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George Hill staying steady with bigger role, looming payday

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“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

-Jacob Riis

Gregg Popovich has made that quote, the Stonecutter Credo, a mantra for the Spurs. Six years after he left San Antonio, George Hill has not forgotten it.

“One thing that Coach Pop really taught me when I first got to the NBA is keep pounding that rock, no matter what,” Hill said. “When times get rough or you got goods and highs and lows, never get too high. Never get too low. But always stay subtle and humble and keep getting better.”

Hill has followed Popovich’s keep-pounding-that-rock advice. In a more literal sense.

A combo guard with the Spurs and mostly an off-ball point guard with the Pacers, Hill has carried a bigger load for the Jazz this season as a true lead guard who pounds the rock – dribbles – to create offense far more frequently. He’s averaging a career-high 17.2 points with 4.1 assists per game while playing his usual staunch defense. Utah has outscored opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with Hill on the floor, a net rating that would trail only the Warriors (+11.6) among teams.

“We anticipated it being a good fit,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “But he’s exceeded that.”

Here’s the secret of Hill’s “breakout season:” He has done this before.

In 2014-15, with Paul George injured and Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, the Pacers gave Hill a larger role. Like this year, he excelled in it.

The 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons are Hill’s only two in his nine-year career with an above average usage rate. They’re also the two seasons with his highest effective field-goal percentages and lowest turnover percentages.

Long perceived as a limited player who’d wilt with too much ball-handling responsibility, Hill has been even more efficient in bigger roles.

“I think I’ve established myself now and showed everybody what I can do,” George declared in 2015. “There’s no turning back now.”

Indiana had other ideas. George got healthy, and the Pacers signed Monta Ellis. Hill’s offensive role shrunk last season.

“It’s humbling,” Hill said.

Hill insists him spacing the floor off the ball was best for Indiana last season, that he accepted that role.

But it’s also clear he hungered for more – as did the Pacers. They traded him last summer to the Jazz in a three-team deal to land the, seemingly, more offensively dynamic Jeff Teague.

“I just thought it was a great opportunity for me to go to a place where you know you’re wanted and who’s going value your play and use you the right way,” Hill said.

Hill, an Indianapolis native who played collegiately at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), returns to Indiana for tonight’s Jazz-Pacers game with the same mindset that helped him reach this point.

“Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low,” Hill said. “It’s just another game for us.”

It’s the same mindset Hill keeps as he heads toward his first unrestricted free agency.

After the Jazz make their first playoff appearance in five years and likely win their first playoff game in seven years, they’ll have to evaluate the value of the point guard who helped get them there.

Likewise, Hill will face major decisions about his priorities.

He and Utah were eligible to sign a renegotiation-and-extension that could have paid him $88,684,652 through 2019-20, but they didn’t strike a deal by last month’s deadline. Now, Hill could land a much bigger contract – having a projected max of $177 million over five years if he re-signs or about $132 million if he leaves.

Will anyone offer that much to a 31-year-old who has missed 27 games this season? The Kings, Knicks and 76ers are desperate for point guards and could have major cap space. At minimum, Hill could use those teams for leverage.

Will the Jazz pay up? Would he actually leave Utah for a cellar-dweller? Will another good team court him?

Hill has never dealt with these questions before. The Spurs drafted and traded him. He was a restricted free agent when he re-signed with the Pacers, who traded him to Utah. He’ll have unprecedented freedom next summer.

A renegotiation-and extension could have kept him off the market, giving him security with a team that uses him well. But Hill isn’t dwelling on it.

“It’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Hill said. “But I’m here to help the Jazz win basketball games. I’m not focused on a contract right now. We’ll get to that when the season is over, but right now, our main focus is to win basketball games and me to play my butt off.”

Why should George fret? Whenever he’s granted more leeway, he thrives.

Timberwolves working on (max?) extension for Andrew Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is eligible for a contract extension that projects to be worth $148 million over five years. The Timberwolves could even include a clause that increases Wiggins’ compensation up to a projected $153 if he makes an All-NBA team or wins Defensive Player of the Year next season.

Jerry Zgoda of the StarTribune:

The Wolves have until October to complete a negotiation that shouldn’t take all that much negotiating if Wiggins accepts a contract that’s expected to approach $150 million.

Timberwolves president/coach Tom Thibodeau appears to be talking just generally about an extension. Zgoda brings up a max offer. It’s unclear whether Zgoda is reporting or supposing Minnesota has offered/plans to offer that much.

I’d hesitate to offer Wiggins the full max.

He’s a high-volume scorer with below-average efficiency (carrying enough of a load where that tradeoff is helpful). But his rebounding and defense lag WAY behind where his athleticism suggests those skills should be. For someone who dominated the ball, he’s not much of a distributor.

On the other hand, Wiggins is just 22 and possesses the physical tools to grow into a complete player. It’s reasonable to bet on him getting there, and an extension should be based on what Wiggins will do in future seasons, not what he has done already.

Plus, a max salary is the only allowable rate for a five-year extension. Offer any less, and the Timberwolves would be limited to a four-year extension. Do they really want to face his unrestricted free agency – in the midst of his prime – a year sooner.

It’s not as if they’d lose him now by forgoing an extension, though. Wiggins would be a restricted free agent next summer, and Minnesota could always extend a maximum qualifying offer, which would mean any offer sheet must be for three or four years (not including option years). The Timberwolves would also have a five-year max contract on the table (which would carry the same terms as a five-year max extension signed this offseason). Wiggins could accepted the $9,846,619 one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but that would be an unprecedented risk with so much money on the table.

Minnesota can all but guarantee locking him up for the next four seasons (including the final year of his rookie-scale contract this year). A max extension would secure him for the five (six if it doesn’t include a player option).

