Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan

Report: Pistons increase offer to restricted free agent Greg Monroe

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Just two high-quality free agents remain – Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe – and they’re still on the market due only to their restricted status.

In Phoenix, things between the Suns and Bledsoe are getting testy. (Don’t worry, the Suns are getting their point of view out, too.)

The Pistons’ negotiations with Monroe haven’t devolved to that level of public disagreement.

But that doesn’t mean they’re any closer than Bledsoe and the Suns to a deal.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

The Pistons have moved from the initial five-year, $60-million offer and an offer that’s slightly better than the four-year, $54-million deal that Josh Smith signed last summer is on the table.

But the offer to make him the highest paid player on the roster hasn’t brokered an agreement. And negotiations aren’t ongoing.

Unlike Phoenix, which seems steadfast on its our-year, $48 million offer for Bledsoe, the Pistons’ willingness to negotiate stands out.

It’s unclear whether Monroe or Detroit is pushing toward a shorter deal with a higher annual salary. Are the Pistons willing to pay Monroe more per year as long as their total investment isn’t too burdensome? Or does Monroe want a shorter contract and the ability to become an unrestricted free agent sooner?

I’m sure Monroe fancies himself a max-contract player, and there is a case to be made in a vacuum. But unless he draws a max offer sheet at this late stage, there’s practically no incentive for the Pistons to pay him that much.

And it doesn’t seem Monroe will get a max offer sheet. The 76ers are the only team with enough cap room, and though a sign-and-trade is possible, it would require another team offering Detroit satisfactory compensation.

At this point, it’s possible Monroe is trying to set himself up for his third NBA contract. Perhaps, playing with Josh Smith isn’t in Monroe’s best interest. No question, the two and Andre Drummond functioned poorly together last season, and Monroe took a brunt of the hit.

But new Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy has made Monroe his top offseason priority and called Monroe and Drummond an “ideal pairing.” Drummond, not Smith is Detroit’s franchise player. So, that should signal to Monroe he’s in good hands, right?

Monroe needn’t be certain of that, but if he’s leaning toward that being the case, he shouldn’t pass up more than $54 million over four years (or maybe $60 million over five) for a $5,479,934 qualifying offer.

There’s still plenty of time to reach a deal, and this process is naturally slow. The Pistons’ willingness to increase their offer shows progress, but considering negotiations aren’t ongoing, the finish line probably remains far.

Eventually, Monroe will either bring Detroit a qualifying offer or get serious about discussing the structure of his next contract. In the meantime, both sides wait – and for now at least, avoid the Bledsoe-Suns-style public bickering.

Spurs big man Pau Gasol fractures finger during warmups

Pau Gasol
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The San Antonio Spurs will have to make do without PF/C Pau Gasol thanks to a recent fracture in his left ring finger.

That’s according to a press release from the team, who said Gasol fractured his fourth metacarpal — the first bone on his ring finger extending from his hand — during warmups before a game against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

No word yet from the team on recovery time, but estimates given recent NBA player injuries suggest anywhere from 4-8 weeks.

Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward missed the first month of the season after fracturing his finger in early October. Cleveland Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving missed around a month in 2012 with a similar injury.

Here’s hoping Gasol can make it back to the court quickly for the Spurs.

Carmelo airballs wide-open 5-foot jumper, sets Knicks scoring record (VIDEO)

New York Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony (7) questions referee Dan Crawford (43) before he was ejected for two technical fouls in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. The Pelicans defeated the Knicks 110-96. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Carmelo Anthony is a gifted scorer, but the New York Knicks forward probably wants this one back.

After a slick pass from a teammate on Thursday night against the Washington Wizards, Anthony turned to drop a floater down on the net and missed by a solid foot.

Via Twitter:

The joke was on the Wizards a few minutes later as Anthony went on a tear after the missed bucket. He set a Knicks record with 25 points in the second quarter, ending the first half with 27 points.

New York would go on to lose to the Wizards, 113-110.

Russell Westbrook isn’t an All-Star starter and the Internet is mad about it

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Russell Westbrook, the man averaging a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season and a solid pick for NBA MVP, is not starting in the 2017 All-Star Game. Instead, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and James Harden of the Houston Rockets will be on the floor at tip as Westbrook watches from the bench.

