Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while realizing yes, the TSA employees are laughing at your body scans….
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs. The Pelicans are without Jason Smith for the rest of the season and that means New Orleans usually had Greg Stiemsma or Alexi Ajinca on the court — San Antonio got those guys involved as defenders in the pick-and-roll all night long and Tony Parker carved them up like Prime Rib. He finished with 32 points and 9 assists, leading the Spurs to a needed win.
Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons. Tonight’s Josh Smith shot chart (courtesy @CoupNBA) sums up Smith’s night, season and career fairly well. There was too much Smith on the perimeter, not enough Andre Drummond inside.
Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks. It’s been a while since a Buck made the night grades (at least with a passing grade next to their name), but Knight earned it. He finished with 25 points (on 10-of-23 shooting) plus seven assists. He also sank the game-winning three, getting the shot he wanted (even though he’s shooting 31 percent from that spot on the floor this season) and knocking it down over Raymond Felton. It was a big game for Knight.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks. He tried to get a sluggish Knicks team a win — he scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter to spark the Knicks comeback to tie the game. Then Brandon Knight drilled a game winner that was a punch to the Knicks gut (or a kick to a spot a little lower than that, if you prefer). Anthony had those 36 points on 25 shots, plus he had 5 boards.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets. He hustled his way to 28 points and 11 boards on the night, plus did a pretty good job defending Blake Griffin (nobody is really stopping Griffin now, he is on a role). When I say Faried hustled his way to the points I mean he does what he always does — crashes the offensive glass like a beast and makes nice baseline cuts. This may have been the best game I remember Faried playing.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.