Omer Asik, Tyler Zeller

With lower-than-expected salary cap, will Rockets and Pelicans still complete Omer Asik trade?

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has his hands full.

He must decide whether or not to match the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons, convince Chris Bosh to accept less than a max contract and arrange trades for dump other players (including Jeremy Lin).

And he has fewer than 72 hours to do it.

I don’t want to pile on, but he might have one more responsibility that previously seemed completed: Trading Omer Asik.

Houston reportedly agreed before the draft to trade Asik to the Pelicans for a future first-round pick. The deal was slated to become official after the July moratorium, which ended last night.

At the time the trade was agreed upon, it wasn’t exactly clear how New Orleans would clear the cap space to absorb Asik, who has a cap number of $8,374,646. It seemed simple enough, though.

The Pelicans could waive the unguaranteed contracts of Melvin Ely and Luke Babbitt, use the stretch provision on Austin Rivers , Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey (even after his salary became $100,000 guaranteed July 6) and renounce all their free agents, and they’d have enough room based on the projected salary cap to take Asik – with $32,772 to spare below their post-trade team-salary limit ($100,00 above the salary cap).

Maybe New Orleans didn’t want to dump Rivers, Ajinca and Withey for no return. But the Pelicans could, theoretically, at least assure Houston they’d take such measures if no trades emerged.

However, the actual salary cap came in $135,000 lower than the projected salary cap. Suddenly, that $32,772 room for error is gone.

Now, that set of transactions leaves New Orleans $102,228 shy of having enough room for the trade.

Unless they stretch one of their top-five players – Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson – the Pelicans can’t unilaterally create enough cap space to trade a first-round pick for Asik.

Safe to say, they’re not stretching those valuable players. That means a New Orleans player must get added to the Houston trade or dealt elsewhere.

Trading one of the big five could clear room, but again, I can’t see the Pelicans going that route unless they had something lined up independent of the Asik trade.

Much more likely: New Orleans trades Ajinca or Rivers. Dumping either would clear enough room to add Asik.

Ajinca, due $981,084 next season, is a decent backup center. He averaged 5.9 points on 54.6 percent shooting and 4.9 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game for the Pelicans last season.

Rivers has struggled to shoot efficiently in the NBA, but he was the No. 10 overall pick just two seasons ago. His 2014-15 salary is $2,439,840, and he has a $3,110,796 2015-16 team option that must be decided by Oct. 31.

These players are movable. It’s even possible New Orleans already has contingencies in place to complete the Asik trade.

But the NBA didn’t release the actual salary cap until yesterday, and the league’s estimates tend to be conservative. This is the rare official NBA cap estimate that overestimated reality. I’m not totally convinced the Pelicans and Rockets were ready for it.

At this point, dealing Ajinca or Rivers might be somewhat cumbersome. If teams know why New Orleans must shed salary – or even if they don’t – they might demand a second-round pick to take on Ajinca or Rivers. So many teams are trying to maximize cap space, even these small guaranteed salaries could get in the way.

Trading a first-rounder for Asik was already costly. If New Orleans must add another pick to dump Ajinca or Rivers, the value of the deal drops for the Pelicans.

A simple answer would be dealing Ajinca or Rivers to Houston as part of the Asik trade. But the Rockets are already likely asking Bosh to sacrifice salary. Adding another guaranteed salary would certainly reduce the effectiveness of trading Asik to trim salary, even if just a small amount.

When the margin for error is so slim, it’s easy to look back at previous moves and wonder what could have been.

Why did the Pelicans keep Withey past July 5? That triggered a $100,000 guarantee, and though that amount alone doesn’t alter the feasibility of the Asik trade, it’s a hindrance.

Why did New Orleans give Ajinca, who hadn’t played in the NBA in two years, a guaranteed two-season contract when signing him in December? If that second year were unguaranteed, a reasonable stipulation for a player of Ajinca’s caliber, this problem would have been avoided.

The Pelicans can’t undo these previous decisions, and they’ll have to deal with the fallout. But their problem is now Morey’s problem.

On the clock with Parsons, Morey must address this if he hasn’t already.

The Pelicans also face a time crunch to address this. Barring a much bigger move, they can’t feasibly trade for Asik after using the mid-level exception. That means free agents are picking other destinations as New Orleans handles this issue.

I still expect Asik will be traded to the Pelicans (though I wouldn’t be shocked if the deal falls apart). It will just be a little more complicated now.

However, I’m not sure those complications will be sorted out before Parsons’ deadline or before New Orleans’ top MLE target signs elsewhere.

