Jodie Meeks, Kevin Durant

Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo must be a small minded racist (is there another kind)…

source:  Jodie Meeks, Los Angles Lakers. Meeks epitomized the Lakers on this day — not only was he hot he was aggressive, and that’s what led to his career high 42 points. He was attacking off the dribble, getting into the body of Thunder bigs and getting to the free throw line 14 times. He was 11-of-18 shooting and 6-of-11 from three. He was also the guy guarding Russell Westbrook when he airballed a key three late (although that was more Westbrook than Meek’s defense). Meeks has been one of the few consistent Lakers this season (played in 59 games, scored in double digits in 51 of them) and he took advantage of the next grade in this list.

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder’s perimeter defense. For the second game in a row — against the Suns and now Lakers — the Thunder’s perimeter defense was exposed by guards who can attack or shoot from distance (Gerald Green and Meeks, both of whom topped 40) and by teams that want to play at a fast pace. Part of this was that the Thunder really miss Thabo Sefalosha (out until likely about the start of the playoffs) but part of it is that they are simply not playing good defense right now. Guys are getting blown by on the perimeter, the help is late and if it is there guys are not helping the helper. Miami lost and looked bad, but at least they defended. Against the lowly Lakers there just is no excuse.

source:  Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls. Pretty much every Bulls fan felt like Yannick Noah — the tennis legend and father of Joakim — who erupted mid-interview on ABC to cheer on another big play from his son, the heart of the Bulls and the reason they beat the Heat on Sunday. Noah was at his best when it mattered most scoring 10 points plus he had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks in the fourth quarter in overtime. For the game Noah had 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks.

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. He had his sixth career triple-double — 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting with 10 rebounds and 12 assists. That needs to be acknowledged — as does the fact Russell Westbrook took a terrible three late in the game (Thunder down 3, 45 seconds left, they don’t need a three but they do need Durant to at least touch the rock and he didn’t instead Westbrook airballed a step-back three). The Thunder are 3-5 since Westbrook’s return, make of that what you will. But when Durant has the hot hand he needs to get the rock and initiate plays down the stretch. The MVP candidate has earned that right. (Durant’s “B” is because his team lost.)

source:   Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors. While we are mentioning triple-doubles, here is Lowry with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists leading the Raptors to a win over the Timberwolves. Toronto remains the three seed in the East and with a soft schedule the rest of the way we could see a lot more Raptors in this space in the coming weeks.

source:  James Harden, Houston Rockets. It’s not just the 41 points, it’s that 20 of them came in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Rockets came from 13 points down to beat the Trail Blazers. He didn’t just do it for one night this week — in the wins over Miami, Indiana and Portland for the Rockets Harden averaged 30.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds a game plus hit 45.2 percent of his threes. The Rockets are hot, their offense is carrying them and Harden is a big reason.

Honorable mention: Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, who had 18 assists, 0 turnovers; Anthony Davis had 32 points and 17 boards in the win over Denver; LaMarcus Aldridge had 28 points and 12 boards for the Trail Blazers in a loss; and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins with 28 points and 20 rebounds (10 offensive) in a losing effort).

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.