The Extra Pass: Pau Gasol talks slow start to season, plus Sunday recaps

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LOS ANGELES — In the first quarter Sunday night against Minnesota (as his Lakers were getting blown out of the water), Pau Gasol was 3-of-5 shooting for six points.

The rest of the game he was 2-of-7 shooting, and the second of those buckets came :26 seconds left in the game when Rick Adelman had emptied the Timberwolves bench. Gasol finished with 11 points on 12 shots (but did have 11 rebounds).

That’s been pretty typical to start the season. Gasol was expected to carry the Lakers’ offense, at least until Kobe Bryant returned, but he is averaging 15.3 points a game on 36 percent shooting — it’s taking him 16.1 shots a game to get those points.

That is not Gasol like. It’s not close to what the Lakers were banking on.

What’s more is on the season he’s shooting a respectable 45 percent in the first quarter but just 25.7 percent in the second half.

Gasol said after the game the issue has been a respiratory infection he has battled all season — and that he is getting better.

“I’m getting there, I’m not 100 percent,” Gasol said. “Unfortunately I had to go through two weeks of the respiratory infection that has been killing me. But now I feel better, I’m finally feel like I’m over it. I was able to push myself better and felt better tonight, so I look forward to continue to build on that and get closer to that 100 percent…

“I was getting fatigued really quickly and I can get my wind and conditioning better, and tonight I felt better so that’s a positive sign for the future…

“The minutes that I play I want to feel well, I want to feel strong, I want to feel explosive and not getting tired after five minutes and that’s the way it’s been going to the last two weeks or so with this infection.”

The Lakers need that — especially is Steve Nash is going to be out for any length of time.

“I think he will come back into shape, we just have to be a little patient,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “I think he’s getting a little frustrated, too.”

The Lakers lack guys who can create shots for others — it’s not what Steve Blake does best. Or Nick Young. Or Wesley Johnson. Or Chris Kaman. I could go on, but you get the idea. Gasol, with his ability to both beat guys in the post and pass out of it to cutters was supposed to help get more shots for others in the D’Antoni system. But he has not physically been up to the task.

Gasol had surgery this summer to clean up both his knees, has logged 13-seasons worth of miles on his body and is age 33 now. How much of his slow start is due to the respiratory infection and how much is just do to Father Time starting to win the race remains to be seen.

But if the Lakers seriously harbor playoff dreams, they need the old Gasol back. And fast.

—Kurt Helin

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From the guy sitting next to me watching the Lakers get destroyed by the Timberwolves Sunday night:

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Spurs 120, Knicks 89: This was a loss Carmelo Anthony admitted to being embarrassed about afterward, and with good reason. San Antonio pounced from the very start, and led by as many as 37 points before the final buzzer sounded. J.R. Smith made his season debut after serving a five-game league mandated suspension, but looked as though he hadn’t played in months, going 1-of-nine from the field with the misses including more than one airball and largely appearing to be not even close. With the victory, San Antonio improved to 6-1 on the season.

Thunder 106, Wizards 105 (OT): The Wizards were in this one to the very end of both regulation and the overtime session, but in the end it was too much Kevin Durant. KD finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the winning effort, while Bradley Beal was huge for the Wizards pouring in 34 points of his own — however he missed the chance to win the game in regulation. Russell Westbrook and Nene were both ejected after getting into a shoving match late in the fourth quarter.

Suns 101, Pelicans 94: Phoenix put together some key shots to turn a one-point lead into 10 in the game’s final four minutes to beat the Pelicans for the second time and improve to 5-2 on the season. Goran Dragic returned from an ankle injury, but contributed off the bench instead of from his normal position in the starting lineup. Gerald Green remained productive in that role, and hit some big shots down the stretch. Eric Bledsoe hit the dagger three-pointer to seal it for the second straight game, and Markieff Morris continued his dominance as part of the reserve unit with 23 points. Morris is shooting 78.9percent from the field over his last three games.

Timberwolves 113, Lakers 90: The score may actually make this game seem closer than it was. Minnesota put up 47 points in the first quarter (just a made three away from tying the NBA record) on  76.2 percent shooting plus they hit 7-of-9 from three. Kevin Love had 18 points and hit 4-of-5 shots in the first quarter. Kevin Martin had 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first quarter. Minnesota went on a 27-2 run that quarter, were up 24 at the end of it. They were never seriously threatened (the Lakers got it to 14 at one point, then fell apart again). This was a perfect storm of great Minnesota shooting and terrible Lakers defense. Ricky Rubio finished with a triple double of 12 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.  —Kurt Helin

Fans to vote on “Best Dunk,” “Best Assist,” other categories handed out at NBA Awards show

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Fans are going to get their say at the NBA Awards Show, coming June 26 on TNT. Drake will be the host, and we to come up with an under/over on the number of players Drake gives a bro hug to during the ceremony.

That’s the night the NBA will hand out its Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and every other major postseason award — except for All-NBA Team, which has to come earlier. The media have already cast their votes for these awards.

