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.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”