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Reports: Kings want to trade for Kevin Love, whether he agrees to stay or not. Wizards may be interested, too.

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Minnesota will trade Kevin Love to whichever team gives them the best package in return.

Love has some leverage in this process because teams will not jump in the game unless he agrees to re-sign (or at least opt in for a year) with them, teams don’t want to give up assets for a rental. Nobody wants to the Lakers with Dwight Howard.

Well… not nobody.

The Sacramento Kings under the aggressive ownership of Vivek Ranadive want to get in the Love trade mix whether or not he plans to re-sign there, reports Marc Spears at Yahoo.

The Sacramento Kings have let the Minnesota Timberwolves know they are interested in trading for All-Star forward Kevin Love – and the Kings would make a deal without any assurance from Love he’d re-sign with them, a league source told Yahoo Sports…

The Kings are willing to give up their eighth overall pick in this year’s NBA draft and a combination of players for Love, even though he would not be expected to sign a contract extension before next season – if ever, with the rebuilding, small-market franchise, the source said. Sacramento envisions Love and DeMarcus Cousins playing alongside each other in the front court. Swingman Rudy Gay has a player’s option for next season.

This is the kind of thing teams leak to show their fan bases “we will do whatever it takes for you” knowing full well the entire time it’s not happening.

As Romeo Void taught us (before Beiber was even born), never say never. However the odds of Love re-signing with Sacramento would be minuscule. What teams around the league hear is that Love wants to be in a major market and to start winning now. Sacramento is not going to fit that bill (although the Love/Cousins/Gay combo likely lifts the Kings to the playoffs).

Washington doesn’t fit the bill either, but the Wizards may be interested, too, reports David Aldridge of NBA.com.

Wiz are a stealth candidate for Kevin Love — his father, Stan, who played for the then-Bullets in the early ’70s, gave his son the middle name “Wesley,” as in Wes Unseld. And Kevin Love has a soft spot as a result for the franchise. But the trade talk will surely die when the words “Bradley Beal” come out of Flip Saunders’ mouth.

Neither Sacramento nor Washington are markets that Kevin Love likely has on his “I would re-sign there” list.

That list is thought to include the Lakers, Bulls, Warriors, Knicks, and Rockets.

Minnesota doesn’t care, they want the best package available. I’m not sure the No. 8 pick, Ben McLemore and some other pieces to make the salaries match is going to be the best offer. Same with any Wizards package without Beal or John Wall.

But don’t be surprised if other teams consider jumping in or at least saying they are, pushed by aggressive owners. It’s good PR to say you tried. Love is a big-time player and the Timberwolves are going to some interesting offers for him.

They will take the best one for them, not him.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

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