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Deals happening this summer, but amid perhaps more caution

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Pat Riley saw this coming.

Surveying the landscape going into free agency, the Miami Heat president had a clear sense that smarter spending was going to be the rule in the NBA this summer as opposed to the enormous-contract spree that occurred a year ago.

And so far, he’s been proven right.

There have still been some massive contracts – Stephen Curry‘s $201 million agreement with Golden State will set an NBA total-value record, while the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry combined to assure themselves another $400 million in soon-to-be-official deals. Otto Porter may be in line for $105 million, either from Sacramento or Washington.

But unlike 2016, there’s been very few puzzling moves.

“Some of the contracts were sort of out of whack,” Riley said.

That was then, with deals like ones given to Joakim Noah ($72 million for four years by the Knicks), Timofey Mozgov ($64 million for four years by the Lakers) and Luol Deng ($72 million for four years, also by the Lakers) not exactly paying massive dividends last season. Perhaps not coincidentally, it should be noted that the Knicks and Lakers are both under different management this summer.

Deals are getting done – going into Monday, $1.255 billion in new contracts have been agreed upon this summer already, a figure that goes past $1.5 billion when Porter signs and assuming John Wall takes his $168 million extension offer from Washington.

They’re just getting done more judiciously, or so it would seem.

“That’s part of the reasons we signed guys in advance last summer, was in anticipation of where the cap was going, knowing the value of cap room wasn’t going to be as much because of the preponderance of cap room in the marketplace,” Portland president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said, noting there was $450 million available in cap room this summer across the league.

To Dwyane Wade, who will make nearly $24 million this season, what’s happening now is eye-popping.

“If I’m 25 with the same numbers,” the Chicago guard tweeted on June 21 with a reference to his stats from last season, “I’m getting 150 million.”

And later, Cleveland star LeBron James suggested that Curry should be getting $400 million instead of half that much.

Money matters, clearly. But this summer, teams and players are both showing savvy when handling these deep NBA coffers.

Gordon Hayward may sign a three-year deal wherever he goes, in large part because when that contract ends he’d be a 10-year veteran and in line for an even-bigger payday than the one that awaits. J.J. Redick cashed in with Philadelphia for $23 million, and gets the chance to be free again next summer. Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Jeff Teague were among those who took three-year deals, even though longer ones were possible.

Lowry announced his decision on The Players’ Tribune, saying his son’s reaction to the news that they were staying in Toronto was that they now need to get a bigger house.

“We’ll see about that one,” Lowry said.

In the first two days of free agency – really, Monday was only Day 3, even though it seems like it’s been going on forever – at least 19 of the 30 NBA clubs struck known agreements on deals that will be eligible to be executed starting Thursday. Half the league hasn’t done anything that could be described as anywhere near splashy, either because funds are tight or they’re waiting for other dominoes to fall.

“Really happy and looking forward to this opportunity,” point guard Jose Calderon said after getting a $2.3 million deal from Cleveland, which didn’t have the room to be a major player in free agency – though can still make trades if it chooses, of course.

Golden State, meanwhile, has beaten the Cavaliers for two of the last three NBA titles and has handed out $275 million in new contracts so far this summer. And that total will soar when Kevin Durant‘s new deal with the Warriors gets added in, presumably sometime later this week.

Other teams without cap space or mechanisms by which to land players have to wait and see for what’s left.

“I don’t know how much money our team has – $16 million, and those guys are making $30 million now,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said, when asked if he thought his team could be a major player in free agency this year. “If you look at it that way, it doesn’t look likely. But there are good players out there.”

 

Rumor: Cavaliers trying to dump salary in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Another stated goal is to dump off some salary and reduce the luxury tax bill.

The Cavs – who reportedly lost more than $40 million last season – are on track to become the first team in NBA history to pay the luxury-tax repeater rate. They’ve led the league in payroll, racking up big luxury-tax bills, the last two seasons. They even pulled the rare feat of carving out max cap space (used on LeBron James) then getting about the luxury-tax line in the same season three years ago, finishing second to the Nets in spending that season.

Cleveland now faces a luxury-tax bill north of $78 million – which would eclipse its 2015-16 mark ($54 million) as the second highest tax payment ever, trailing just 2013-14 Brooklyn (nearly $91 million).

Most teams would never spend as much as the Cavaliers have the previous three seasons. Most teams would never approach Cleveland’s costs this year, which include $142 million in player salaries.

But most teams don’t have LeBron.

Remember, the Heat cutting corners on spending contributed to LeBron leaving Miami. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly promised to spend unconditionally when LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Is cutting costs the message the Cavaliers want to send as LeBron enters a contract year?

