AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Gordon Hayward flying up in stature, toward contract conundrum

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Auburn Hills, Mich. – Asked about making an All-NBA team, Gordon Hayward gave a stock answer about focusing on team success. Pressed further, he relented and talked about himself.

“It would be really cool, man. It would be,” Hayward said before a lengthy pause, “something that I don’t think I ever thought I would achieve, for sure.”

And then he went right back into Utah’s team goals.

Hayward better get his head around what making an All-NBA team would mean for him personally, because the stakes are high – and tricky.

The NBA’s impending Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for a new class: designated veteran players. They can receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap with just eight or nine years of experience, up from the usual 30% for players in the league that long. To qualify, a player must also meet one of three criteria:

  • Win MVP in any of the three seasons before signing
  • Win Defensive Player of the Year the season before signing or both of two seasons before that
  • Make an All-NBA team the season before signing or both of two seasons before that

With all due respect to Hayward, he isn’t winning MVP or Defensive Player of the Year. An All-NBA team is his ticket to a designated-veteran-player extension.

Will he nab one of the six forward slots?

A dozen forwards (or quasi-forwards) were All-Stars this season. Here’s how they stack up in win shares (blue), PER-based Estimated Wins Added (yellow) and Real-Plus-Minus-based wins (green):

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Player WS EWA RPM Wins AVG
LeBron James (CLE) 10.5 18.4 14.9 14.6
Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 11.6 18.0 11.3 13.6
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 10.6 18.7 11.6 13.6
Kevin Durant (GSW) 11.3 17.0 12.1 13.5
Jimmy Butler (CHI) 10.0 15.6 14.1 13.2
Anthony Davis (NOP) 9.4 18.4 10.2 12.7
Gordon Hayward (UTA) 9.2 12.7 7.8 9.9
Draymond Green (GSW) 7.3 5.8 13.1 8.7
Paul Millsap (ATL) 6.1 7.4 10.9 8.1
Kevin Love (CLE) 5.4 7.7 7.6 6.9
Paul George (IND) 4.9 9.0 6.7 6.9
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 4.6 9.0 4.8 6.1

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are All-NBA locks. After that? It’s wide open.

Kevin Durant put up an awesome season before he got hurt, but he’ll remained sidelined while other candidates help their teams. His candidacy is basically a finished product.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (guard), Jimmy Butler (guard) and Anthony Davis (center) could all slide to different positions. The league places players at the position where they receive most votes. The Bucks call Antetokounmpo a point guard (and a forward), but the NBA considered him a frontcourt player for All-Star-starter voting, which could color All-NBA voters. Butler has primarily been a forward this year, but Dwyane Wade‘s season-ending injury could have Butler closing at guard. Similarly, though Anthony Davis has played center twice as much as power forward this season, his lasting impression will be at forward next to DeMarcus Cousins.

Draymond Green leads the other contenders. He was All-NBA second team last season, a telling marker for him in particular. All-NBA voters recognizing him last year show they appreciate his distinctive skill set, and it remains impressive.

Paul Millsap belongs in the mix, though he rarely gets his just due. George, on the other hand, has more name recognition. If he finishes his up-and-down year strongly, he might actually deserve to be All-NBA.

And then there’s Hayward, who’s averaging 21.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He carries a huge offensive load while shooting extremely efficiently and protecting the ball – in historic proportions. He’s also playing a major role in one of the NBA’s best defenses.

There are just so many good forwards this season. Hayward can’t bank on anything – even the date All-NBA selections will be revealed.

The league announced a new award show for June 26, which will honor the Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man Award, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year. Presumably, All-NBA will also be a part of that show, but nothing is definitive.

Waiting that long would give Hayward just three days to decide on his $16,736,710 player option for next season – a far harder decision than meets the eye.

If Hayward doesn’t make All-NBA, opting out is a no-brainer. His maximum salary – and he’s a no-question max player – projects to be more than $30 million.

Then why would Hayward consider opting in?

Another rule says designated veteran players must have eight or nine full years of experience when receiving the higher salary. Hayward is in his seventh year.

So, if Hayward makes an All-NBA team and wants to sign a designated-veteran-player-extension, he must first opt in. He’d earn $16,736,710 next season, his eighth. Then, the monster extension would begin in 2018-19.

Here’s the max Hayward projects to earn by opting out and re-signing (yellow) or signing a designated-veteran-player-extension (green):

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Year DVP extension Opt out, re-sign
2017-18 $16,736,710 $30,600,000
2018-19 $36,050,000 $33,048,000
2019-20 $38,934,000 $35,496,000
2020-21 $41,818,000 $37,944,000
2021-22 $44,702,000 $40,392,000
2022-23 $47,586,000
Total $225,826,710 $177,480,000
Average $37,637,785 $35,496,000

Remember, this choice is available to Hayward only if he makes an All-NBA team. If he doesn’t, opting out is the easy call.

But if he makes an All-NBA team, the decision is complicated.

A designated-veteran-player extension guarantees Hayward more money, but it’s also over more years. If Hayward signs a new five-year contract, he’d almost certainly still earn something in 2022-23. Enough to offset the nearly $48 million difference? I doubt it.

On the other hand, Hayward might be better off entering free agency at age 32 rather than 33 (or 31 rather than 32 if he can get player options in these deals).

A fresh contract would also give Hayward more money up front, a projected extra $14 million next season.

And that’s comparing just these two (seemingly most likely) options. Hayward could opt out, get his big raise next season on a short-term contract and try to make an All-NBA team in a future season to get the best of both worlds. But that’s really betting heavily on himself to maintain this elite standing. He could leave Utah. The Jazz could balk at giving him the full designated-veteran-player max. (Teams are allowed to specify a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the cap.)

There’s so much at play.

