Kirk Hinrich, Paul George

How the Pacers’ slump could cost Paul George more than $6 million

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When Paul George signed a  contract extension with the Pacers before the season, it seemed nearly a foregone conclusion he’d take advantage of the Derrick Rose Rule and receive the higher of the two possible salary paths he could take in the next five years.

All he had to do this season: Make at least the All-NBA third team (or win MVP, but achieving the latter without the former is essentially impossible).

George made the All-NBA third team last season at age 22. Previously, 43 of 56 players ever to make All-NBA so young made it the next year. And nearly half the exceptions can be explained at least in part by injury (Derrick Rose in 2011-12, Chris Bosh in 2007-08, Amar’e Stoudemire in 2005-06, Stephon Marbury in 2000-01, Michael Jordan in 1985-86) or other extenuating circumstance (Rick Barry in 1967-68).*

*Barry signed with the ABA’s Oakland Oaks that year, and though he was barred from playing due to his Warriors contract, he obviously wasn’t going to make All-NBA in the ABA, anyway.

It seemed as long George remained healthy, he’d get there – and he’s remained healthy. George has played in all 76 of the Pacers’ games this season. He’s played pretty well, too, making his second straight All-Star Game.

But that might not be enough in a season that has seen the NBA’s first-class forwards both improve from within and expand from the outside.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant will take the two All-NBA first-team spots at the position. Blake Griffin should, and likely will, also place ahead of George. That means George can fall behind only two of these players and get his higher salary:

  • Kevin Love
  • Anthony Davis
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Maybe Tim Duncan

There’s a chance Neolithic voters will punish Love for racking up empty stats while playing for a non-playoff team, but I really want to believe we’re past that. Yes, Love sometimes targets rebounds rather than contesting shots at the expense of Minnesota’s defense. Yes, the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs. But he had a fantastic season overall, and Minnesota still has a chance to finish with a winning record in a loaded Western Conference. Despite George’s defensive advantage, I would absolutely choose Love over George.

Davis’ candidacy, the next-strongest of the group in my eyes, will depend on his health down the stretch. He’s been incredible these last few weeks, really appearing as if he turned a corner. And his start to the season was solid enough to serve as a base for his closing fireworks.

If New York makes the playoffs, Anthony’s stock will go through the roof. Somehow, he’s quietly worked his butt off (even more than usual defensively) for a Knicks team that appeared to be going nowhere. Regardless of whether New York outlasts Atlanta and Cleveland, Melo has certainly given the Knicks their money’s worth heading into free agency.

Aldridge appeared to be a shoe-in earlier in the season, even an MVP candidate in the circles intent on applying the word “valuable” in an extremely team-specific manner. But the Trail Blazers and Aldridge have collectively slipped, though not so far to eliminate him from the discussion.

Nowitzki is having his best season since leading the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship, and Daallas’ place on the playoff fringe will draw eyeballs. If Nowitzki steps up and leads the Mavericks into the playoffs, he’ll get All-NBA consideration.

As always, Duncan has been quietly excellent. Maybe a 19-game winning will actually get voters to notice, though that accomplishment will likely have faded out from view by the time ballots are submitted. It’s possible, though, Duncan gets more All-NBA votes than George and takes a center spot. Until last season, he’d been a forward for all 13 of his All-NBA selections. That’s why Duncan is listed with the “maybe.”

The appeal of the Pacers – and by extension, George – was their team-first attitude and team-wide success. The former is headed out the window, and the latter might be going with it. Fairly or unfairly, Indiana’s late-season slump could cripple George’s All-NBA hopes.

There will be another time for more thoroughly analyzing the candidacy of George and the other forwards – and each has a couple more weeks to build their cases – but it’s definitely conceivable at least six of the bunch could finish ahead of him in All-NBA voting.

And if that happens, it would be quite costly to George.

What’s at stake? Using the latest salary-cap projections: $6,755,943 during the next five seasons.

Typically, a player’s rookie-contract extension can begin at only 25 percent of a slightly adjusted variant on the salary cap. But if he meets what are called the “5th Year 30% Max criteria,” he can negotiate a contract that starts at up to 30 percent of the adjusted cap. (Hat tip: Larry Coon for providing adjusted cap estimate)

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The two sides struck an interesting compromise, according to several sources who have seen George’s deal: If George makes an All-NBA team this season, triggering the raise, his salary will settle at 27 percent of the cap level, instead of the full 30 percent.

The Pacers also gave George an opt-out after Year 4 of the new deal,which Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com has reflected in his salary database. Indiana was reluctant to do the opt-out, but ultimately yielded on the issue, per sources close to the talks. They’ll have the advantage of George’s Bird rights as long as he’s on the team, regardless of the opt-out clause. The main point of the “designated player” provision is to give teams the chance to lock up a franchise player they drafted for a year longer than usual. George’s deal subverts that principle, and allows him to hit the open market earlier than expected.