That’s clearly wrong … right?

Westbrook lost the starting spot thanks to — brace yourselves — the fan vote. While players and media had Westbrook atop their voting sheets, fan votes put Westbrook No.3. That tied him with both Curry and Harden, who were Nos. 1 and 2 in the fan vote.

Of course, the fan vote is the tie breaker, which pushed the Thunder star to the reserves.

Meanwhile, the Internet was not happy about it:

Yeah … Russell Westbrook should be starting.

Miami churns up plenty of memories for Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six
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MIAMI (AP) Dirk Nowitzki tries to avoid feelings of nostalgia.

That’s impossible when he’s in Miami.

For all the cities around the world where he’s played, whether with the German national team or the Dallas Mavericks, the only place where Nowitzki celebrated the ultimate prize is Miami – where he led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA championship , avenging a loss to the Heat five years earlier. So on Thursday, before playing in Miami for the 25th time, Nowitzki was understandably reflective.

“You definitely never forget,” Nowitzki said, as he relaxed for a few minutes in a courtside seat across from the Heat bench. “You don’t always want to live in the past. You kind of want to make it work now in the present, so I don’t always think about that year, but coming here, walking in the hotel, walking in this building, it’s tough to forget.”

Nowitzki is under contract for next season, though no one seems sure if he’ll play past this season. He turns 39 in June. He’s probably just a few weeks away from reaching the 30,000-point mark. His place in the Basketball Hall of Fame was ensured long ago. And the Mavericks are in a rebuilding phase, making it fair to say that another title probably isn’t in the immediate offing.

So it’s possible that Thursday may be his Miami farewell.

Whenever he leaves the game, the Heat will tip their caps.

“At the highest level, in the biggest moments, he proved that he can be the best player in the world – period,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What else do you need to say? His game is timeless, too.”

It’s timeless, yet evolving. Nowitzki was probably more of a small forward when he broke into the NBA, became a power forward who changed the game with his combination of 7-foot height and guard-like shooting, and now plays a hybrid center role. The one-legged step-back jumper – his signature move – has been emulated by many, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Nowitzki went to The Finals twice, both times against Miami, and the Heat still offer him what they call ultimate respect.

“You could say that Dirk Nowitzki, in his prime, forced longer and more coaching meetings around the league, or at least as much as any player in the league,” Spoelstra said. “He was so unique. You had to have specific Nowitzki rules. The absolute best of the best require their own rulebook, and you had to design ways of defending that may not be consistent with your system but specific for him.

“Otherwise,” Spoelstra continued, “you would run around in circles looking like idiots.”

Much has changed since Nowitzki first played in Miami on April 7, 1999.

The Mavericks and the Heat both had different logos than they do now. Don Nelson was coaching Dallas, Pat Riley was still in his first of two stints coaching Miami. Vancouver and Seattle still had NBA teams. The Heat weren’t even playing in AmericanAirlines Arena at that point – they were at Miami Arena, which was demolished in 2008.

Nowitzki went scoreless in three minutes that night, and scoreless again three nights later against Golden State. He’s failed to score only twice in 1,454 games since, the last of those coming in 2003.

“I used to be a tough matchup,” Nowitzki said.

He won’t say it, but he still is.

Age has slowed him, for sure. The skills and the know-how, that doesn’t change.

“Hall of Famer,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “One of the best big men to play the game. He definitely changed the game. Hell of a competitor, a champion, somebody who I have a lot of respect for.”

Haslem had the task of guarding Nowitzki in those Finals meetings.

“I really found out what I was made of as a competitor,” Haslem said.

The Mavericks don’t always stay in the same hotel when they visit Miami, but the one they got for this trip helped spark Nowitzki’s trip down memory lane. They stayed there in 2006 during the Finals when they lost three games in Miami, and stayed there again in 2011 when they left Miami with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow.

All the memories, good and bad, started flooding back as Nowitzki walked through the lobby.

“You know, `06 will obviously never be out of my memory,” Nowitzki said, “but `11 definitely made it sweeter.”