Larry Sanders considering making NBA comeback soon

Larry Sanders
Associated Press
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It was one year ago that Larry Sanders came to terms for a mutual parting of the ways with the Bucks, a buyout of his contract that let him get away from basketball. He had personal demons to deal with. Sanders had played just 50 games the previous two seasons for the Bucks, had been a nightclub brawl left him with an injured thumb in need of surgery, been charged with animal cruelty, had been suspended a couple of times by the league for marijuana use, and the list went on. It was best for both sides to walk away.

Sanders checked himself into a hospital program for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. At the time, he wrote he still loved basketball, but he needed better coping skills to handle the pressure and lifestyle.

“If I get to a point where I feel I’m capable of playing basketball again, I will.”

We may be reaching that time. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports:

After accepting a buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks to step away from the NBA last season, Larry Sanders told The Vertical he plans to pursue a return to the NBA once his off-court ventures stabilize.

“Once my art, music and passions off the court feel stable, I will look into coming back,” Sanders told The Vertical. “I still love basketball. I want stability around me, and part of my mindset to leave was not to put all my eggs in one basket.

“I feel highly valuable on any team. There aren’t a lot of people who can bring my game to a team. I still play basketball all the time, staying in shape. I will need to make sure the situation is right for me.”

Sanders would draw interest from teams (he already has this season), there aren’t a lot of athletic 6’11” defenders in the league. In the 2013 season, before he signed his contract extension, Sanders averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game. Teams would be willing to roll the dice.

Sanders is now working on his music, plus running a management company for artists. His buyout from the Bucks will give him $1.9 million a season until 2022, so a return to the league is not necessarily about the cash.

If he does come back, I hope for his sake his head is in the right space and can handle it. He needs to take care of himself first.

Will Phil Jackson ultimately leave Knicks to run Lakers?

Phil Jackson Jeanie Buss
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Phil Jackson has been thrust back into the New York spotlight with the firing of Derek Fisher for not being ready to be an NBA coach — who could have seen that coming? — and speculation about what moves he’ll make next. While you can point to misfires as the guy with the hammer in the Knicks organization, he nailed the Kristaps Porzingis pick and no doubt this Knicks roster is in far better shape than the one he took over. Plus, he’s kept owner James Dolan out of the basketball decision-making process, which is a huge step forward.

But if/when he gets the chance, will he bolt New York to team up with fiancée Jeanie Buss and run the Lakers?

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports writes there is a “strong belief” in some quarters that it will happen.

Golden State assistant Luke Walton is closest to a legitimately coveted candidate with ties to Jackson and the triangle – and he’s still largely unproven, too. Walton intrigues Jackson, but truth be told: Why would Walton come East without an assurance Jackson is committed to the long run in New York? There’s still a strong belief Jackson will eventually find his way to his fiancée Jeanie Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton will be competing with Thibodeau for the Lakers job in the spring, and who knows: Jackson and Walton could be reunited there.

Would Jackson leave the Knicks? The better question is, did anyone think he would stay the entire five years of his contract? Not many around the league did. Knicks fans should be legitimately concerned about who is next.

Lakers fans would welcome Jackson’s return because it means no Jim Buss. Fairly or not, Buss has become a scapegoat for a healthy segment of the fan base.

But this would be far from simple.

Jim Buss is in charge of the basketball side of the Lakers’ operation as empowered by the complex trust his father Jerry Buss used to leave the team to his six children. They all have roles, they all have pieces of the team, and truth be told they all have big aspirations. It sets up like a Shakespearean drama. Jeanie Buss is the ultimate power and the person the league recognizes as the owner for official votes of the board of governors, but this is not like other ownership situations where she has ultimate power and can fire whomever she wants and replace them — she can’t just ax family members and sideline them. Again, it’s a complex trust with shared power and responsibilities.

Jim has said if the Lakers are not a contender by 2017 he would step aside, although how he defines that time (the end of the summer of 2017, at the earliest) and how Jeanie defines it (more like early 2017, before that loaded free agency summer) differ. Nothing that happens with the Lakers will be clean and bloodless.

But if Jim steps aside and lets Jeanie bring in her own basketball people, Phil Jackson could well return to L.A.

Then we can have a discussion if that’s really best for the Lakers’ brand.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

Personally, I hate the “won’t somebody please think of the children” argument — plenty of people have said emulating Kobe’s penchant for isolation basketball and contested jumpers was bad for children growing up playing the game.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA  says “I hate to do it” they all do it with increasing frequency. There will be more than twice as many instances this season of hack-a-player fouls as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because those coaches are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.