OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 14:  LeBron James #23 and Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers speaks to the media after their 104 to 91 loss in overtime the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the 2015 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 14, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Tristan Thompson on contract: ‘LeBron’s not my agent. I earned my money’

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There were numerous reasons Tristan Thompson held leverage over the Cavaliers as a restricted free agent two years ago:

  • Thompson was coming into his own as a player. His defensive versatility was especially important as the NBA became more reliant on small ball, and his offensive rebounding was a dangerous weapon in that paradigm. In fact, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love injured, Thompson was probably Cleveland’s second-best player during its playoff run to the Finals.
  • He was just 24. At that age, he projected to remain productive throughout his next contract.
  • New national TV contracts were set to kick in the following year and drastically raise the salary cap. Therefore, any deals signed in the old-money environment would look cheap overnight.
  • The capped-out Cavs had no mechanism to acquire a better replacement. Whatever Thompson was worth, it was a heck of a lot more than the mid-level exception. As long as actual cost was no object — and it apparently wasn’t — Thompson’s salary wouldn’t impede salary-cap flexibility.
  • Thompson had an aggressive agent who had just guided Eric Bledsoe through a lengthy restricted free agency to a lucrative contract with the Suns the year before. The agent set an early standard of a max or near-max contract, threatened with Thompson signing the qualifying offer and promised to leave Cleveland the following year if he did and spread word of teams waiting to offer Thompson the max as an unrestricted free agent.
  • Oh, and that agent, Rich Paul, also represented LeBron James.

The result: Thompson signed a five-year, $82 million contract that was widely credited to LeBron.

Thompson, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I earned my money,” Thompson told ESPN of his five-year, $82 million extension he signed in 2015. “LeBron’s not my agent. I earned my money doing what I do; you can ask anyone around the league. I opened doors for other guys. It’s a business and you get paid what the market value is for you. I got my money and opened up doors for other guys that play hard and do the little things.”

How much influence did LeBron have on Thompson’s deal? LeBron repeatedly applied public pressure.

But one presumed threat — LeBron, who was also a free agent, waiting to sign until the Cavs took care of Thompson — never came to fruition. LeBron re-signed well before Thompson.

One report even said the Cavaliers didn’t fear LeBron leaving over Thompson’s contract, though it’s up for debate how much they were just trying to regain leverage.

We can never know LeBron’s exact involvement, because the effect might have been indirect. The Cavs obviously wanted to please LeBron and on some level, maybe even explicitly, could have viewed Thompson’s deal as a factor.

Either way, Thompson is getting paid handsomely on a contract that has become good value for Cleveland as the salary cap skyrocketed. Thompson has become the Cavaliers’ starting center, and $16.4 million is fair for a starting center.

But why is Thompson minimizing LeBron’s importance?

For one, players measure themselves by their contracts. Sure, making more money is nice. But it’s also a status symbol around the league, and Thompson doesn’t want his status undermined by the perception he didn’t earn his deal.

That’s why Thompson goes a step further and declares himself a player who opened doors for others — which would increase his prestige even further. It’s a dubious claim, though Thompson’s negotiations apparently influenced Draymond Green‘s the same year. At one point, it appeared Thompson and Cleveland neared a five-year, $80 million deal. With that as a baseline, Green reportedly agreed to a five-year, $82 million contract with the Warriors. Then, Thompson had his negotiations drag on for months. But Green probably could’ve gotten a max deal if he pushed for one. So, it’s tough to credit Thompson much here — or find other players who were paid more as a result of his success.

Another reason Thompson might be loathe to credit LeBron: LeBron implicitly besmirched Thompson by calling the Cavs top-heavy with himself, Irving and Love. How do you think that sat with Thompson?

Report: Bulls pushing to trade for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass against Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly reached out to the 76ers about Jahlil Okafor a few weeks ago.

After unfulfilled intrigue and maybe a trade that fell through, Okafor remains in Philadelphia. And Chicago apparently still wants him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

As constituted, the Bulls already have a few interior bigs: Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio. But one or more could go in an Okafor trade or another deal.

Okafor would make the Chicago younger, confusing its direction with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade already in place.

Perhaps, the Bulls are pushing for a trade only because they’re offering so little. Okafor’s low-post game offers intrigue. At the right price, he’d be worth adding, no matter the fit and direction presented.

Maybe the 76ers don’t go for a lowball offer, but that’d be worth trying considering their center logjam with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Otherwise, Chicago ought to tread carefully when pursuing Okafor.

Report: 76ers trading Ersan Ilyasova to Hawks for Tiago Splitter, picks

Atlanta Hawks guard Mike Dunleavy blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 110-93. (AP Photo/John Amis)
AP Photo/John Amis
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The 76ers have played like a 64-win team when Joel Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova share the court and a 20-win team otherwise, using data from nbawowy!.

That’s helpful for Philadelphia, which is learning what type of player — a stretch four — works best with its franchise player.

But the Hawks can use more than just a lesson in the idea of Ersan Ilyasova. They can use actual Ersan Ilyasova.

And Atlanta will get him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

Atlanta stills sound intent on keeping Paul Millsap, so Ilyasova will likely back him up. Ilyasova should work particularly well with Dwight Howard, whose interior play was a key factor in ushering in this stretch-four era by covering for the lighter power forward next to him.

In the last 21 months, Ilyasova has been traded five times: from the Bucks to the Pistons to the Magic to the Thunder to the 76ers and now to the Hawks. They can probably count on the veteran to settle in quickly as they try to improve their position in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta is fifth, closer to third than sixth.

Both Ilyasova and Splitter have expiring contracts. The advantage of Splitter, who has missed the Hawks’ last 90 games, is that his full compensation counts toward the floor apparently without Philadelphia actually having to play all of his salary.

Plus, those picks could help the 76ers in a season where they can win something meaningful — like the Hawks have decided this season is for them.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.