minutes.

What wasn’t noticed is that at the end of the season he played better — in his last 20 games he shot 50 percent overall, 40 percent from three. He wasn’t scoring a lot, but you could see improvement.

“Last year was up and down for me, I didn’t have a great year,” Rivers said Thursday after the Pelicans were eliminated from the Summer League tournament. “That was tough, it was the first time in my life where everything wasn’t roses and success. I had to look in the mirror and be like, ‘What am I going to do? Listen I have to play better I got to figure something out.’

“Then bam I figured it out and I’m playing really well, and then I break my hand. I was like, ‘golly, what is going on I finally start playing well and my hand breaks. Then I was like this is a test, I’m going to rehab the heck out of my hand and come back even better.”

He’s looked better in Las Vegas — he averaged 17.3 points a game in the Pelicans first three games to lead the team and shot 46.5 percent. He had 16 points on Thursday, but on 5-of-14 shooting.

Thursday against the Nuggets he was attacking the rim — only 4 of his 14 shots were on the perimeter (1-of-4), half of them were in the restricted area (5-of-7) and he got to the line seven times. Finishing is one of the things he is doing better.

“My strength, I’ve gained seven pounds, guys aren’t able to post me up. I’m able to go to the rack and finish, I’m bumping guys off and able to get to that floater,” Rivers said. “On defense I can use my chest more.”

His decision making with the ball is improved, and his defense is improved (but has a ways to go). Rivers has a ways to go, but he’s taking steps.

All of which is to say, if you’ve written Rivers off you did it too soon. He is looking more like a guy who can play in the league.

The question is will he do that with the Pelicans? New Orleans had one of the most interesting summers out there and loaded up on talent in Rivers’ position.

Rivers is a point guard and the Pelicans got All-Star Jrue Holiday from Philadelphia (in exchange for Nerlens Noel, basically). Eric Gordon is healthy and at the two, but he can handle the ball. So can Tyreke Evans, who might play the three or be the sixth man.

Where does Rivers fit in that rotation? He doesn’t know, but he’s confident he does fit in.

“Jrue Holiday’s an unbelievable player, (Gordon) is an unbelievable player, (Evans) is a great player, but I believe I am too,” Rivers said. “And I’ve got to continue to work and just listen to my coaches and I know if I do that I’ll make time and have an unbelievable year next year.”

He sounds like a coach’s son. But that’s a good thing, the kind of thing that can help a guy get past a slow start to make a quality NBA career.

Report: John Wall contract extension Wizards’ top priority, but he’s unsure about committing

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Wizards guard John Wall can sign a contract extension this year, sign an extension next year or become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. No matter when he signs – because he’s still under contract for two more seasons – the new terms would take effect in 2019-20.

When will he lock in?

By making the All-NBA third team, Wall became eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension with Washington this summer. But because he has two years left on his current deal ($18,063,850 in 2017-18 and $19,169,800 in 2018-19), an extension could add just four years to his contract.

This is the only time Wall is guaranteed be eligible for a designated-veteran-player salary, though. He could add five years at the designated-veteran-player rate by making All-NBA in 2017-18 or 2018-19, but that’s obviously no guarantee.

Does Wall want to sign now, even for fewer years, while he’s designated-veteran-player eligible? Do the Wizards want to give him that higher max in order to secure his services for just four additional years?

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

An extension with Wall will be the top priority of the offseason in which Otto Porter is also a restricted free agent, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.

From league sources close to the situation, Wall wants to see a bigger picture plan on where the franchise is headed before committing for longer.

Wall has never advanced past the second round, and he sounded disappointed in his supporting cast after the Wizards lost to the Celtics in this year’s second round. He has also expressed unhappiness about his lack of popularity in Washington.

But that’s a lot of money to turn down. Wall can’t simply pencil himself onto another All-NBA team is this guard-dominant league.

A designated-veteran-player projects to be worth $217 million over five years. If Wall plays out his contract without making an All-NBA team the next two years, his projected max – even if he re-signs with the Wizards – projects be worth $186 million over five years. That’s a $31 million difference!*

*Using Albert Nahmad’s $107 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20

Would Wall take such a large financial risk?

