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Five players most likely to be on the move before Thursday’s trade deadline

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For all the talk of a tight trade market (and that is still the case in some quarters) we have already seen a blockbuster trade — Blake Griffin is now a Detroit Piston. We’ve also seen an expected trade, with Nikola Mirotic getting moved and the Pelicans stepping up to land him.

Who else could be on the move before the NBA’s trade deadline before Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern? There are a lot of names being bandied about around the league, but here are five to watch closely, the five most likely to have a new address by the end of the week.

1) Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies. If there is one sure thing on this list, it’s that Evans will have a new home, the Grizzlies have already shut him down to avoid an injury before the deadline. Evans is scoring 19.5 points a game and is shooting 39 percent from three in an impressive bounce-back season for the former Rookie of the Year who last summer had so little of a market he could only get a one-year, $3.3 million contract with Memphis. He’s played himself into a much bigger contract next season, one the capped-out Grizzlies can’t afford so they will trade him before the deadline to get something back.

So far the Celtics, Sixers, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Heat and other teams have inquired about Evans, who could be a bench spark for a playoff team, but Memphis is holding out for a first-round pick in the deal. Other teams are not offering that yet (more like a second rounder and a player on a cheap contract) because he is just a rental and teams would need to use cap space to re-sign him next summer (no Bird rights on a one-year contract). Which is why this one could well go down to the wire. Eventually either a team will cave and throw in a first-rounder, or Memphis will cave and take a couple of second-round picks for Evans. One way or another, he is certainly going to be on the move.

2) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. After the Blake Griffin trade, logic dictates the Clippers should move on from other veteran stars on their roster (except for Danilo Gallinari and his unmovable deal) and start a full-on rebuild. However, owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want to bottom out, so the Clippers are holding out for real value at the deadline. Which brings us to Lou Williams — the current leader in the Sixth Man of the Year race averaging 23.5 points per game — who teams are calling about, but the Clippers are holding out for a first-round pick. Boston is the most mentioned team looking at Williams, but Toronto, Detroit, and Miami all also have been mentioned as possible destinations.

Unlike Memphis with Evans, the Clippers may well get a first-round pick for Evans, which is what they are demanding. The reason is that a trade for Williams brings his Bird rights, making it much easier for the team to re-sign him next summer.

3) Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz. I could have put Joe Johnson from Utah here too, because he wants out and his agent and the team are trying to make that happen. However, the reality is anyone not named Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell is available from Utah, and shooter Rodney Hood is drawing a lot of interest. While there are other flaws in his game, Hood can shoot the rock from deep — averaging 16.4 points per game and hitting 38.7 percent from three — and that is a valuable commodity around the league. Denver is said to be interested, as are the Pistons among others.

One other name to watch from Utah at the deadline: Derrick Favors. He also is available and drawing some interest from teams.

4) Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons. An athletic and long wing with a world of potential but still not a reliable jumper, Stanley Johnson has not developed as hoped in Detroit. However, he’s just 21 years old, and other teams around the league think he could be a good player and want to see if a change of scenery and a different coach could break him out. He’s available in a trade, and has been mentioned as someone who could go to Utah for Hood (and Utah has one of the best player development programs in the league). Also reportedly interested are the Spurs among others. Detroit isn’t going to get a lot in return for him (no first-rounder for him in this market), but if Van Gundy is ready to move on a lesser deal may be enough.

5) DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers. Much like Lou Williams, it would make sense for the Clippers to move on from Jordan, especially since he is a free agent this summer and, after the Griffin trade, it’s hard to see him re-signing with the Clips. The challenge in trading him is two-fold. First, he’s a more traditional pick-and-roll big man who can defend the rim, get boards, and finish around the basket for a team, but he can’t space the floor at all and his free throw shooting can make it hard to play him at the end of games. Not every team wants a traditional center like him now, and if a team is going to get DJ they need a good point guard (or ball handler) to run pick-and-rolls with Jordan and use his skill set well. Jordan is an All-NBA level player but he needs to be in a specific system to be truly effective.

