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Paging LaMarcus: Ailing Spurs need Aldridge to take charge

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In the summer of 2015, the San Antonio Spurs went shopping like they never have before.

Long content to spend big money on their core while using free agency to sprinkle role players around them, the Spurs lavished a max contract on LaMarcus Aldridge, a four-time All-Star from Portland who would join Kawhi Leonard as one of the focal points of the franchise after Tim Duncan retired.

Now with Leonard ailing and San Antonio facing mighty Golden State in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs need Aldridge to take control.

“LaMarcus has to score for us,” coach Gregg Popovich said after the 136-100 wipeout in Game 2 that put the Warriors up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. “He can’t be timid. He turned down shots in the first quarter. He can’t do it. You’ve got to score.”

Aldridge had just eight points on 4-for-11 shooting in Game 2 as he was swarmed all night by a Warriors defense that was free to double- and sometimes triple-team him since it didn’t have to worry about Leonard, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Aldridge was 0 for 2 with two turnovers in the first quarter and knows he has to be more aggressive when the two teams meet for Game 3 in San Antonio on Saturday.

“The ball has to move, but I have to take a shot if it’s there,” Aldridge said Thursday. “I was trying to make the extra pass, but I have to score, too. If I’m open, I have to shoot.”

The Spurs signed him to a four-year, $80 million deal to take some of the scoring burden off of aging stars Duncan, who retired last summer, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

“Timmy’s last couple years, he couldn’t score nearly like he used to and Manu’s getting older and Tony’s getting older,” Popovich told the AP in March. “Luckily we had Kawhi who was going through the roof. But there’s got to be an inside threat, somebody else that can score for you. So LaMarcus was a huge opportunity for us to try to convince him to come.”

Aldridge was everything they needed in the clincher over Houston in the conference semifinals. While Leonard sat out with the ankle injury, Aldridge scored 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help the Spurs to a stunning 39-point victory.

Aldridge brought it in Game 1 against the Warriors as well, scoring 28 points in a two-point defeat. Leonard went down just over halfway through that game and his status for Game 3 remains undecided. But Golden State blitzed Aldridge from all angles in Game 2 and the Spurs are scrambling to find their identity with both Leonard and Parker out with injuries.

Since Leonard’s ankle rolled on Zaza Pachulia‘s foot while taking a jump shot in Game 1, Aldridge has turned the ball over eight times and made only seven shots against Golden State’s swarming defense.

“They’ve been throwing different things at us, throwing different things at LaMarcus,” guard Danny Green said. “Obviously, thinking a little bit. It’s a lot easier to do that when we don’t have everybody that we need to make plays so they can trap a little more on those guys.

“But offensively, I think it’s a combination of them playing good defense and also us not finding our chemistry, not finding our rhythm, and not knowing where to be with two of our main playmakers not there.”

The key, Aldridge said, was finding a balance between being assertive and looking to score while also making sure that he keeps his teammates involved and hits them with passes when they’re open on the perimeter.

“It was definitely something different than I’ve seen here, but you’ve got to play through it,” Aldridge said of the increased attention from the Warriors. “I either take my shot or try to find the open guy. I think the last game it definitely worked in their advantage with me getting passive, but next game I won’t do that.”

For San Antonio, there is no time to lose. Popovich made that abundantly clear in his pointed remarks after Game 2 when he lamented the team’s lack of intensity and belief.

It all starts with a team’s star players, and Aldridge is the biggest one still standing for the ailing Spurs.

“I think he’s got a major responsibility in Game 3 to come out and get something done, whether it’s for himself or teammates,” Popovich said. “They come after him, to find somebody, turn it over, take good shots. He’s got to do it. No doubt about it.”

AP freelance writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.

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Winners, losers in the Kyrie Irving trade to Boston

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Here’s the hard thing about coming up with this list: There really weren’t big losers.

Unlike some of the other blockbuster trades this summer — Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Paul George to Oklahoma City — the trade of Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s first-round pick next draft didn’t have a clear loser. The Cavs did well in the short term and got themselves more flexibility, the Celtics may have set themselves up for future banners. So this list is heavy with winners. But here it is.

Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers. Once it became public knowledge that Irving wanted out of Cleveland their leverage was gone. They went looking for a potential young star player in a deal — Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum — and were shot down at each turn. It looked like they would have to settle for a lesser package or bring Irving back to training camp and tell him to get along with LeBron James.

Then this deal came through, and it’s a clear “A+” for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lands an All-NBA point guard whose production next season will be close to what Irving provided, and Thomas plays with more of a chip on his shoulder. Also, the Cavaliers added what they desperately needed — a quality “3&D” wing in Crowder, a guy who can knock down jumpers and cover Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant (as much as anyone can cover them). On top of it, the Cavaliers get what will be a high draft pick — Brooklyn may be better but this is still no worse than the 5-6 pick — in a draft deep with quality big men.

Cleveland is still the best team, the team to beat in the East, and they got a key pick to help add youth and athleticism to the roster.

Winner: Boston in a couple of years. Boston’s argument it won the trade is simple — it got the best player in the trade. Thomas and Irving put up comparable numbers last season, but Irving is capable of defending (even though he rarely does, not even in the Finals last season). Irving is a couple of years younger, and because of his height will likely age better than Thomas. However, in giving up Crowder and the Brooklyn pick, the Celtics surrendered their best trade assets.

Cleveland is going to be a better team than Boston next season, but the Irving/Hayward combo with good role players around them has Boston poised to be even better in a couple of years, once guys like Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown develop. Boston is set to be next (providing they can re-sign Irving).

