Amir Johnson Raptors

The Extra Pass: Raptors’ salary dump trade could mean a few more wins, too; plus Sunday recaps

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LOS ANGELES — Make no mistake, this was first and foremost about money. And future flexibility.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri made a smart trade sending Rudy Gay out of town in a deal that sets his team up for the future by removing up to $12.4 million from the books next season. This summer  Andrea Bargnani’s anchor contract and now Rudy Gay’s oversized one are off the Toronto books. This Gay trade was all about the financial savings.

But it could mean a few more wins in there here and now, too.

Without the duplication of Gay and DeMar DeRozan’s talents the Raptors offense on Sunday night against the Lakers played faster and had better spacing then it has in some time. There was less isolation and more pick-and-roll. The Raptors got 28 percent of their shot opportunities from either the ball handler or roll man in the pick-and-roll against the Lakers (up from 22 percent on the season) while the Raptors got just 7 percent of their shots from isolation plays (down from a 12 percent average on the season).

The result was a 106-94 win spoiling Kobe Bryant’s return.

Part of the good play can be attributed to the Raptors pulling together when shorthanded — something we see all the time in sports for short runs.

“I don’t think anyone was prepared for it happen today,” Kyle Lowry said after he scored 23 Sunday night. “I didn’t. You don’t expect it to happen this fast or this soon. You say you feel something coming but you can’t say anything until it happens and now that it happens you say ‘we knew it.’”

However, the improvement in the Raptors offense — ranked 17th in the NBA in points per possession — may well be more than just a one-night boost.

Without Gay getting his team-high 18.6 shots a game — with one-in-four coming from an isolation play — the Raptors offense looked improved.

“The floor was spaced a lot,” Amir Johnson said after he dropped 32 on the Lakers. “They pay attention to DeMar a lot, especially coming off those curls. So when you have that big (defending Johnson) help, he was able to get that dunk pass and I was able to get those layups. It was working for us tonight.”

Lowry was happy, too.

“I’m really happy how we played, the ball moved out there, swinging, everyone chipped in it was a great effort from everyone.”

Nobody in the Raptors locker room had a negative word to say about Gay — just the opposite, most players seemed upset to have lost a teammate they genuinely liked.

“Rudy is a prince of a guy,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s a dynamic, athletic wing player, he gets to the basket at will. He can shoot the ball, handle the ball, we were using him more in drag situations, pick-and-roll situations and he was growing into that role, doing a better job getting a feel for the defense. And that was a different role for him to do that but he was growing into it, getting better with it.”

Still, the offense looked better.

Now on top of that thanks to the trade Toronto adds a playmaking guard in Greivis Vasquez, a solid vet in Chuck Hayes, and a guy who can provide some wing depth in John Salmons. We’ll see how it all fits together — and who gets moved again before the deadline, this is a roster in flux — but all the pieces could fit together a little better than it has up to this point.

Toronto did not make this trade trying to win the sad Atlantic division — for the Raptors this is about saving money and roster flexibility. Gay is not the kind of guy Masai Ujiri wants to build around, especially not if he picks up his $19.3 million option for next season. This trade was about financial flexibility.

But with the Raptors starting five being +19 against the Lakers (who were out of sync with the Kobe’s return) you have to wonder if this might mean a few more wins this season, too.

—Kurt Helin

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Celtics 114, Knicks 73: New York didn’t bother to show up for this one, as the early noon tip-off time at home once again proved to be too much for the Knicks to deal with. The team fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter, didn’t hit a field goal for the game’s first six-plus minutes, and essentially erased any good feelings they created by coming out of their nine-game losing streak with consecutive wins by a margin of more than 30 points each.

Heat 110, Pistons 95: Detroit handed Miami one of its five losses on the season less than a week ago, so you can bet that the Pistons got the Heat’s full attention in the rematch. That meant a near triple-double performance out of LeBron James, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, and a blistering 32-17 third quarter where the Heat put this one away for good and turned the final 12 minutes into nothing more than extended garbage time.

Thunder 118, Pacers 94: It’s easy to dismiss this loss for the Pacers, considering how dominant they’ve been to start the season along with the fact that a Spurs-Thunder road back-to-back isn’t exactly the fairest of schedules to deal with. But Kevin Durant turned in an above-average performance regardless of what his opponent’s circumstances were, and finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds to lead his team to the win — perhaps because he was tired of hearing about Paul George and his breakout season thus far. George had 32 points and five rebounds of his own in the losing effort.

Rockets 98, Magic 88: This one wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate, mainly because the Rockets held a lead of 22 points in the third quarter and lost focus in the final period by shooting a dismal 5-of-22 from the field over the game’s final 12 minutes. James Harden finished with 27 points and 10 assists, and Dwight Howard added 20 points, 22 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Raptors 106, Lakers 94: Kobe Bryant was back on the court, but as had to be expected he was rusty and his teammates were not used to playing with him. Kobe had 9 points on 2-of-9 shooting, with eight rebounds and eight turnovers. The Lakers five starters combined to shoot 25 percent and none scored in double digits — they were that out of sync. Meanwhile Amir Johnson was back home in Los Angeles and dropped 32 in front of his friends, while DeMar DeRozan (26 points) and Kyle Lowry (23) slashed their way into the lane. The Raptors scored 60 points in the paint on the night. Rudy Gay who?