He must weigh his priorities (security vs. flexibility, staying in Washington vs. leaving) and his chances of making another All-NBA team in a league with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.

Here’s a flowchart showing Wall’s possible outcomes and what his max contract projects to be in each scenario:

John Wall extension (4)

Report: Paul Millsap opts out of Hawks contract

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Even after the Hawks’ season ended, Paul Millsap wouldn’t confirm he’d opt out of the final year of his contract.

But the All-Star finally made the inevitable official.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Atlanta Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap has opted out of his $21.4 million contract for next season to become a free agent, league sources told The Vertical.

The 32-year-old Millsap would have earned $21,472,407 if he opted in. It’s a virtual certainty he’ll earn more than that next season – and gain long-term security in a multi-year contract.

He might even get a max starting salary, which projects to be worth more than $35 million. Over a five-year contract with Atlanta, his max projects to be worth $205 million ($41 million annually). If he leaves, his projected max is $152 million over four years ($38 million annually).

The Hawks don’t yet have a general manager, but Millsap will reportedly negotiate directly with owner Tony Ressler, who said they’d make “every effort imaginable” to re-sign Millsap.

With that commitment and certain interest from other teams, how could Millsap do anything but opt out?

This isn’t a tell about his future with Atlanta. It’s an obvious financial decision.

Called out by LeBron James, reporter Kenny Roda defends himself

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LeBron James reacted to the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics by jawing with a fan and saying he was glad Cleveland lost.

The peculiarities didn’t end there.

LeBron called out Kenny Roda of WHBC for asking a question.

For full context, the earlier times LeBron addressed his individual performance and both of Roda’s questions are included in the above video. So is the funny look LeBron shot someone (Roda?) after the press conference. Here’s the noteworthy exchange:

  • Roda: “For you, you said it was just your game. Couldn’t get into a rhythm tonight, is that what it was? Based on their defense or just not feeling it or or what?”
  • LeBron: “Nah, I was just pretty poor. I mean, what do you want me to say? It sees like you only ask questions when we lose. It’s a weird thing with you, Kenny. You always come around when we lose, I swear. Yeah, OK.”

Roda:

“You cover us only when we lose” is a too-common complaint in high school sports. It’s odd to see LeBron employ it, though saying Roda asks questions only when the Cavs lose is a wrinkle that adds plausibility to LeBron’s claim. Still, it’s tough to believe.

Even if LeBron is right that Roda asks questions only when Cleveland loses, so what? Asking a question isn’t a sign Roda is happy the team lost or is trying to rub it in. Players tend to be testier after losses (case in point), and asking question then can be more difficult. If Roda puts himself out there after only losses, kudos to him.

LeBron’s struggles were the dominant storyline in Game 3. Getting him to expand on what went wrong was a worthy goal. Roda’s question probably wasn’t distinctive enough to get more out of LeBron after his first two responses about his performance, but the inquiry was on the right path. Asking a vague question on a topic already covered vaguely is only a minor offense.

LeBron understands the media better than most. This was a weird time to pick a public battle, which makes me think this was more frustration than ploy.

Stephen Curry: Dewayne Dedmon’s screen was ‘dirty play’ (video)

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Late in the Warriors’ Game 3 win over the Spurs on Saturday, San Antonio center Dewayne Dedmon appeared to initiate knee-to-knee contact on a screen of Stephen Curry.

Curry, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I know he’s not a dirty player. I’m not going to try to mess up his reputation, but I feel like that was a dirty play,” Curry responded to ESPN. “Luckily no one was hurt.”

Golden State is clearly trying to gain equal footing in the dirty debate after Zaza Pachulia injured Kawhi Leonard – and gain the moral high ground by not calling a player dirty and bringing the consequences that invites.

But this isn’t the same as Pachulia’s double-slide closeout under a fading shooter.

It’s much easier to assign intent when watching in slow motion. Innocuous actions tend to look deliberate when viewed at partial speed, because we subconsciously believe players process their movements at the same rate we process their movements – but slow motion gives us an advantage.

Dedmon’s screen was probably illegal, but dirty? I’m not sure. I don’t know his intent, but executing that move intending to injure Curry would require incredible precision. Maybe Dedmon tries that often, usually misses and just happened to strike here. But I don’t see enough to assume this was a dirty play