If so, they have a few candidates for shedding:

  • Tristan Thompson – three years, $52,408,695 remaining
  • J.R. Smith – three years, $44,160,000 remaining (just $3.87 million of $15.68 million guaranteed final year)
  • Iman Shumpert – two years, $21,348,313 remaining
  • Channing Frye – one year, $7,420,912 remaining

All those players, roughly in order of salary, contribute to winning.

The Cavs should have little trouble unloading those contracts in an Irving trade. He’s so valuable, teams will incur a lopsided financial deal to get him. They’ll just send Cleveland less talent to compensate.

It’s the classic dilemma – money vs. on-court success. Teams evaluate this tradeoff every day.

For the Cavaliers, there’s just the additional pressure of LeBron’s looming free agency.

Just a reminder, Russell Westbrook has a max extension sitting out there

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Russell Westbrook is entering the final year of his contract, he can be a free agent in the summer of 2018.

On July 1 the Oklahoma City Thunder offered Westbrook a designated player “super max” contract extension of an expected $200 million, which would kick in after this coming season. It’s a massive offer that would lock Westbrook into the Thunder through his prime.

He has yet to sign it.

He may not sign it, he doesn’t lose much waiting it out. However, the Thunder remain optimistic he will sign, according to Fred Katz at the Norman Transcript.

The deadline for him to sign is the day before the regular season begins, Oct. 16.

 No other team could offer the same deal if Westbrook were to hit free agency. He could still receive a contract that starts at 35 percent of the cap if he chooses to become a free agent next summer but would receive only five percent raises per season and could sign for up to only four years.

Yet, the reigning MVP has made the Thunder wait almost a month, already. And it could end up being longer — maybe forever, though the organization remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Westbrook signing for the long term before the start of the season.

Why Westbrook should wait is that this contract doesn’t make him that much more money than simply waiting the season out, then studying his options next summer and signing a max deal next summer.

The Thunder can offer Westbrook 35 percent of the cap right now thanks to the new designated player provision (that deal would start at just under $35 million a year),  however, after this season Westbrook will have been in the NBA 10 years, which means every team can offer him that  same annual salary starting next summer. What OKC can offer are slightly larger raises and one more guaranteed year. That year is nice if Westbrook doesn’t think he can get maxed out in five years, but he likely can. So the real advantage is the larger raises, and that has not been enough to sway guys in the past because it’s not that much money.

Westbrook and Paul George should make the Thunder very interesting next season — this will be an elite defensive team trying to figure out the offense. If they do, this team becomes dangerous, but that is still a big “if.”

If Westbrook and George lift OKC deeper in the playoffs than expected, both could choose to stay in OKC. If, however, this doesn’t work out as planned, Westbrook has more options if he doesn’t sign the deal yet — he and George, also a free agent next summer, could leave together or go their separate ways. Also, not signing the keeps pressure on the Thunder ownership to keep spending and moving to make the team better now, rather than cut corners and save money.

Westbrook can make the Thunder feel good and sign this deal, but if he wants you can’t blame him.

Important news: Nick Young has gotten over his fear of dolphins

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Where NBA players really make improvements is over the summer. They can get in better shape, work on their jumper, improve their handles…

Or get over their fear of dolphins.

Which is what the new Wizards guard did this summer. Remember these tweets from Young’s then fiancée a couple of years ago?

He’s gotten past that fear.

I gave these dolphins another chance we cool now

A post shared by Nick Young (@swaggyp1) on

Next, just needs to pick up a right with Golden State and show that to the Dolphins — they respect titles.

Report: Mikhail Prokhorov ‘warmed’ to selling controlling stake of Nets

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Mikhail Prokhorov bought 80% of the Nets in 2010. A couple years ago, he tried to sell his stake, but decided to keep it. Then, he bought 100% of the franchise and its arena. After last season, he said he was selling 49% of the team.

Now?

Josh Kosman and Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, while focused on selling a minority stake in the franchise, has warmed recently to the possibility of offering a controlling slice of the team, sources close to the situation said.

The change of heart comes after the initial reaction to the minority stake sale was weak — and with interest in the Houston Rockets sale heating up, one source said.

The Rockets’ sale could shake out potential Nets buyers, and Prokhorov selling a controlling stake could also help. It’d cost more money than the 49% he’s offering now, but people with the money to buy an NBA team tend to value control.

This might be a good time to sell for Prokhorov, who lost a ton of money as the team paid major luxury tax for an all-in championship pursuit that flopped spectacularly. The NBA’s popularity is rising, and the league is reaping huge revenue from its national-TV contracts.

However, he shouldn’t assume the Rockets’ sale price will predict the Nets’. Buyers might prefer a good team with James Harden and Chris Paul to a bad one short on young talent after years of mismanagement. At least Brooklyn’s payroll is now tolerably low.

The big loser here: Leslie Alexander, who’s trying to sell the Rockets. The supply of NBA teams now available might have just doubled, and unless there’s no overlap in demand for those franchises, that can only drive down Alexander’s eventual sale price.