New Grizzlies coach David Fizdale: ‘I didn’t leave Miami and that beautiful beach and all that water and good stuff to come here to lose’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 17:  (L-R) NBA players LeBron James, David Fizdale, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Erik Spoelstra accept award for Best Team onstage at The 2013 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for ESPY)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) David Fizdale left no doubt about his intentions in the longtime assistant’s new job as the Memphis Grizzlies’ head coach.

“I’m here to win,” Fizdale said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “That’s the best way to put it. I didn’t leave Miami and that beautiful beach and all that water and good stuff to come here to lose. I came here to win. And I came here to be a big part of this community, a big part of the people here. I’m going to be out and about, and I’m going to be involved in everything.”

Fizdale replaces Dave Joerger, who was fired May 7 after three seasons and three playoff appearances. Joerger has since been hired as the Sacramento Kings’ coach.

In Memphis, Fizdale takes over a team with the NBA’s third-longest postseason streak at six straight seasons, behind only San Antonio (19) and Atlanta (nine). But center Marc Gasol is recovering from a broken foot, while point guard Mike Conley hits free agency in July.

“The goal is to win a title, no doubt about it,” Fizdale said. “With the pieces that we have and the pieces that we’re going to put together, with us working together in collaboration, I see no reason why we won’t have an opportunity to take that run.”

Although this marks Fizdale’s first NBA head coaching job, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace cited the longtime assistant’s background as evidence that Fizdale is “uniquely prepared to lead the Grizzlies into the future.”

Fizdale was an assistant coach with Golden State in 2003-04 and the Atlanta Hawks between 2004 and 2008. He started coaching as an assistant at his alma mater, the University of San Diego.

He also spent a season as Miami’s video intern in 1997-98.

The Grizzlies gave Fizdale his first head coaching opportunity during an offseason when many other teams went with NBA head coaching veterans such as Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, Nate McMillan in Indiana and Frank Vogel in Orlando.

“I feel very confident that I’m ready for this. … I’m going to attack this job,” Fizdale said.

Memphis wrapped up its selection process less than three weeks after dismissing Joerger.

He Grizzlies also considered former Grizzlies and Nets coach Lionel Hollins, Charlotte assistant Patrick Ewing, Portland assistant Nate Tibbets, Spurs assistants James Borrego and Ettore Messina as well as Vogel.

Now that they’ve found their coach, the Grizzlies can concentrate on personnel matters.

The Grizzlies are waiting for Gasol’s foot to heal after his season ended in February. Conley is due to become a free agent after left Achilles tendinitis ended his season in early March. Memphis also has to decide whether to exercise the option on Lance Stephenson and if they should keep Vince Carter, JaMychal Green and Xavier Munford.

Report: Most insiders consider Kevin Durant signing 1+1 contract with Thunder most likely

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder leads his team on the court during game one of the NBA Western Conference Final against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The summer of Kevin Durant has arrived.

What will the superstar do in free agency?

Marc Stein of ESPN:

File this under: Do they know something? Executives around the league are sometimes better positioned to gain and share inside information, but sometimes, they’re supposing just like the rest of us. The possibility of the former makes this noteworthy, but don’t rule out the latter.

Durant signing a two-year contract with a player option would make a lot of sense. He’ll be eligible for a much higher max in 2017, because he’ll have 10 years of experience and the salary cap will continue to skyrocket. He could also spend another season with an excellent Thunder team that just beat the Spurs and pushed the Warriors to a Game 7. Plus, his next free agency would coincide with Russell Westbrook‘s in 2017. That way, Durant could stay with this team that should compete for a title next year without getting trapped in Oklahoma City if Westbrook leaves.

It’s easy to assign our values to this situation and then say what Durant should do, but this is about what matters to him. How important is money? How much risk is he willing to take on a short contract? Does he want to stay with Westbrook and his other teammates? Does he believe other teams offer him a greater chance to win a championship?

There are so many issues for him to weigh, and he’ll surely give teams an opportunity to pitch him come July. He’ll gather more information before signing.

That is to say, if Durant is leaning one direction – and I’m not sure he is yet – so much  still stands between now and him signing.

Cavaliers fan makes good on bet, eats shirt after Warriors win West

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Don’t make a bet you’re not willing to follow through on. I mean, we all do it — “If Trump wins I’m moving to Canada” — but never really mean it. We don’t follow through.

Except sometimes people do.

Reddit NBA user ‘PARTYxDIRTYDAN’ made a bet that he would eat his shirt if the Warriors repeated as Western Conference champions. Call it a bad beat if you want — he came about as close to winning that bet as he could without actually winning it — but the man was good to his word. He had a little BBQ sauce on it, but he ate his shirt.

He probably shouldn’t make a similar bet in the Finals, no matter how big a Cavs fan he is.

(Hat tip Deadspin)

NBC/PBT Podcast: Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals preview with Dan Feldman

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers react during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James got what he probably wanted deep down — a second chance at Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals (starting Thursday night). It’s a chance for revenge from last season and to knock Curry off his pedestal.

Except this is a difficult matchup for the Cavaliers and their current style of play, something Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into in this breakdown of what’s to come on the NBA’s biggest stage.

They both foresee a long couple of weeks coming for Kevin Love, and difficulty for the Cavaliers getting enough stops. While the Cavaliers now want to play faster and shoot threes, they may have to change tactics against the Warriors.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes, download it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.