Bulls, Thunder hot on the trail for Pau Gasol

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Pau Gasol might want to get paid $10 million per year, but it’s tough seeing him commanding that high a salary.

Contenders – like the Spurs and Heat – are interested, but they lack the cap space to make big offers. Teams with cap space might not want such an old player.

But Gasol might get his choice among the NBA’s top contenders. In addition to San Antonio and Miami, the Bulls and Thunder are in pursuit.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Thunder could offer Gasol the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,305,000) and remain below the projected luxury-tax line, though any unlikely incentives that are met next season could push them over the line. They’d have less than $500,000 in leeway, though perhaps the actual tax line is set higher than currently projected.

Oklahoma City could also waive Hasheem Thabeet’s fully unguaranteed salary to gain extra wiggle room or replace him with a veteran like Mike Miller.

Amnestying Kendrick Perkins – probably a non-starter anyway – alone would create no extra room for Gasol, though it would put the bi-annual exception – rather than a minimum contract – in play for Miller.

The Bulls brass flying to Los Angeles to meet with Gasol certainly puts their pursuit on another level. Time spent in the air and meeting with Gasol is time Chicago’s executives can’t be meeting with other free agents.

Presently, the Bulls can offer the same amount as the Thunder, but Chicago’s road to greater cap space – amnestying Carlos Boozer and waiving the unguaranteed contracts of Ronnie Brewer,Mike James andLouis Amundson – is much easier to traverse. Those moves would give the Bulls room to offer Gasol a deal starting up to $10,741,949.

That would likely be more than enough salary to lure Gasol, but the Bulls would essentially pay double for that roster spot. After all, they’d still have to pay Boozer, even if he doesn’t count against the cap. I’m not sure Jerry Reinsdorf would accept that just to get Gasol. Possibly, Chicago is armed only with the same non-taxpayer MLE the Thunder have at their disposal.

One advantage the Thunder have is Gasol is the best free agent linked to them thus far. They can devote all their attention to him. The Bulls, on the other hand, have clearly put Carmelo Anthony first.

Days from turning 34, Gasol might take a discount to play for a contender. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka plus multiple intriguing young role players, the Thunder are definitely among the 2015 title favorites. Upgrading from Perkins to Gasol would make them much more dangerous. Gasol would add interior scoring Oklahoma City lacks, and he defends well enough – especially relative to the slowed Perkins.

If the Thunder sign Gasol, they might even eclipse the Spurs as the 2015 favorites.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.