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

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

russell westbrook blake griffin
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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?

Report: Gordon Hayward will meet first with Heat in free agency, then Jazz, then Celtics

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Gordon Hayward is arguably the biggest available prize in free agency, and his dance card for the first couple of days in July is filling up.

Miami and Pat Riley will bat lead off in a series of meetings, reports ESPN.

Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that…

Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.

For the record, there are rumors it’s Miami Saturday, Boston Sunday, Utah Monday, then he will take some time to make a decision. I’m not sure the order matters that much.

Hayward is an All-Star level player at a position of need for a lot of teams out on the wing. He averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, can put the ball on the floor and be a playmaker for himself and others, plus can defend everything from stretch fours to point guards (he’s not a lock-down defender, but he is good). Hayward is the kind of versatile player teams need to compete in a modern NBA. He’s an elite wing player who is about to get paid like one.

The question is by whom? Around the league teams are convinced it will be one of those three, but which one depends on who you talk to. The Jazz seem confident they can retain him, where others seem confident he’s got one foot out the door. Only Hayward truly knows, and he’s wise to not speak on it and take the meetings. (If he takes his time deciding that could impact the chase for Blake Griffin, Miami and Boston reportedly have interest if they don’t land Gordon, but that can’t be Gordon’s concern. He has to do what’s right for him in his own time.)