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).

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant ejected at end of loss to Grizzlies

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Stephen Curry is going to get fined for this.

The former MVP was frustrated, his team losing and thinking he was fouled by Mike Conley as he attacked the rim late in the Warriors loss in Memphis Saturday night. Curry threw his mouthpiece at the referee, which deservedly got him ejected instantly.

Durant followed him to the locker room, making a gesture that will earn him a fine as well.

The Warriors are 1-2 to start the season and there are a lot of factors at play. The China trip does this to teams, and throw in three straight trips to the Finals on top of it and it has an impact. The team is a little banged up. However, the biggest issue is their defense is a mess right now.

The Warriors will straighten it out eventually, but the start of the season could be a rough one for them.

Pacers owner says team not for sale, will not be moved from Indianapolis

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There are more than a few NBA owners who are seeing the prices teams are being sold for — the Rockets just sold for a record $2.2 billion — and considering their options. Some other billionaires are looking for teams, several with the goal of packing up the franchise and moving it to their respected hometowns.

Those billionaires need not call Herb Simon. The Pacers owner said the team is not going anywhere, speaking to Gregg Doyel of the IndyStar.

“I want to leave my legacy: This team permanently in Indianapolis,” Simon told IndyStar Friday in an interview at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s my No. 1 goal.”

Simon bought the Pacers in 1983 with his older brother, Melvin — who died in 2009 at age 82. He told IndyStar the team someday will be owned by his 53-year-old son, Steve. Behind the scenes, Steve Simon has been working closely with Pacers Sports and President Rick Fuson for five years — “He knows more about the dollars and cents than I do,” Herb said of his son — and met this week with several department heads.

“If anything happens to me, he’d be taking over,” Herb said, adding that father and son are on the same page: The Pacers are staying in Indianapolis.

Good. That is as it should be.

Indiana is part of America’s basketball heartland, and it should have a team. Pacers fans are smart and loyal, and the team has a long history going back to the ABA, running from Mel Daniels and George McGinnis through Reggie Miller and up to Myles Turner (hopefully he can be on the level of the rest of them someday). They play in the coolest basketball building in the league, one with the history of the sport wolven in.

Indy is the nation’s 27th largest television market, bigger than San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and other successful NBA franchises. There is no reason the Pacers cannot thrive, so long as ownership is committed.

They are. Which is excellent news for Pacers’ fans.

Stan Van Gundy speaks out again in support of protesting athletes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy used his team’s trip to Washington to again voice his support for athletes who kneel during the national anthem and his opposition to President Donald Trump.

Van Gundy was asked before Friday night’s game against the Wizards what he hoped would result from the president’s criticism of NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and the resulting national dialogue about political activism by professional athletes.

“I don’t know what good can come out of anything the president has said,” Van Gundy said. “As far as the athletes’ protest, I hope people would pay attention to the issues that caused the protest in the first place and realize that we have problem disproportionately with police brutality towards men of color.”

Van Gundy also criticized fans who have booed those athletes because they believe the gesture is disrespectful to the United States military.

“I thought that one of the things the military is fighting for is the American way of life and our values, which I think starts with freedom of speech,” Van Gundy said. “Our country was founded on protest. Otherwise, we would still be a colony of England. You would think people would appreciate non-violent protests that will be made.

“If you don’t stand for freedom of speech and you don’t think those players have the right to freedom of speech, what American values are you for?”

It was not the first time Van Gundy has spoken out on these issues. When Trump was elected last November, Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press it was the first time he had been “ashamed” of his country.

Last month on the team’s media day, he read a prepared statement in support of athletes who use their visibility for political purposes, including protests during the anthem. The NBA has a policy requiring that players stand for the anthem.

The Pistons’ visit to Washington was their first since Jan. 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out Saturday with sprained left ankle

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Orlando Magic because of a sprained left ankle.

Rose twisted his ankle after being fouled by Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter on Friday. Monroe grabbed Rose by his neck and pulled him to the floor.

Rose landed awkwardly, but stayed in the game to shoot two free throws before going to the bench. The play was originally called a common foul but was upgraded to a flagrant 1 Saturday by the NBA.

Jose Calderon started at point guard Saturday for the Cavaliers, who have won their first two games.

Rose signed a one-year contract with Cleveland in July. He became the team’s starter when Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston. Rose was named the league’s MVP in 2011 while with the Chicago Bulls, but has battled injuries since.