Miami fans

Lance Stephenson is the Pacers’ fork in the road

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If the Pacers re-sign Lance Stephenson, they’ll have $5,305,000 to sign a free agent.

If the Pacers don’t re-sign Lance Stephenson… they’ll have $5,305,000 to sign a free agent.

Indiana will be over the cap even if Stephenson walks, meaning there’s minimal advantage to letting him leave – unless losing Stephenson is an advantage itself, which maybe.

Stephenson spent the Eastern Conference Finals trying to tweak LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra. Instead, he just ended up bothering his president and coach.

It reached the point the Pacers’ top player, Paul George, doesn’t sound certain he even wants Stephenson back. And Stephenson had already gotten on the bad side of a couple other teammates.

So what should Indiana do?

The Pacers can’t trade Stephenson before free agency begins, and then it can only be in a sign-and-trade. That would require Stephenson wanting to join a team that lacks the cap room to sign him outright, that team wanting Stephenson, that team negotiating a trade with Indiana and Indiana accepting. A sign-and-trade could be great – potentially the answer to all the Pacers’ problems – but there so many hurdles to that transaction, they can’t make a plan counting on it.

Without a first-round pick, Indiana has few means to better its roster otherwise.

The simple answer is just to re-sign Stephenson and hope for the best.

But another, though more complicated, option exists.

It involves creating cap room.

Stephenson has a hidden value, but the Pacers aren’t positioned to take advantage of it.

All free agents continue to count against the cap until signed or renounced. How much a free agent counts against the cap is based on the terms of his previous contract, but he always counts at a number higher than his previously salary. So, usually, that free agent amount is cumbersome to the team.

However, when a player was drastically underpaid before becoming a free agent, his cap hold can become a tool. That’s the case with Stephenson, who was still playing on the contract he signed four years ago as a second-round pick. Stephenson will count just $1,909,500 against the cap this summer until signed.

Let’s say Stephenson’s starting salary in his next contract is $9 million. That means Indiana can leverage an extra $7,090,500 in flexibility (the difference between his actual starting salary and cap hold).

But that $7,090,500 only matters if it contributes to already-existing cap space. E.g., a team at the cap line has no more ability to sign a free agent than a team $7,090,500 over the cap line. Both can use just the mid-level exception – exactly where the Pacers tand now.

So, how can they get below the cap?

Using the latest salary-cap projections and salary data from ShamSports.com, here’s an example of a two-trade plan that would net Indiana its desired cap room:

Trade 1: Roy Hibbert to the Trail Blazers for Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland and Will Barton

Portland nearly signed Hibbert two years ago and only didn’t because it was clear the Pacers would match. The Trail Blazers clearly like him. Hibbert had a rough finish to the season, but he’s still an All-Star an All-Star and one of the NBA’s best defensive players.

Lopez fit well into Portland’s system, and he’s a solid starting center. But the Trail Blazers struggled defensively for most of the season, and in Hibbert, they’d get a chance at an upgrade without surrendering much in the trade. All they’d have to do is pay Hibbert’s salary, but they were already willing to do that once, and he’s progressed extremely well overall since 2012.

Trade 2 (and 3*): George Hill, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland to the Warriors for Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic

In Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford, Golden State has searched for a backup point guard who would allow Stephen Curry to play off the ball. Hill is a high-end version of that player – and probably better than whomever the Warriors could sign with the mid-level exception. (Depending on how they feel about the luxury tax, they could still use the mid-level exception too).

Though he won’t push David Lee to the bench, Copeland is the stretch four Kerr desires. And Mahinmi is a ready-to-go backup center.

Golden State would add salary in the deal, but the talent upgrade should outweigh that penalty.

Perhaps most importantly, these bigger contracts might even make a trade for Kevin Love easier to maneuver. Mahinmi, Copeland and/or even Hill could make salaries match with Minnesota.

 *Technically, these would need to be structured as two separate transactions – Hill into the Richard Jefferson trade exception as its own deal. But that’s only a formality.

The Pacers would then waive Luis Scola ($940,946 guaranteed), Donald Sloan and Barton and renounce all their free agents besides Stephenson.

That would leave Indiana $12,695,605 in cap room ($13,876,155 if Paul George doesn’t make an All-NBA team) to pursue Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent.

After signing a free agent with that near-max-level cap room, the Pacers could then go over the cap to re-sign Stephenson and use the room mid-level exception ($2,732,000) to fill out the roster.

What’s preferable, Indiana’s current starting lineup or this?

  • Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe
  • Lance Stephenson
  • Paul George
  • David West
  • Robin Lopez

Of course, there’s no guarantee the Pacers could sign Lowry or Bledsoe. The best fallback point guards would be Mario Chalmers or Patty Mills – steep dropoffs who would mean Indiana takes a step back.

But at least the Pacers, without Hibbert (two years and $30,412,969 remaining on his contract) and Hill (three years and $24 million), would be leaner going forward. David West (two years and $24.6 million) could be jettisoned for space in other versions of this plan. Either way, coming offseasons would present new opportunities to upgrade.

Sticking with the status quo wouldn’t be so bad, and it seems that’s what the Pacers will do.

