Kobe Bryant on his two-year contract extension: ‘This wasn’t a negotiation’

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Kobe Bryant signed a two-year contract extension with the Lakers on Monday, a deal worth $48.5 million that will leave L.A. enough cap space next season to pursue a max contract level player in free agency — but just barely.

The reaction to the news from Lakers fans and outside observers alike was mostly similar, and followed a consistent theme: This was too much money to assign to Bryant for the next two years, especially with the fact that the team is far from a championship level contender as currently constructed.

Bryant should have taken less money, so the popular opinion goes, in order to leave some for those who might come to the team in free agency next summer.

The reality, however, is that the high profile free agents-to-be aren’t all that likely to change teams, whether the money is there in Los Angeles or it isn’t. The franchise decided instead to lock up the city’s most iconic sports figure for two more seasons, at an above-market price.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

“This was easy,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on Monday night. “This wasn’t a negotiation. The Lakers made their offer with cap and building a great team in mind while still taking care of me as a player.

“I simply agreed to the offer.”

Until the hours before the Lakers’ meeting with the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, that’s all Bryant would say about the contract extension. He is 35 years old, working his way back from a torn Achilles and the Buss family is still betting Bryant is the best free-agent star available on the market, betting that Bryant can still drive ticket sales and TV ratings and make these Lakers relevant again.

This was a business decision for the Lakers even more than it was a basketball one.

The team’s consecutive sellout streak that lasted more than seven years came to an end a couple of weeks ago, and the fact that Bryant wasn’t in uniform when it happened is anything but a coincidence.

The Lakers are a franchise built around winning of course, but are even more about doing so with some of the game’s biggest stars wearing the purple and gold. Bryant not only drives ticket sales, he is also the face of the team’s most recent string of championships.

Locking him up for two years at any price was the right thing to do from a business standpoint, but more importantly to those questioning the amount of the contract and where it puts the team in terms of its salary cap situation moving forward, Bryant’s comments here show that he wasn’t the one pushing for a big-money deal — rather, it was the Lakers coming to the table with a more than acceptable offer for one of the game’s all-time greats.

Josh Allen’s old tweet: ‘I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks’

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Josh Allen, a quarterback from Wyoming, could be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s NFL draft. But his recently unearthed high school tweets – which include using the n-word with an ‘a’ at the end – are the sports story of the day.

And there’s an NBA tie.

Via Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports:

I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks

— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 7, 2011

Damian Lillard went down this same road with LeBron James, and they got past it.

But it would be a little more awkward if the Cleveland Browns – who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks – take Allen. Then, Allen will face more scrutiny over this tweet – the most innocuous of the bunch.

Donovan Mitchell tells Thunder fans, Jazz teammates Utah not returning to Oklahoma City this season

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The Jazz blew a 25-point second-half lead in Game 5 last night, extending their series with the Thunder. Up 3-2, the Jazz are still in control. They can close out in Game 6 tomorrow in Utah. Blow that, and they must return to Oklahoma City for Game 7 Sunday.

But Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t plan to do that.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise 107.7:

Jake Edmonds of KUTV:

A confident proclamation that rallies his team or youthful exuberance run amok?

The narrative will be decided after Game 6. That’s just how this is done.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?