Dan Feldman

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Report: Grizzlies to drop Wade Baldwin and Rade Zagorac

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The Grizzlies have 16 players with guaranteed salaries on standard contracts – one more than the regular-season limit – plus partially guaranteed Mario Chalmers, who excelled when healthy for Memphis.

It appears the Grizzlies will solve that dilemma with a couple awkward subtractions – Wade Baldwin and Rade Zagorac.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Baldwin was the No. 17 pick just last year, and it’s incredibly rare to give up such a high selection so soon. But Baldwin was dreadful on the court as a rookie, appearing wholly incapable of running an offense or playing off the ball. The guard (ideally a point, but maybe a combo out of necessity) has potential defensively, but he’s not close to ready on the other end. After major questions about his attitude coming out Vanderbilt, perhaps it’s not entirely surprising he got the quick hook.

Zagorac’s is even quicker. The No. 35 pick last year, he first signed this summer – to a deal with multiple guaranteed seasons, including slightly more than the minimum this year.

If Baldwin and Zagorac are less valuable to Memphis than other players, the Grizzlies are better off cutting bait now. It looks bad, but compounding mistakes is far worse than publicly admitting errors and moving on.

Speaking of, it looks like I was totally wrong on Baldwin, though perhaps a team with less of a roster crunch would take a flier on him.

C.J. McCollum: ‘I should’ve known better, with my history of violence on the court, that I would get suspended’

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C.J. McCollum was suspended for the Trail Blazers’ season opener against the Suns on Wednesday for leaving the bench during a preseason fight between Caleb Swanigan and Alex Len.

McCollum, via NBC Sports Northwest:

I should’ve known better, with my history of violence on the court, that I would get suspended.

I’m getting a harsher punishment than the people actually involved in the events. And I’m losing money. And I’m not playing. Would that bother you?

They could have fined me more money and allowed me to play in the regular-season game. It’s the intent, and it’s usually up to them. It’s to their discretion. So, they had a choice. They didn’t have to suspend me.

The NBA has a strict leave-the-bench-during-a-fight, get-suspended rule. McCollum – nobody’s idea of an enforcer, as he sarcastically alluded to – was probably just trying to break up the fight. But in the heat of the moment, it’s tough to discern the intent of a player charging in. He can easily escalate the quarrel. So, the league has a blanket rule and makes no exceptions – a policy that has had far more positive than negative effect.

This is the downside, a player getting suspended for trying play peacemaker. But everyone knows the rule at this point, and McCollum is paying the appropriate price for breaking it.

Report: Jazz almost certainly won’t extend Rodney Hood

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The Jazz’s contract-extension talks with Rodney Hood… apparently went nowhere.

Today is the deadline for rookie-scale extensions, and it seems Hood’s fate is sealed.

Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune:

Rodney Hood and the Utah Jazz will not come to an agreement on a contract extension, barring a last minute change, sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune

The Jazz sounded like they wanted to see another season from Hood before giving him a new deal. They retain team control, as he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.

Hood stagnated last last year during an injury-plagued season. Staying healthy would certainly increase Utah’s confidence in him. I understand the patient approach.

With Gordon Hayward and George Hill gone, Hood is in line for a bigger role. He’s a good 3-point shooter and solid secondary ball-handler. At 6-foot-8, he’s also provide solid wing defense.

Hood has already proven to be a starter on a good team. If he takes the next step – he’s my Most Improved Player pick – the Jazz might regret not locking him up now. But if he has a breakout year and they have to pay him big next summer, that’d probably be fine with them, too.

Sleeper teams for each conference in 2017-18 NBA season

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Eastern Conference

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets finished a disappointing 36-46 last season, but they were never as far off as it appeared. Despite that dismal record, they still outscored opponents, and point difference tends to better predict future success than record.

Charlotte’s big problem last year was center depth. The team went 3-17 without Cody Zeller.

The Hornets corrected – maybe overcorrected – that by trading for Dwight Howard. Howard will start over Zeller for now, and there’s certainly value in having both players provide depth. But Zeller has proven to be the effective fit in the starting lineup. If Howard’s ego allows a move to the bench, Charlotte is definitely better off with that option in its back pocket. If not, this could get tricky for Steve Clifford.

I’m not sure whether Nicolas Batum‘s injury makes the Hornets more or less of a sleeper. They’re obviously worse without him, but a couple-month absence isn’t nearly enough to write them off. The setback might help them fly further under the radar.

Batum’s injury will put more pressure on Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to cobble together effective point-guard minutes offensively and defensively when Kemba Walker sits. That was another, smaller, sore spot last year.

Still, Charlotte is well-coached with a fairly cohesive rotation full of players who’ve developed chemistry together. The Hornets are a highly likely a playoff team, not the borderline outfit many have treated them as. After all, they play in the East.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz

The Jazz will feel the loss of their second-best player.

That’s right. Second.

Rudy Gobert was Utah’s best player even before Gordon Hayward left for the Celtics. Gobert is appropriately touted defensively, the best traditional rim protector in the game right now. But he’s quietly an offensive force – a screener, rebounder and finisher.

The Jazz will miss Hayward, to be sure. But much of that is long-term. The 27-year-old will remain in his prime for multiple years and would’ve pushed Utah’s ceiling much higher.

This season, the Jazz rebounded with enough veterans – Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh – to fortify a deep rotation. The newcomers and returning players like Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson just know how to contribute to winning.

Regression to the mean would make Utah healthier than last season. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors can take steps forward, though Favors is a tough fit with Gobert. First-round Donovan Mitchell looks like a steal.

For too many, last year was the baseline, and Hayward is simply being subtracted. Make no mistake, his offensive creativity will be missed. But this team should take steps forward in other facets and remain elite defensively behind Gobert.

The middle of the Western Conference is tough, and the Jazz are by no means a playoff lock. But they have the talent and savvy to at least hold their own in that very competitive environment – even without Hayward.

New Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta says he’ll pay luxury tax to reach Finals, not otherwise

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Before selling the Rockets, Leslie Alexander set up the team to spend big. He signed off on a super-max extension for James Harden and a trade for Chris Paul, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Houston already has nearly $76 million committed in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). That doesn’t even account for three starters headed toward free agency next summer (Paul, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela, who’s eligible for an extension through Monday). Re-signing that trio would vault the Rockets well into the luxury tax.

New Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, in a Q&A with Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

ESPN: On that note, this looks like a team that can be a legitimate contender for several years, but the price will rise significantly next summer if the core is kept together. What’s your tolerance level for paying the luxury tax?

Fertitta: This is what was told to me by my experts that work here: If it’s going to take you to the Finals, then you should pay the luxury tax. And I totally agree. If you have to lose money to get to the Finals or win a championship, I think you do what you have to do because it’s going to come back to you.

Remember, I don’t look at things year to year. I don’t operate any of my businesses year to year. I look at everything long-term, so if it costs me money to win a few championships, I’m fine with that. But you don’t want to be in the luxury tax and not be getting to the Finals, so if you don’t have a team that can get to the Finals, you shouldn’t be paying the luxury tax.

The luxury tax is applied to team salary on the final day of the regular season, and the last opportunity to significantly affect payroll is the trade deadline. Obviously, the Finals matchup isn’t determined until months later. So, Fertitta must project Houston’s fate when determining his willingness to spend.

The Rockets aren’t in line to pay the luxury tax this season, but how they fare will affect Fertitta’s perception this summer. Will Houston reach the Finals anytime soon? The Warriors exist.

Maybe the walls are closing in on the Rockets’ window even more quickly than anticipated.