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Lakers’ GM says franchise still can build contender around Kobe

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Nobody who knows the Lakers questions if signing Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension is a good business move. Kobe Bryant is worth three times that to the franchise — he fills arena, and more importantly the high priced seats and luxury boxes, with loyal fans. For two years after this the Lakers will sell out at home and be a huge draw on the road (and draw ratings that justify their massive local television deal).

But is it a deal that allows the Lakers to still build a contender around Bryant?

While there are those who questions the flexibility it really leaves the Lakers (and I’m in that group, I think they can be good but not contend for a title) Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told the media Tuesday this deal will allow them to compete for a title (quotes via a transcript of the press conference on Lakers.com).

Do the Lakers have the flexibility to build a team that win a title with Kobe still?

“I think we do, I think we do. The challenge is there. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make it any easier for anybody. It’s restrictive and challenging, but yes, I do believe we can.”

Why do the deal now, why not wait until summer?

“Clearly, we had options to wait till the summer, which creates a lot of other kinds of challenges when you’re in an open market. We could have waited two, three or four weeks from now, and now you’re negotiating during the season with the player and that’s never a good thing, either. We just felt after a month or so of discussion, looking at what this may do to us in the summer in terms of our cap and our plans, and without going into great detail, we do maintain flexibility. The uncertainty of the summer is behind us now. We know we have Kobe in the fold for this year and two more years. The negotiation went pretty smoothly in terms of arriving at a number that as reported makes him the highest paid player in the league next year, the year after and of course this year as well. As I mentioned, we continue to have flexibility during the offseason not knowing what may take place during the offseason with these free agents. People continue to look at the offseason as the year to get a free agent, which is true. But for financial flexibility, it (helps) in a lot of ways in terms of making deals, so we do maintain that as well.”

Was this a business move or a basketball move?

“There’s really nothing that we do that isn’t a combination of a business and basketball decision. You have to ensure the franchise continues to grow and prosper. Then there’s the basketball side of it, which I’ve understood as well as anything. ‘Do you want to win?’ (Dr. Jerry Buss) wasn’t afraid to make a financial decision or business decision, but you can always kind of tell where everybody kind of knew he wanted to win also. Both are factors.”

As they should be. That doesn’t mean they are equally balanced.

That said Kupchak has been one of the smartest, craftiest GMs in the business for a long time. When you count him out, he makes what seems a smart move (even the Dwight Howard trade, despite how it turned out). Bet against him at your own risk.

But he is in an especially tight space now.

Zaza Pachulia steals ball, starts break, blows open layup against Suns (VIDEO)

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Zaza Pachulia is riding the Golden State Warriors train for all it’s worth, in the good and the bad. In November, Pachulia hit a mid-range jumper and did a horse dance. If that was the zenith, Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns was the nadir.

Particularly because Pachulia blew a breakaway layup in which he definitely should have scored.

Instead, the Warriors big man stuffed the ball between the iron and the backboard, clumsily squandering his opportunity:

*Sad trombone*

Russell Westbrook’s no-look, two-hand, behind-his-head pass ignites Thunder break

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Russell Westbrook was just himself — hustling, attacking, and getting his fifth triple-double in a row Sunday night against the Pelicans.

But the play of the night didn’t get him any points or an assist. It was Westbrook hustling, getting to the floor to get a loose ball, then making the showtime pass to start a Globetrotters-like fast break that ended with an Andre Roberson dunk.

Westbrook had an impressive dunk of his own.

NBA VP Kiki VanDeWeghe on “unnaturual acts:” “Our rules are for every player”

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The NBA has tried to crack down on “unnatural acts” — players flailing body parts trying to draw a foul call.

At the heart of that is Golden State’s Draymond Green, who picked up a flagrant foul for the unnatural act of getting his leg high enough to kick James Harden in the face Thursday night. Green fired back at the league, saying in part, “It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements.” Green’s argument is that he was fouled in the air and the high leg was the natural act of him trying to keep his balance. (Doesn’t matter, it’s a reckless act and if you kick someone in the face you should get a flagrant foul. Also, try explaining the kick on Marquese Chriss on Saturday that way.)

Former All-Star NBA player as well as coach Kiki VanDeWeghe is now an NBA vice president and the guy who is the decision maker on these reviews and fouls. He spoke with Sam Amick of the USA Today about how those unnatural act rules are applied.

“Our rules are for every player,” VanDeWeghe told USA TODAY Sports. “We want each play judged according to the rules, as best possible, and the rules applied fairly across our whole league. That’s very important to us. We don’t make exceptions for players. They are applied to everybody.

“In Draymond’s particular case (against the Houston Rockets on Thursday), he had an arm flail which struck the player (James Harden) in the neck-head area. And then in addition to that, he had a kick up above the head of the defender. As he brought his leg down, his heel hit him in the face. It wouldn’t matter what player we’re talking about (it’s a foul)….

“Most of these are done to draw the attention of the referees. We noticed an uptick in these last year, and they needed to be addressed by the competition committee.”

While Green feels singled out — “marked” is what he tweeted — VanDeWeghe noted that competition committee included owners, coaches, GMs, people from the players union, and a lot of people with playing experience, who all sat down as a group and studied what is and is not an “unnatural act.” As Amick noted, it isn’t just Green who gets hit with these penalties, although he gets the headlines: Boston’s Marcus Smart was given a Flagrant One for his kick to the groin of the Miami’s Hassan Whiteside; Thursday LeBron James was given a technical foul for his blow to the head of the Clippers’ Alan Anderson.

So long as Green continues to make these acts — and the kick to Chriss Saturday suggests they are not slowing down — the crackdown will continue.

Watch Raptors PG Kyle Lowry throw a full-court alley oop to Pascal Siakam

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an excellent year for the Eastern Conference Finals hopefuls, and part of that is due to his vision. On Saturday, Lowry threw a full-court lob to Pascal Siakam that was mighty impressive.

After a missed shot in the middle of the third quarter by the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry gathered the rebound on the left block and quickly turned his eyes downcourt.

Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was streaking toward the Raptors basket and behind the Hawks defense.

Lowry took advantage with a long-distance heave after one dribble at the free-throw line, and Pascal was able to gather and softly lay the ball up at the rim.