Ultimately, I’d lean toward offering Wiggins less than a max extension. It’s a tight market with the salary-cap stagnating in coming years, and a max offer sheet might not be available to him in restricted free agency. The Timberwolves could evaluate him another season and offer Wiggins the max next summer if he deserves it. If Wiggins wants security now, he can take a slight discount. That might come with complications down the road, but so would overpaying a one-dimensional player. A five-year max extension wouldn’t be terrible – if Minnesota doesn’t grant a player or early termination option.

By the way, don’t worry about another Kevin LoveRicky Rubio situation. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to sign two designated-player rookie-scale extensions, so the Timberwolves could still offer Karl-Anthony Towns (who more clearly deserves it) one after giving Wiggins one.

Celtics add toughness with Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris

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WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris are happy to be coming to Boston at the same time, if only so they don’t have to play against each other.

Baynes signed with the Celtics as a free agent on Wednesday, and he already has a familiar face in the team’s locker room: Morris, who was acquired in a trade for Avery Bradley on July 7. Baynes said Morris “brings a lot of toughness” to the court, and Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren said the 6-foot-10 Australian can do the same.

“Red Auerbach said, `Get the instigators, not the retaliators,”‘ Zarren said before introducing Baynes to the media. “He’s definitely an instigator.”

The two former Pistons shared the day, with the Celtics announcing Baynes’ signing an hour before a media call with Morris. Bradley, the longest-tenured member of the team and the only remnant from the New Big Three era, needed to go to clear the salary cap space for prize free agent catch Gordon Hayward.

Baynes and Morris join a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the East last season but lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals in five games. Baynes, who averaged 15.5 minutes last season for a team that missed the playoffs, said coming to Boston was “a basketball decision.”

“Hopefully, I’m a piece that helps them bring the puzzle together,” he said. “You always want to be able to play more. I didn’t see myself having much bigger a role than I’ve had the past two years.”

An undrafted free agent who won an NBA title with the Spurs in 2014, Baynes averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in his five-year career. He played in 75 games last year for the Pistons, starting two, averaging 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds.

After working out at the team’s facility in the morning, Baynes came out to greet children at a basketball camp taking place on the practice court. A noted BBQ enthusiast who tweeted out a request for recommendations in the area, Baynes said he hadn’t tried the local offerings yet.

“There’s a few lobster rolls around here,” he said.

Morris averaged 14 points last season in Detroit, where he was a mainstay in the starting lineup. He saw the Celtics up close while watching his twin brother, Markieff, play for the Wizards in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series against Boston last year.

Morris said coming to Boston cushioned the blow of being traded.

“How can I be upset about being a Boston Celtic?” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m a competitor. I want to play against the best. I want to play for championships.”

Morris said he reached out to longtime Celtics star Paul Pierce after learning he was traded.

“He said I’m going to love it,” said Morris, who like Pierce went to Kansas. “That’s all I needed to hear.”

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

Adam Silver on sports gambling: “My sense is the law will change in the next few years”

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This isn’t new ground for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He has called legalized sports gambling in the United States “inevitable” and advocated in the New York Times for the federal government to put in a framework to control it. He’s not been shy about telling the heads of the other major sports leagues what he sees coming. Mark Cuban has Silver’s back on this one.

The commissioners of the four major sports were all on hand for a panel called “GameChangers: Creating the Future of Sports” in New York on Wednesday, and Silver’s position hasn’t changed, reports ESPN.

“My sense is the law will change in the next few years in the United States,” Silver said when asked about gambling.

He also stressed the importance of in-game wagering to fan engagement, noting, “People want to bet throughout the game … It results in enormous additional engagement with the fans.”

I’m not sure about “the next few years” timeline. I would rather be forced to watch The Emoji Movie than try to predict what the current Congress will do, but with its current conservative makeup legalizing sports betting seems unlikely.

But in the next decade or two… it feels like Silver may be right. The Supreme Court is taking up the case of whether the federal government can block states — in this case, New Jersey specifically — from allowing sports gambling. That could open the door for other states to follow.  Governments state and federal will not see it as a moral issue so much as a new revenue generator — they can tax it. So it will happen. Eventually.

With that Silver is right, professional sports leagues need to be prepared for that reality. The NBA seems to be out in front of that, ready to ride the wave when it crests. For now, they are just paddling around waiting for the right wave to ride.

Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis: “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension”

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John Wall is one of the handful of NBA players who qualifies for the new designated veteran “super max” contract extension — and the Wizards want to give it to him. A four-year, $170 million extension of his current deal is on the table (it would kick in after the two years, $37 million on his current contract).

Wall has yet to sign it. He said at the time it was offered he wanted to talk about it with his family and see what the Wizards did this offseason. He’s not unhappy, he just wants to be sure before he locks himself in with Washington through his prime.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post he thinks Wall will sign.

Maybe, but there’s not a lot of motivation for Wall to sign right now. Wall can bet on himself that he will make the All-NBA team again next year — there’s a deep class of guards but if he stays healthy he stands a good chance — at which time he’s still eligible for a designated veteran “super max” contract extension that would be five-years, roughly $200 million (and would kick in after the one year on his current deal).

That delay would also keep pressure on the Wizards to find ways to improve the roster. Washington is largely capped out and didn’t make any major moves this summer other than re-signing Otto Porter to a max extension (they matched a Brooklyn offer sheet). Washington is good, likely the third or fourth best team in the East, but a notch below Cleveland and Boston right now. Wall wants to push them to get another star and help Washington move up into contender status — he pushed for the Wizards to chase Paul George and have him replace Porter (a deal that was never going to happen, but you can see what Wall is thinking about being one star player short).

Ultimately, I think Leonsis is right, Wall will sign. It’s just a matter of when. Does he take this deal now, or wait until next summer and do it?