Blatche opting out, Pierce and Livingston free agents; Brooklyn has tough summer ahead

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Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov just paid $180 million in salary and luxury tax to win one game in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

And to assemble this older, one-and-done roster they traded away a lot of young players and draft picks.

Nets fans, things are going to get worse before they get better.

Paul Pierce is a free agent, Shaun Livingston is a free agent, and Andray Blatche says he is going to opt out and test the free agent market.

And even without those three, even if other guys with options (Andrei Kirilenko and Alan Anderson) opt out, the Nets payroll is above $85 million next season — more than $10 million above the luxury tax line. The Nets can pay more than anyone to keep Pierce (and they want to keep Livingston and Blatche), but that is going to come with a healthy tax burden.

One they have no choice but to pay. Not that Prokhorov seems to care. The question is does Pierce want to come back to a team destined for mediocrity? He dodged the question when ESPN New York asked.

“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Pierce said of what his future holds and if he wants to remain a Net. “I put my whole focus into this season, it’s my last year of the contract. I will sit back and talk to the family and see where my options are from there and go from there.”

GM Billy King at the urging of Prokhorov built for this past season with no concern for the future — now they are stuck. The NEts don’t have a draft pick this year, next season the Hawks can swap picks with them, then in 2016 they again do not have a draft pick. Actually, they don’t have their own draft pick unfettered by a possible swap until 2019.

What they have is two more years of Joe Johnson at $48.1 million, three years of Deron Williams and his bad ankles (he says he may need surgery on both this offseason) at $63 million, another year of Kevin Garnett at $12 million (you really think he’ll retire and awl away from that?), plus there Marcus Thornton for one more year at $8.5 million.

What they have is a roster they are largely locked into. There is no easy way to get more athletic, younger, less expensive talent to replace the old guys. Teams are not trading young for old like they used to, not under this CBA.

The one ray of hope is Brook Lopez getting healthy — he is the best scoring center in the game. Problem is, the Nets could not figure out how to use him properly, their offense actually dipped two points per 100 possessions when he was one the court this season. The Nets didn’t find their identity until he was gone for the season and coach Jason Kidd was forced to go small, putting Garnett at the five and Pierce at the four.

The Nets have to find a way to better use Lopez.

Then they have no choice but to keep spending — the NEts need to bring back Pierce, Livingston and Blatche. If they can make a trade that sees them take on another bad contract but brings in real talent, they have to do it.

It’s a spiral of spending and getting older, it’s a road GM Billy King has always driven down and Prokhorov feels comfortable with. It’s not going to get them a title, they can’t just buy their way to a ring, they can’t get free agents, but they can’t get off this road now. Eventually they will need to strip it all down and rebuild, but with no picks for so long at this point they might as well just keep on trying to spend their way.

All the way to the second round.

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.

Devin Booker demolishes youthful scoring records

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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When a 20-year-old LeBron James scored 56 points in a game, he called it, “probably the best game of my life.”

Devin Booker just topped him with 70 points in a game at age 20.

LeBron has obviously gone onto bigger and better things since dropping 56 in a loss to the Raptors during his second year, but that game was a harbinger. Booker – whom LeBron singled out before the season as an under-the-radar rising star – could be on a similar track.

Or Booker could be following Brandon Jennings, who scored 55 in his seventh game, also at age 20.

The future is bright – and unknown – for the second-year Suns guard.

What’s clear: His accomplishment last night is unmatched, and nobody else has come close. Here are the highest-scoring games in NBA history by someone under age 21:

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This is the result of Phoenix going so young and Booker playing so well. Not every team would provide such an opportunity, but Booker seized it.

Not only is he the youngest player ever to score 70 points in a game, he’s the youngest to score 60 in a game.

Somebody ought to buy him a drink to celebrate – in October, once it’s legal.

Union: Joakim Noah would not have been suspended under next CBA

Elsa/Getty Images
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Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator LGD-4033 was not banned by the current Collective Bargaining Agreement when it was enacted.

The next CBA will offer a new challenge policy for failed drug tests.

Perhaps Joakim Noah, whom the NBA suspended 20 games, just tested positively at the wrong time.

SARM LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) was added to the banned list after the current CBA was signed in 2011. The drug is also banned by the next CBA, which will take effect July 1.

But the next CBA would also allow Noah an opportunity to contest his suspension – which his union says he would have done successfully..

National Basketball Players Association:

“After a thorough investigation, the National Basketball Players Association believes that Joakim Noah did not intentionally or knowingly violate any policy of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  Under the recently negotiated CBA effective July 1, a player’s unintentional ingestion of a prohibited substance would be taken into consideration, and we believe the conduct here would not result in discipline.  Unfortunately, the current CBA does not permit such consideration.”

“Joakim was completely forthcoming and cooperative throughout the investigation and we believe that this isolated occurrence was a regrettable mistake.  Joakim has offered his deepest apologies for this infraction, and neither he nor the NBPA will pursue an appeal.”

Unlike the current CBA, the new CBA allows a player to challenge a suspension if he “did not know or suspect, and could not reasonably have known or suspected, even with the exercise of considerable caution and diligence, that he was taking, ingesting, applying, or otherwise using” the drug. He must also establish how the drug entered his system.

That’s obviously a high burden. The CBA even defines it as an “unusual circumstance.”

Could Noah have presented such convincing evidence? Maybe, but it’s far easier to make that claim in a statement than actually convince an arbitrator.

Stephen Curry with touchdown pass to Andre Iguodala, who finishes with reverse lay-up (VIDEO)

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The 49ers may want to give Stephen Curry a call, because I’m not sure Brian Hoyer can throw that pass.

Curry showed a soft touch on a touchdown pass over a defender to the streaking Andre Iguodala, who had to finish with the reverse layup, a little no-look flip. It was vintage Warriors, a little playground in transition.

The Warriors beat the Kings 114-100 behind 27 from Curry. With the win the Warriors are 2.5 games up on the Spurs for the best record in the West, but Golden State has a tough road back-to-back this week in Houston than San Antonio. Get at least a split there and the Warriors will be tough to catch.