NBC’s Free Agency preview: Top 5 point guards

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Point guard is becoming more and more like quarterbacks in the NFL — you’ve got to have a quality one to be a real threat. Look at the points for the final four teams in the NBA Playoffs this year: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kyle Lowry.

The problem for teams in need of a good (or at least solid) one is 2016 is a very thin point guard free agent class. There is one elite, All-Star level guy at the top and after that things fall off quickly. Here are the top five point guards available on the market this year, ranked in order of preference.

1) Mike Conley, unrestricted. He is one of the better defensive point guards in the league, a quality floor general, he’s good at running the pick and roll, scored 15 points with six assists a game, and he has three-point range. If he hadn’t been in a West overly stacked with great point guards, he’d have been an All-Star already. A lot of teams have interest in him, but the buzz around the league is that he is going to re-sign a five-year max deal with the Grizzlies. Look at it this way, there is no way the Knicks make the Derrick Rose trade if they thought they could land Conley (a known target of theirs). If he does open the door to other teams, a lot of them will be interested.

2) Jordan Clarkson, restricted. Some team may try to poach the young guard from the Lakers. They will fail, the Lakers will match, but teams will try. Clarkson is a combo guard who can play next to D'Angelo Russell and run the team when he sits. He’s a big-bodied guard who can get into the lane — although settles for too many pull-up jumpers — and can knock down the three (34.7 percent last year and improving). There’s a lot to like for a guard who can be part of the rotation for many years. The question is what team will come in with the big offer for Clarkson that forces the Lakers to pony up? He’s listed in front of the guys below in part because he’s younger.

3) Jeremy Lin, unrestricted. The first guy teams looking for a point guard have a real shot to land, as it will be difficult for Charlotte to keep him with their focus on re-signing Nicolas Batum. He wants to get paid after having to take a pay cut with Charlotte after a rough season in Los Angeles before that. His stats didn’t change much in Charlotte — 11.7 points and three assists per game — however, he had the ball in his hands more in a sixth many role than in Houston or Los Angeles, which allowed him to play to his strengths of attacking and creating. His defense isn’t good but it’s improved. He just looked more comfortable.

4) Rajon Rondo, unrestricted. He put up 11.9 points and 11.7 assists in Sacramento last season, and he was DeMarcus Cousins‘ best friend in the locker room. But there was a feeling around the Kings that he was chasing stats, and beyond that his once lock-down defense isn’t what it once was. If a team could get him to accept a reserve role for 20ish minutes a night it would be a great fit, but that’s not how Rondo sees himself. A lot of buzz about him landing in Brooklyn (where he would start), but how much are they willing to pay? And how many years?

5) Deron Williams, unrestricted. At this point, he’s a solid veteran point guard, one who averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 assists a game for the Mavericks last season. He’ll give a team a solid 28-30 minutes a night. He is expected to re-sign with Dallas, but another team in need of a point which strikes out elsewhere could come in with a surprise offer and try to steal him from the Mavs.

Other names of note: Matthew Dellavedova (he almost got the fifth spot, he is younger than D-Will and that matters), Tyler Johnson (restricted), Ty Lawson, Mario Chalmers, Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin, Langston Galloway (restricted).

Report: George Hill unhappy after Scott Perry promised him, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter that Kings would compete for playoffs

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After a recent Kings loss, George Hill tweeted:

Reading too much into vague tweets is often folly, but Hill hasn’t looked happy in Sacramento. Despite signing him, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter last summer, the Kings are 8-18.

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive.

But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose.

Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources

The Kings aren’t bad because they shifted direction after Perry left for the Knicks. They’re bad because they lack talent.

This team was mostly assembled by the time Perry departed, and it looked lousy. To whatever degree Sacramento is emphasizing youth post-Perry – Garrett Temple, Randolph and Hill rank in the top four in minutes – the won-loss record wasn’t changing much.

If Hill, Randolph and Carter didn’t know that, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Smart veterans like them should have understood the bargain they accepted.

Hill ($40 million guaranteed over two years), Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million) took the money. In exchange, they’re stuck on a bad team. And that’s fine. Many of us prioritize salary in career decisions.

But now they’re dealing with the downside of that arrangement – grinding through a long, losing season. It’s disingenuous to sulk and blame Perry (though, if Perry pledged a team realistically competing for the playoffs, he overpromised).

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Sacramento isn’t making rapid improvement overnight. So, something might have to give with Hill’s mood.