Here are the different versions of George’s contract –  25 percent max in blue, 27 percent max in gold – based, again, on the latest salary-cap projection.

image

Season 25% max 27% max
2014-15  $14,686,832  $15,861,779
2015-16  $15,788,344  $17,051,412
2016-17  $16,889,857  $18,241,045
2017-18  $17,991,369  $19,430,679
2018-10  $19,092,882  $20,620,312
Total  $84,449,284  $91,205,227

So, George has more incentive than the typical player to finish the season strong.

The Pacers, with a No. 1 seed on the line, probably wouldn’t mind if he does. But if he doesn’t, that might be OK, too.

On the flip side of a George-focused analysis, Indiana would have to pay him more if he makes an All-NBA team. On an obvious level, that would cost Herbert Simon real dollars. It would also limit the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson and remain under the luxury-tax threshold.

Here’s how much money – using a $76.7 luxury-tax-limit estimate and assuming the Pacers 2014-15 roster is comprised of George, Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan, and two minimum-salary players – the Pacers could have under tax limit for Stephenson, depending on George’s contract.

  • George at 25 percent max: $8,985,162 starting salary,$51,664,682 over five years
  • George at 27 percent max: $7,810,215 starting salary,$44,908,739 over five years

Either way, the Pacers might be able to clear more room by waiving Scola, whose salary is only partially guaranteed depending on incentives. Indiana could also carry fewer than 13 players for portions of the season.

George, in his quest to trigger a higher salary, doesn’t have so many options. Thanks to the Pacers’ slump and a strong pool of forwards, his All-NBA candidacy is pushed further against the ropes than ever seemed possible.

It’s up to George to step up in these final six games and leave a lasting impression for All-NBA voters. A lot is at stake.

Craig Sager and his flashy suits return to All-Star weekend

Craig Sager
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TORONTO (AP) — The All-Star game in New York was a little less colorful last year.

Craig Sager, the TNT sideline reporter known for wearing flashy suits, missed the NBA’s annual midseason gala for the first time since he started doing them in 1988. Another bout with the leukemia he’s been battling for the last few years resurfaced, and Sager was forced to sit out while undergoing more treatments.

Sager considers the All-Star festivities the most important weekend of the season for him, and so it pained him to have to watch on television while receiving his treatments.

“It was hard for me not to be there, but I had to address my health,” Sager said. “To be able to get that in remission and be able to go through this year, it’s going to be extra special for me. I’ve really been looking forward to this a long time.”

That’s right. Sager is back for All-Star weekend in Toronto this year.

He spent the week leading up to it in Houston receiving his monthly treatment, which included a blood transfusion, to make sure he was healthy enough for the trip. Once he arrived in Canada, he was easy to spot.

“I just saw him,” Spurs coach and longtime foil Gregg Popovich said after the Western Conference team practiced on Saturday. “His suit spoke to me. It blinded me for a second.”

It’s been an emotional run for Sager, the longtime fixture at NBA games. He has needed two bone marrow transplants and still has to make those treks to Houston once a month. He has returned to the sideline for games this season and is feeling so well that he was scheduled to do both the Saturday night activities that include the 3-point shootout and the dunk contest as well as the game on Sunday.

“I feel great. Got my weight back. Got my strength back,” Sager said. “I’m back to playing golf.”

Two of his youngest children – daughter Riley and son Ryan – will be with him on the court this weekend serving as a ball boy and ball girl.

And of course, Sager will do a round with Popovich on television during a quarter break on Sunday. The two have turned the sideline interview into a passion play,

“He’s been an iconic figure in the NBA. He does a great job,” Popovich said. “His sense of humor is obvious. we have a lot of fun going back and forth with that. To have him back where he belongs, obviously we’re happy for him and his health. But for the league it’s great too, because he’s a fixture that everybody enjoys.”

Sager called the support he has received from Commissioner Adam Silver, coaches, players and fans “humbling” and said he was looking forward to coming back to his favorite event of the season.

“It’s been very uplifting, very therapeutic,” Sager said. “Very supportive on their part. That really has been very helpful to me, my treatment and my drive to get back.”

Kevin Hart, Draymond Green get in All-Star Saturday three-point shootout

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TORONTO — This is going to come up in the Golden State locker room.

Right before Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry put on a three-point shooting exhibition, actor/comedian/self-promotor Kevin Hart came out and challenged Draymond Green to a shooting contest. Green was ready to go. They did the three-point shooting contest, and Green put up a total of 12 (which would have been dead last in the actual three-point contest, for the record).

Then Hart stepped up — and tied him with 12 points.

Steve Kerr, if you’re ever looking for a lineup to go REALLY small….

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.