The other problem for teams is they don’t want to put a lot of assets into a deal — and since Jordan makes $22 million this season it’s going to take a lot of assets in a trade to make it work — and then lose him as a free agent this summer. Teams will want behind-the-scenes assurances from Jordan he will re-sign (or that he would opt into his $24.1 million for next season, something he has so far been unwilling to do).

The Clippers want a first-round pick and a player for Jordan, and if a team believes it can re-sign him they may well get it. But not yet, and the Clippers may need to make a decision about taking less back or keeping him and then trying to re-sign him this summer.

Among the teams interested are Portland, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Miami, and Orlando.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

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In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

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Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.

Clippers executive Jerry West raves about Warriors’ Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green

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A former great player who’s now an executive for a Los Angeles NBA team praised an opposing player.

The last time this happened, Lakers president Magic Johnson got fined for tampering with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

How will Jerry West fare with these comments about Warriors stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green?

West, via the TK Show:

Kevin Durant, I don’t know. Obviously, he’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever watched play. His size, the efficiency that he plays the game is scary. And then you have Steph over there, your little, your next-door-neighbor kid. Let’s go play with him. And then you get out there, and then you find out, oh my god, this guy’s a killer. But pretty unique with that. And the complementary players, in their own right, they’re great. There’s Klay Thompson. He just goes and plays and never seeks any credit. He just plays and really competitive. Draymond, the guy that drives the horse. They’ve got some really unique players up there, and it’s still fun for me to watch. I watch them play. I root for them, because I know some of the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Johnson said about Antetokounmpo. Nick Friedell of ESPN:

As Johnson watches from afar, he can’t help but see and enjoy the parallels between his game and that of the Bucks big man.

“Oh yeah,” Johnson told ESPN recently. “With his ball-handling skills and his passing ability. He plays above the rim I never could do that. But in his understanding of the game, his basketball IQ, his creativity of shots for his teammates. That’s where we [have the] same thing. Can bring it down, make a pass, make a play. I’m just happy he’s starting in the All-Star game because he deserves that. And he’s going to be like an MVP, a champion, this dude he’s going to put Milwaukee on the map. And I think he’s going to bring them a championship one day.”

Two key differences between West and Johnson:

West didn’t help get his team fined for tampering last summer. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said there’s no clear line for tampering, but that the Lakers face a higher bar due their previous violations.

Johnson didn’t previously work for Milwaukee. West worked in Golden State’s front office while those players were there and knows them personally.

But Silver also provided a rough outline of when tampering will be enforced when addressing Johnson’s latest fine:

“It’s one thing when you’re asking a coach a question about an opposing team right after a game. It’s another issue when a general manager or president of basketball sort of gratuitously issues a statement that is complimentary of a star player on another team.

“In essence, what we’ve said to him, and it’s a clear message to other team executives, is that stop talking about star players on other teams. There are plenty of other issues they can address. And there is sensitivity around it throughout the league.”

Given that line, I don’t know how West avoid a fine – which is a shame.

What he said is harmless. No player is going to join another team due to benign compliments from an opposing executive.

It’s also a disservice to fans and West himself if he’s discouraged from speaking publicly about current players. The all-time great has valuable perspective, and he shouldn’t be silenced just because he works for an NBA team. His entire interview with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic is interesting. Everybody would lose if West turns down interviews in fear of a fine.

Meanwhile, more meaningful tampering – making plans on future contracts – is rampant. But that’s difficult to curb. So, the NBA enforces silly stuff like this.

The NBA never should have fined Johnson for the Antetokounmpo comments. It just opens too many cans of worms in a fight not worth fighting. Seriously, what’s the point?

If I were the Lakers, I’d be bothered if West skates free on this. But if I were West, I’d also resent a fine.

The league has backed itself into a dumb corner.