Where the fans get to come in is the fun awards, categories created just for this event:

• Dunk of the Year
• Best Style
• Block of the Year
• Assist of the Year
• Game Winner of the Year
• Top Performance of the Year

The NBA already narrowed down the list of choices for each category to three, and voting opens tonight. Just go to  www.nba.com/nbaawards and cast your ballot, or on Twitter or Facebook just post the #AwardName and First/Last Name of their winner (for example, #DunkOfTheYear  Larry Nance).

These awards should add some energy — and good highlights — to what has the potential to be a stuffy event. It’s a bunch of NBA players in suits in a ballroom in New York, this is going to feel like a branding event at times. The NBA is hoping the fans can liven it up.

Here are the categories, with the hashtags for voting:

#DunkOfTheYear
• Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn

• Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix

• Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta

#BestStyle
• Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
• Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook

#BlockOfTheYear
• San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston
• New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
• Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto

#GameWinnerOfTheYear
• Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
• Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston

#TopPerformanceOfTheYear
• Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
• Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
• Golden State’s Klay Thompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple-double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando

#AssistOfTheYear
• Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
• Denver’s Nikola Jokic with no-look pass
• LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass

Report: USC’s Elijah Stewart intended to declare for NBA draft, forgot

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Declaring for the NBA draft is like declaring bankruptcy: You can’t just bellow it and expect it to take effect. You actually have to fill out the paperwork.

That’s why USC’s Elijah Stewart wasn’t among the 192 early entrants to the 2017 NBA draft.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Stewart:

Givony’s report will do little but embarrass Stewart. It’s unlikely Stewart would’ve been drafted, and he likely would have withdrawn to return to USC for his senior season. Perhaps, he would’ve gotten helpful feedback from the NBA before that point, but that’s minimal.

The real problem, though, isn’t Stewart’s inattentiveness, to whatever extent is exists. It’s that the NCAA won’t allow players to maintain eligibility while having an agent.

If Stewart had proper representation, there’d be no questioning whether he intended to declare for the draft. His agent would’ve handled it, one way or the other.

If the NCAA were truly about educating players, it’d allow them to have guidance from experienced professional agents. Agents don’t have to conflict with amateurism (not that amateurism is a worthy goal, anyway).

But teaching players is not the NCAA’s true goal. The NCAA prioritizes keeping its cartel in tact and money flowing to coaches and administrators.

Agents might steer players from that corrupt system entirely or at least help them leverage their immense power to gain better compensation than a wage-fixed scholarship.

This incident should spark discussion about the unseemly lengths the NCAA goes to to protect its money-makers from its revenue-generators. Instead, it’s much easier to make Stewart a punchline.

Kevin Durant gets a hoot out of meme with Draymond Green

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You’ve seen the Draymond GreenKevin Durant meme, right?

Here’s the video with my favorite caption:

In the latest episode of “Still KD,” Durant watches the meme, reads other captions and calls it “hilarious.”

Russell Westbrook: ‘Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be’

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The Thunder want to sign Russell Westbrook to a contract extension that projects to be worth about $207 million over five years.

But does he want to sign it?

Westbrook, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”

Westbrook noted that his wife is expecting their first child in May, and that’s where his focus is right now. Asked whether there’s a timetable on his decision about a potential extension, Westbrook lightheartedly jabbed back.

“No. What did I just say? Like you don’t care about my baby?” he said. “You must not. You didn’t hear that part, huh?”

Though it was painted as Westbrook showing his loyalty to the Thunder in stark contrast to the departed Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s renegotiation-and-extension last summer was also his way of receiving the highest-possible salary.

This is a different case.*

*So, it seems. It’s unclear whether the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Oklahoma City to renegotiate Westbrook’s 2017-18 salary up to the designated-veteran-player rate, but I’m presuming not.

Westbrook will have 10 years of experience when an extension would kick in. A typical advantage of a designated-veteran-player contract is allowing a player with eight or nine years experience, who’s typically limited to a starting salary of 30% of the salary cap, to receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap. But Westbrook will be eligible for 35% of the salary by then simply due to his years of service.

In other words, an extension signed this summer would pay Westbrook the exact same amount he could receive as a free agent in 2018.

So, would Westbrook sign that extension? It’d guarantee him a huge salary and protect him in the event of injury or decline. But Westbrook is so good, he’s extremely likely to get the max in 2018-19 no matter what. With only minimal risk, maybe he’d rather maintain flexibility.

Westbrook appeared to embrace leading the team, and he truly seems happy in Oklahoma City in a way I didn’t expect when he signed last summer. His image is so tied to loyalty to the Thunder, it’d be tough to spin an exit.

But Oklahoma City is relatively locked into a roster that will have a hard time winning multiple playoff series. Westbrook wants to win.

I don’t know whether he’ll accept an extension this summer rather than delaying a year, but if he won’t ink a deal this year, that should be a concerning indicator to the Thunder about their chances of re-signing him in 2018.