Winner: Kyrie Irving. He wanted out of the immense shadow of LeBron and he got it — and he still landed on a contender. In Boston, he is the most marketable player and while the team has other stars — Gordon Hayward, Al Horford — none are the kind of dominant force of nature that LeBron is. Kyrie will get plenty of time in the sun, he will get great opportunities in Brad Stevens offense (better sets than he was running in Cleveland), and he will continue to win.

Irving may have wanted to be the star, but he didn’t want to be the one-man show on a bad team. Now he’s in a good place.

Loser: The Los Angeles Lakers (maybe, or any other team with dreams of signing LeBron next summer). LeBron James still more than likely bolts Cleveland next year. But Cleveland got a little closer to keeping them with this trade. Isaiah Thomas brings buckets at the point guard spot plus he plays with a chip on his shoulder that this team could use (the Cavaliers coast too much during the season). In Crowder the Cavaliers land the kind of wing player they need to match up better with Golden State. If they want to pick up a role player at the trade deadline, Ante Zizic could be part of that package. More importantly, that Brooklyn pick could be used to bring in a high draft pick player LeBron likes, or it could be traded to get a veteran that LeBron wants to play with.

LeBron wants to add rings to his legacy. If this trade helps him think Cleveland is where he can best do that, he could stay. I wouldn’t bet on it as likely, but the odds LeBron stays in Cleveland after next season got just a little more likely.

Winner: Koby Altman. I couldn’t bring myself to put Dan Gilbert here, it was still a stupid decision to show David Griffin the door. But give due credit to the man who replaced Gilbert, Kobe Altman. He just orchestrated a brilliant trade that keeps the Cavaliers as the favorites in the East next season and gives them more flexibility going forward. It was a master stroke, getting a guy in Danny Ainge known for hoarding assets to give up two of his best shows Altman knows how to do his job.

Winner: NBA Fans. Opening night, Oct. 17, the first game of the NBA season is the Boston Celtics visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving is going to get booed mercilessly. Isaiah Thomas (if his hip is healthy) will be looking to put on a show for the new home fans. It’s going to be glorious.

It may not have tilted the balance of power in the East, but it made the conference far more entertaining to watch this season.

LeBron James on Kyrie Irving: “Nothing but respect”

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Kyrie Irving is now a member of the Boston Celtics. Tuesday’s trade sent Isaiah Thomas to Ohio to join forces with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Irving gets to head east to Boston.

On paper, many believe Cleveland appears to have received the better side of the deal. I’m not absolutely certain that’s the case, as the Celtics were able to get a point guard on an extra few years while simultaneously giving themselves some flexibility in the years to come.

The Cavaliers should be in good shape, especially if Thomas’ hip is A-OK. They beefed up their wing depth with Jae Crowder, and added a 2018 first round pick from the Brooklyn Nets that will help them either draft in LeBron’s absence next summer or trade for another star this year.

Meanwhile, LeBron himself took to Twitter — as did many other NBA players — to respond to the trade.

In a tweet sent out on Tuesday night, Lebron said he had nothing but respect for Irving.

Via Twitter:

Well there you have it. We still don’t know whether James is going to stay in Cleveland past this summer, but we have to assume they are again favorites to make the Finals this year.

We will have to wait until the season starts until we find out whether Irving can make an impact on that arc with his new team in Boston.

Andrew Wiggins fires agent shortly after negotiating $148 million max deal

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Is Andrew Wiggins still going to sign a $148 million max contract extension? Probably!

The big question now will be whether in his previous agent, Bill Duffy, will receive a commission for negotiating that contract.

According to a report from ESPN, Wiggins filed paperwork with the NBA to separate his association with Duffy and representing firm BDA Sports.

The move comes as a shock to many in the NBA sphere, as it certainly is an oddity to release one’s agent directly after negotiating such a large new contract offer.

Meanwhile, it appears that Duffy has already contacted the players association to discuss his rights in a potential tampering case.

How juicy.

Via ESPN:

Duffy, the chairman of BDA Sports and one of the league’s most prominent player agents, told ESPN on Tuesday that he had recently been made aware of rival agencies and potential start-up enterprises who were recruiting Wiggins with inducements that included no commission fees on contracts.

“We are disappointed that Andrew made this decision, especially after a three-year partnership where we worked closely with Andrew and his entire family,” Duffy told ESPN. “Unfortunately, tampering is a common problem in our industry, and that’s part of the reason why I’ve already been in contact with the NBPA to discuss my rights in this matter. Obviously, whenever Andrew signs the max extension that we negotiated with Minnesota, we will work with the NBPA to make sure that our interests are protected.”

Wiggins and the team still have yet to formally agree to the extension, so it’s not really clear what will happen for any of the parties involved.

But if the recent Paul George tampering case and the Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas trade isn’t enough to make you think the NBA offseason is completely wild, this one ought to do.

How NBA players reacted to the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade

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The NBA is easily the best professional sports league in the United States. Was that ever up for debate?

After this offseason, it certainly is not. That also appears to be the opinion of several NBA players after Tuesday’s trade between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers saw Kyrie Irving head east and Isaiah Thomas pair up with LeBron James.

It is crazy to think that the two best teams in the Eastern Conference decided to swap star point guards with each other, and that is just the latest in a series of wild events here in the summer of 2017.

We’ve had players sign big new contracts with new teams, tampering charges being filed, and players dunking on local streetballers from speedboats.

What more could you ask for?

Here’s how the NBA responded to the news of the trade between the Celtics and the Cavaliers on social media.