Dan Feldman

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Rockets sign James Harden to largest contract extension in NBA history

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In 2015, Damian Lillard signed a contract extension that – once he made All-NBA in 2016 and the 2016-17 salary cap landed even higher than expected – became worth $139,888,445 over five years.

James Harden will surpass than on a four-year extension.

Rockets release:

Houston Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander announced today that the team has signed guard James Harden to a four-year contract extension which will run through the 2022-23 season.

“It’s my pleasure to announce we’ve reached agreement with James Harden on a long term contract extension.  Since he arrived in Houston, James has exhibited the incredible work ethic, desire to win, and passion to be the best that has made him one of the most unique and talented superstars in the history of the game,” said Alexander.  “Additionally, the commitment he has shown to our organization, the City of Houston, and Rockets fans all over the world makes him a perfect leader in our pursuit of another championship.  I’m very happy for James, his mother Monja, and their family on this exciting day.”

“Houston is home for me,” said Harden. “Mr. Alexander has shown he is fully committed to winning and my teammates and I are going to keep putting in the work to get better and compete for the title.”

Harden will earn $28,299,399 and $30,421,854 the next two seasons. An extension would kick in for 2019-20, and the exact amount of a max extension won’t be known until that season’s cap is determined.

The latest projection: $169 million over four years.

The Rockets were always going to offer this megadeal. The only question was whether Harden would sign now or wait another year, when he could add five years and a projected $219 million to his current contract as long as he made an All-NBA team next year. (The salary structure over the first four years would be identical to what’s on the table now.)

Harden is Houston’s franchise player – providing not only superstar production, but a superstar presence that lures other stars. The Rockets and Harden have built their identities around each other, a mutual commitment solidified by this landmark extension.

This is in part a message to Chris Paul: Stay in Houston, and Harden will be there. Paul, an unrestricted free agent next summer, will know completely what he’d be buying into.

To some degree, “largest extension in NBA history” is an arbitrary designation. Stephen Curry signed a new five-year contract worth $201 million.

But this is emblematic of the relationship between Harden and the Rockets. Harden was already paid plenty (leaving no incentive to delay an extension and use a low cap hold), and Houston is committed to Harden (meaning no delay in locking him up longer). Now, Harden is reciprocating that faith in him – and earning a lot of money.

Heat guarantee Wayne Ellington’s $6.27 million salary

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The Heat re-signed Dion Waiters and James Johnson and added Kelly Olynyk

Miami still saved room for shooting guard Wayne Ellington‘s $6.27 million salary, which went from fully unguaranteed to fully guaranteed yesterday.

Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops:

Ellington is a one-dimensional player, but his main skill – 3-point shooting – is an important one. He provides efficient scoring and floor spacing.

His lack of ball-handling and distributing skills is tolerable. His lackluster defense is more problematic.

The Heat are now set to return all their rotation players minus Willie Reed. Olynyk provides a new dimension as a shooting big, and Justise Winslow gets healthy. This is a deep and balanced team with chemistry that shined in a 30-11 finish last season.

But will so many players who overachieved last year, including 29-year-old Ellington, continue to overachieve? At least unlike Waiters and Johnson, who inked long-term deals, Ellington is entering a contract year.

Paul Millsap: Hawks never offered me a contract

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New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk made it pretty clear Atlanta was ready to move on from Paul Millsap. Atlanta also traded Dwight Howard, further signaling an intent to rebuild.

Millsap left for the Nuggets in free agency, landing a three-year, $90 million contract with a team option.

Millsap, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“It was pretty simple,” Millsap told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. “Denver, they came and they’ve been wanting me for years. They made that known. The presentation that they gave me, it felt comfortable, it felt real. At the end of the day it was going to be the team that I felt most comfortable with and Atlanta. Atlanta decided to go another direction. They didn’t want to make an offer. So it was pretty simple. Denver was the team.”

“Definitely disappointing,” Millsap said. “I thought I meant a bit more than that to them. But it is what it is. I’m happy with the decision I’ve made. I’m happy with the team I’m with. I’m ready to get it going with them.”

Millsap is 32. He doesn’t fit a youth movement with Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry and John Collins.

A two-year guarantee to Millsap wouldn’t have handcuffed Atlanta like the feared five-year max would have. But committing $60 million to a 32-year-old still would have been a hefty investment for a team trying to go another way.

There might have been a number where the Hawks would have brought Millsap back. But it was clearly so low, it wasn’t worth even presenting next to Denver’s offer.

If Atlanta made that lowball offer, would Millsap’s comments about disappointment and how much he thought he meant to the franchise have been any different?

The issue isn’t the Hawks not making an offer. The issue is the Hawks not valuing Millsap anywhere near the extend the Nuggets did.

Which is fine. Millsap will be an awesome fit next to Nikola Jokic, maybe the final piece to Denver reaching the playoffs. In Atlanta, Millsap would have been an expensive impediment to rebuilding.

Giannis Antetokounmpo touts loyalty to Bucks amid questions about his future

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In light of Gordon Hayward leaving the Jazz for the Celtics, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed the new Collective Bargaining Agreement – specifically bringing up Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose Bucks just completed a mangled process for hiring a new general manager.

Wojnarowski:

It just shows how hard it is at that mid-size market.

There are plenty of small-market owners and mid-size GMs who said, “We didn’t go far enough. I can’t keep guys.”

Milwaukee is going to go through this with the Greek Freak. That day is coming, right?, where he’s going to look and say, “Where is this organization? What are they doing here?” You don’t think Giannis has been watching what went on there for the last several months, of what they allowed to go on with the front office? He’s watching it, and the clock has started. Everybody in the league is trying to figure out how they’re going to get him out of there. That has started.

And so, Milwaukee – I don’t want to hear in three years or four years when they lose him, “Jeez, we can’t” – Utah did everything right, everything right from an organization. They lost their guy. And you look at a team like Milwaukee and say financially they’ll be able to do more. But you better have your organization in great shape, because then you have no chance with a guy like that.

The Jazz didn’t do everything right. In 2014, they forced Hayward – then a restricted free agent – to bring back an offer sheet. He did, a 3+1 max deal from Charlotte, which Utah matched. Had the Jazz just given Hayward a five-year deal outright, he wouldn’t have even been a free agent this summer. Whether they should have known to do that in 2014 is an interesting question. In hindsight, it was clearly a miscalculation.

But Wojnarowski’s larger point stands. Utah did a lot right, including drafting Rudy Gobert at No. 27 and hiring Quin Snyder. It wasn’t enough. Smaller markets have less margin for error.

Don’t tell that to Antetokounmpo, though.

With Wojnarowski’s comments swirling, