Pau Gasol, Ryan Kelley, Kevin Durant

Bulls, Thunder hot on the trail for Pau Gasol


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.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.