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.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.