Tristan Thompson: Cavaliers’ stated 3-4-week timeline for my injury was never realistic

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When Tristan Thompson suffered a calf injury early last month, the Cavaliers announced he’d miss 3-4 weeks.

More than five weeks later, Thompson still hasn’t played.

Tom Withers of the Associated Press:

Thompson:

Who said that was the real timetable? They told you guys three to four weeks. That was never the case. The first week, I was on crutches the whole time. So, there was no chance. So, I don’t know. I don’t know who told you three to four weeks. For that, I’m sorry.

Thompson sounds close to returning, so this issue should pass. But teams are usually conservative in these estimates so as not to expose their players to criticism for not working hard enough in rehab. Thompson was left hung out to dry here.

Maybe Thompson, who’s famously low-maintenance, doesn’t mind. But if a 3-4-week timeline was never realistic, I wouldn’t blame him for resenting the Cavs.

Poor communication on injuries might not be limited to only the 76ers.

Heat’s Dion Waiters: ‘I’m not coming off no bench’

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Dion Waiters must be more efficient.

But Waiters’ effective field-goal percentage this season (46.1) is nearly precisely his career mark (46.2). It appears last season’s career high (48.8) in a contract year was the outlier.

What if Waiters just can’t change? Could Miami bring him off the bench?

Waiters, via Tom D’Angelo of The Palm Beach Post:

“I’m a starter in this league, man, that’s who I am. We’re going to nip that in the bud right now. I’m not coming off no bench.”

This is peak Waiters, supremely confident/cocky. He’s not good enough to demand a starting spot, but here he is doing it anyway.

That make’s Spoelstra’s job trickier if he’s considering bringing Waiters off the bench. It might be the optimal basketball move, but NBA coaches must also deal with their players egos.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Waiters should come off the bench. Miami’s starting lineup – Goran Dragic, Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside – is outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. (The Heat are -3.4 per 100 overall.) That unit defends, and Waiters eases the playmaking burden on Dragic.

But if I were the Heat, I also wouldn’t take the possibility of not starting Waiters off the table. At an underwhelming 12-13, they don’t have the luxury of never experimenting – even if it might upset Waiters.

Bradley Beal: Wizards lost to Clippers after what referees described as a ‘s— rule’

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The Clippers beat the Wizards on Saturday, but not without a controversial finish.

Washington trailed 113-112 with 1.2 seconds left and inbounded the ball from the sideline to Bradley Beal, who made a shot, but after the buzzer sounded. However, the clock started early.

The sequence:

After review, officials gave the Wizards the ball in the corner with 1.1 seconds left. In a tough position with less time and on its secondary play, Washington didn’t score.

Beal, via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington:

“Excuse my language because I’m going to say verbatim what they said,” Beal said. “They said it’s kind of a ‘some s*** rule,’ it’s a freak rule. To me, it didn’t really make sense because you take a basket away. You go back and he says we get the same amount of time, but we didn’t get the same amount of time and then we get the ball in the corner. It’s kind of the tough s*** rule. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. We ran a great play and now that you take that away, we’ve gotta set up with a different play and they get a chance to set up and change some things. Now we’ve gotta do a different play with the ball in the corner.”

Referee Bill Spooner, via the NBA:

Spooner contradicts himself here. Was the time lost 0.1 seconds or 1.1 seconds? He said both at different points. He also clearly means the game clock, not the shot clock.

Here’s the relevant example from the NBA’s casebook:

Player A1 inbounds the ball at 0.8 of the period and the game clock starts early when the timer thought the ball was deflected. Player A2 receives the ball and the game horn sounds as he immediately turns to shoot a successful basket. How is this handled?

The on-court officials will signal for replay and the Replay Center Official will determine how much time ran off the clock prior to it being legally touched. If the successful basket was released prior to 0:00, the basket will be scored and if from the ball being legally touched until it cleared the net is less than 0.8, the game clock shall be reset to that amount of time. If the ball is still in Player A1’s hands at 0:00, the field goal cannot be scored and Team A will retain possession on the sideline nearest the point of interruption and the game clock reset to the amount of lost time.

Why would the game clock be set to the amount of lost time? I can see the game clock being reduced by the amount of lost time, which seemingly happened – in error, according to Spooner – Saturday. But just setting the clock to the amount of lost time unfairly punishes the team that is already disadvantaged by the timekeeping error.

From the rule to the enforcement, this was just sloppy.