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Three Things We Learned Thursday: Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?

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If you spent Thursday worried that Sharknado is real, we understand. Here is what you missed around the NBA as you prepped for that looming disaster.

1) Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: There is no stopping the TNT Bulls — Thursday night made 20 straight home wins for Chicago when the game is broadcast on TNT. Nikola Mirotic is lighting it up of late, and he dropped 28. The Bulls needed the win, they remain a game back of the Pacers and Heat for the final playoff slots in the East, however, the Bulls have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. They should get in, and this win helps.

That said, the Bulls are not the big story out of that game. Rather, it’s the stumbling Cavaliers — they have lost three straight, and will finish March 6-10 with the worst defense in the NBA during that month. They have fallen behind Boston as the top seed in the East and simply look nothing like a contender. After this loss, LeBron James said “we’re just in a bad spot right now.”

Is it time to worry if you’re a Cleveland fan?

There are plenty of reasons to shoot that idea down: The Cavs remain the most talented roster in the East, and getting to the playoffs healthy is what matters most because if they do they are still the favorites. This is the same core roster that won the NBA title last year, they are just a little bored, but they can flip the switch (see LeBron’s first half against the Bulls for example). Also, getting the No. 1 seed is not that big a deal — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, but four of those years his team did it out of the two seed.

Still, there is real reason for concern. The Cavaliers defense has been flat-out a disaster since the All-Star break. It feels like that switch might be harder to flip in the postseason. Part of it is effort, but if the team is not building good habits now what will they fall back on in the playoffs. Some nights the offense can still cover up the bad defense, but Thursday night Kevin Love fouled out with eight points on 10 shots, and Kyrie Irving going cold if he got chased off the arc (2-of-13 on twos). Those guys can’t be off and have this team win when they defend like matadors waiving their cape at the bull going by.

It still comes back to this for me: Which team in the East can beat a healthy Cavaliers team four times in seven games? I still don’t see one. But if they are still defending poorly by the start of the second round, that may change.

2) LeBron James passed Shaq for seventh on the All-Time NBA scoring list. Shaquille O’Neal just got a statue put up outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, he’s been riding high, maybe he needed to get knocked down a peg.

While LeBron was trying to will his team to play better against the Bulls, he passed former teammate Shaq and moved into seventh on the all-time NBA scoring list.

Next up on that list for LeBron is Dirk Nowitzki, although he remains a moving target.

3) Houston Rockets set record for most made three pointers in a season. When you think about how they’ve played this year, it seemed inevitable. With this vintage James Harden jab step then step-back three, the Houston Rockets hit their 1,078 three-pointers on the season, passing the record set last year by the Warriors.

It’s an impressive feat, but considering the direction of the NBA it likely lasts about as long as the Warriors’ record did. Here’s a look back at the best threes from the Rockets this season.

Report: Rockets becoming “increasingly serious threat” to sign Chris Paul

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The Houston Rockets are one of only a handful of teams in the NBA with a legitimate ability to add a couple of key pieces and try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors.

Chris Paul would be that kind of piece, and the Rockets are ramping up efforts to land him.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets have emerged as an increasingly serious threat in the chase for soon-to-be free agent Chris Paul, according to league sources.

The Rockets still have work to do in terms of clearing sufficient salary-cap space to make a representative offer for Paul, but sources told ESPN that Houston star James Harden has been advocating hard in favor of the Paul pursuit and has made his interest in teaming with the Los Angeles Clippers’ point guard known directly to Paul.

Sources say Houston also remains at the heart of the trade hunt to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers, despite the fact George is only under contract through next season and is known to be angling to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in July 2018.

The challenge in all of this is the Rockets have just about $10 million in cap space this summer, which is about a third of what it will take to land Chris Paul. That means they need to trade Ryan Anderson and his $19.6 million owed next season and take no salary back, and while there are a few teams in a position to be able to take on that salary — Philadephia, Brooklyn, Sacramento and others — they are going to want a young player or first-round pick as a sweetener. The Rockets also are considering moving Lou Williams and his $7 million salary, or Patrick Beverley and his $5.5 million. However, even moving both of the later two is not getting near the salary Paul will demand.

Chris Paul met with the Clippers front office on Tuesday to talk about the future, but he’s expected to meet with a number of teams in free agency, with the Rockets and Spurs being key suitors. The question is, will any of these teams bring him closer to toppling the Golden State Warriors, and is it worth it to take less money for that chance? Especially after he got the CBA changed so that as of July 1 the “over 36” rule becomes the “over 38 rule” so the Clippers can give him one more five-year max contract.

How much will Dion Waiters earn as a free agent?

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Dion Waiters had the best season of his career last year at age 25 in Miami. The Heat pushed Waiters to get in the best shape of his life (just check out his Instagram), and combine that with the fact that Justise Winslow went down Waiters got the ball in his hands more with a chance to create for himself, and you had a little rush of scoring. He’s still not the most efficient player ever (to be kind), but he’s close to average.

Waiters opted out of his $3.2 million he is owed next season, and he is now a free agent. How much is he will he get now on the open market? Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote this:

One scout said he would be surprised if the bidding for Waiters soars much above $10 million, if that, because of his small sample size of high-level play this past season. One prominent agent who does not represent Waiters predicted he would get $8 million to $10 million annually.

That number seems about right, if it’s a two-year deal (or a team option on the third year). The league average salary will be around $8.5 million, and that’s where Waiters should fall next year.

Whether Miami has that money to spend comes down to whether they land a big free agent such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin (both max guys). If so, the Heat will not have the money, and what they do have would be more focused on keeping James Johnson. However, if the Heat strike out then Waiters could be back in Miami.

One way or another Waiters is going to get a raise. That doesn’t mean teams are not still leery.

Report: Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose

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Were they watching the games last year?

Derrick Rose put up decent numbers last year — 18 points per game, PER of 17, true shooting percentage of 53 — but was a mess defensively and does not fit in the triangle offense. He’s a decent point guard now, a replacement level player who can help in the right system.

Since the Knicks point guard rotation right now consists of rookie Frank Ntilikina plus whoever the team signs this summer, turns out Rose is not out of the picture, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The New York Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose, league sources familiar with the matter said….

The Knicks’ interest in the point guard is dependent on several factors, including his health and his asking price. When asked last week about New York potentially re-signing Rose, team president Phil Jackson said “we’re listening.”

Money will be the key — it’s not going to be anywhere near the $21.3 million Rose made last season. No team is going to offer that.

Can the Knicks get him for less than $10 million? Will another team come in and offer $12 million or more for him? The market for point guards this summer is going to be interesting because after the big name on the free-agent market — Chris Paul (we’re not counting Stephen Curry, he’s not leaving) — there are some quality players out there that can help teams such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague and Shaun Livingston. There aren’t that many teams with money to really spend on free agent point guards, so while a couple (Holiday, maybe Lowry) re-sign with their old teams there are a number of guys who may find the market softer than they expected. Rose is among them.

And that’s where the Knicks come in. Rose is far from a perfect fit, but if the soft market drives his price down closer to the midlevel ($8.4 million) or just above, that may be worth it for the Knicks for a year while they try to develop the rookie.

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.