But if Larry Bird decides this roster needs an overhaul, Stephenson’s ridiculously low cap hold gives him the perfect excuse to do it.

Report: Nuggets received $2.85 million from Trail Blazers in Mason Plumlee-Jusuf Nurkic trade

Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee is congratulated after making a basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Denver. Plumlee was appearing in his first game for the Nuggets since being acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers for center Jusuf Nurkic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The Nuggets traded Jusuf Nurkic and the Grizzlies’ first-round pick to the Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee and a second-rounder — a deal that didn’t appear to provide Denver enough value.

But it seems we omitted a key piece of the Nuggets’ return.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Teams rarely trade that much in a single transaction. They’re capped at both receiving and sending out $3.5 million this season.

But this is the advantage of an owner willing to spend. Paul Allen is allowing Portland to assemble a more-talented roster.

Denver still got the best player right now in the trade, and Plumlee will upgrade the bench and maybe even fit OK starting with Nikola Jokic. But it’s hard to overlook owner Stan Kroenke’s cash influx.

Rumor: Kings have reignited trade talks for DeMarcus Cousins

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JANUARY 23: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on while playing the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on January 23, 2017 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Sacramento won the game 109-104. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Sacramento Kings may be looking to move center Boogie Cousins. Stop me if you’ve heard this rumor before.

According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kings management has reportedly engaged in talks during All-Star Weekend to move the talented, fiery center.

If moved, Boogie would be the biggest player dealt thus far this season.

Via Twitter:

That would be a huge change of directions for the Kings organization, but one they may need to consider. The Kings have said they would offer Cousins the “designated player” max extension (likely around at $213 over five seasons), and Cousins has said he would sign it. If the Kings really wanted to make him happy, they could do a Russell Westbrook style renegotiation of his contract for the coming season, then have the extension kick in after that (Boogie would sign that, too). However, do that and they have no cap space to bring in players around Cousins, they stay the same team they are right now for years.

Tthe Kings have been reluctant at times to even engage in discussions with teams, in part because owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to move the big man knowing they will go a decade before getting a player that talented on the roster again. The Kings were frustrated when former coach George Karl was insistent on moving him, and they dismissed interest from both the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But there’s also been recent talks around Boogie and the Phoenix Suns, and the situation from an outside-of-California view seems to be ripe for a split.

Cousins, for as good as he’s been, has not shown he’s enough to take the team into the playoffs. Kings management, meanwhile, has been an absolute disaster during his time there and has not done much to compliment him. The relationship seems to have soured, even as owner Ranadive has backed Cousins.

Whatever the outcome, if Cousins gets traded by the Feb. 23 deadline it will go down as one of the biggest mid-season moves this season. It’s going to be hard for Sacramento to move on from a franchise player like Boogie, but perhaps it’s time to look for a different path. For Cousins, a breath of fresh air and a little help might put his career in a new perspective as well.

Report: 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor because they were close to Trail Blazers trade

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center on October 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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. The Thunder defeated the 76ers 103-97. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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The 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor for two games last week, openly acknowledging they were discussing trading him. Then, they played him in their final game before the All-Star break.

That prompted speculation that no deal fell through, but that Philadelphia was bluffing being close in order to drum up interest.

But maybe there actually was a near-trade.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

On the surface, this makes sense. We know the Trail Blazers were interested in a cost-controlled center, because they traded for Jusuf Nurkic.

But that trade also makes Portland perfect cover if the 76ers are just trying to deflect from a gambit gone wrong. Not only were the Trail Blazers plausible trade partners, they already made their deal. So, there will be no questions about revisiting discussions.

Locker room drama? Player recruitment? Paul Millsap, does that go on All-Star weekend? “Rarely ever”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks speaks with the media during media availability for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant spreading tension throughout the locker room. Players trying to convince Carmelo Anthony he should agree to a trade to their city. Players coming up and trying to recruit free agents to be this summer like the Hawks’ Paul Millsap.

It’s how some fans picture it is inside All-Star weekend locker rooms, all sorts of palace intrigue playing out like a soap opera.

“Rarely ever,” Millsap said of these kinds of things coming up. “For us, we get away from regular season basketball. It’s not about our respective teams, it’s about what’s going on now. You may share some stories, but we’re not talking about (regular season drama).”

Fans can be deeply invested in what happens during the regular season — heck, Eric Gordon heard boos from frustrated Pelicans fans before he won the Three-Point Contest Saturday.

But for the players, it’s a vacation. A chance to get away from all that drama.

“No, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all,” Millsap said of the regular season minutia that can dominate the league. “Once you get down here we’re all teammates. That’s how guys treat it. To get here, we’re enemies, but while we’re here everybody’s teammates and are fun to have in the locker room. It’s just a good time.”

They’re more likely to talk about the parties around town.

“Some,” Millsap said with a laugh. “But it’s just more general conversation, almost nothing about the season.”

Most of the recruitment comes in the summer, and most via text. Some players don’t like each other, just like nearly everyone reading this has someone at their office/job they don’t like working with (except me, all my bosses should be canonized they are such good people). Come the office Christmas Party, people put that aside and just get along. Same thing All-Star weekend for the players. Everyone just gets along and tries to enjoy the experience.

When play starts up again next week, the drama can return.