Before he reaches that point, Hayward will soon make his first playoff appearance since shooting 6-for-33 as the Jazz got swept by the Spurs in the first round his second year, 2012. The top of the Western Conference is daunting. Otherwise, Utah looks like the type of team poised to make a deep run.

This sets up to be a whirlwind finish for Hayward – through the playoffs, into award season and then to negotiating the contract of a lifetime.

Steve Kerr “uncertain” if he will coach in NBA Finals

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The Warriors have gone 12-0 through the playoffs, the first team to sweep the first three rounds of the playoffs since the NBA went to a best-of-7 in all three rounds (a couple Lakers teams did it when the first round was best-of-5).

That doesn’t mean they haven’t missed Steve Kerr as coach, but they haven’t needed him. Yet. Mike Brown has done the job quite well.

Will Kerr be back for the NBA Finals? He told Marc Spears of ESPN he doesn’t know.

Kerr had back surgeries two summers ago, and that caused him to miss the start of the 2015-16 season (Luke Walton ran the show). Kerr coached through pain caused by a slow leak of spinal fluid until nausea and pain became too much at the start of this postseason. Kerr has had a new procedure — one that is apparently promising, one that we hope works to end the leak — but he’s understandably cautious about jumping back in.

That said, the next round, against the Cavaliers (barring the most improbable comeback in NBA history), is when the Warriors will need Kerr’s creative mind and solutions to the challenges Cleveland presents.

He’s also got more than a week to decide since the Finals don’t start until June 1.

Manu Ginobili receives standing ovation upon exiting what may be his final game

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Manu Ginobili is a four-time NBA champion, a two-time All-NBA player,  two-time All-Star, and a Sixth Man of the Year.

He’s also the most popular Spur of his generation — walk around San Antonio, even at the peak of the Spurs runs, and you saw more Ginobili jerseys than Duncan or Parker or Robinson or anyone else. Ginobili is beloved.

When he was taken out near the end of Game 4, maybe his final game as a Spur, the fans erupted into a standing ovation (joined by Stephen Curry, who stepped away from the free throw line to let the moment happen).

Ginobili hinted during the season this would be his last, but has said repeatedly during the playoffs he didn’t know what he would do during the season. He looked like he had game left in the tank during the Western Conference Finals (he had 15 points in Game 4 and was one of the Spurs best players in the series). The question is, at age 40 next season, will he want to go through all the work it takes to get physically ready for the next season.

Warriors take control early, hold off Spurs to sweep series, advance to NBA Finals

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This series was decided early in the second half of Game 1, when Kawhi Leonard’s ankle rolled. He never got back on the court in the next three games, the Spurs were +21 when he was on in that first game and -85 the rest of the way. Without his defense on one end and shot creation on the other the Spurs could not match up.

The Spurs didn’t play like it was over Monday night — while the Warriors would hit threes and go on runs, the Spurs would answer back never let them completely pull away. They got buckets from Kyle Anderson (20 points off the bench) and 15 from Manu Ginobili in what may have been his final NBA game (he got the start, and the crowd erupted when he was taken out near the end).

It wasn’t enough. The Golden State Warriors were the better team — maybe even if Leonard had played — and they were in control of this game the entire way, getting 36 points from Stephen Curry and 29 from Kevin Durant.

The Warriors went on to win 125-110 and sweep the Spurs 4-0. Golden State swept through the West undefeated at 12-0, and they will take on the winner of the East (we all know it will be Cleveland). The Finals don’t begin until June 1.

This is the Warriors third straight trip to the Finals.

“Our chemistry is getting better and better,” Durant said after the game. “We’re going to need it even more in the next series, whoever we play, we’re just looking forward to it. I’m glad we got this done.”

There was a lot of respect between the teams after the series, particularly for Ginobili.

“Somebody I grew up watching, amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him,” Durant said after the game. “I got nothing but love and respect for him, plus he wear my shoes every year so that’s a plus. He was phenomenal this series.”

There also was a feeling among fans that we were robbed of a good series by the injury to Leonard (and the cheap play by Zaza Pachulia that caused it). Without Leonard (and Tony Parker) the Spurs struggled to create shots and generate consistent offense against a stout Warriors defense.

It was evident at the start of Game 4. San Antonio opened game 3-of-16 shooting, but the bigger issue is they went 1-of-8 in the paint against a Warriors team that started small (Patrick McCaw instead of JaVale McGee). Meanwhile, the Spurs were 7-of-7 in the paint to start the game. That is why the Warriors raced out to a quick 12 point lead midway through the first quarter.

The game hung around the 10-point era until an 11-0 Warriors run midway through the second quarter. The Spurs kept fighting, they had 13 more shots than the Warriors in the first half — thanks to 9 Golden State turnovers and 8 San Antonio offensive boards — but the Spurs shot 34.5 percent in the first half, and it wasn’t enough because the Warriors shot 60 percent. The Warriors shot 74 percent (14-of-19) in the second quarter. Because of that it was Warriors 65, Spurs 51 at the half, and Curry and Durant each had 18 for Golden State; Kyle Anderson has 10 points to lead the Spurs.

The second half saw the lead bounce between 10 and 20 most of the time, the Spurs would make a little run and the Warriors would answer with some crisp ball movement and a three. Curry was 5-of-13 from three on the night to lead the way.

Draymond Green added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists for the Warriors.

Now the Warriors get more than a week off to rest and prepare for the Finals.

Kevin Durant blocks Dejounte Murray twice on one shot (VIDEO)

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Kevin Durant was doing it all in the first half — he had 18 points to lead the Warriors (tied with Stephen Curry) and was making plays all over the court.

That includes racing back on this play and blocking Dejounte Murray‘s layup. Twice. On one shot.

The Warriors have led by 20 and been in control through the start of the third quarter. KD was at the heart of that.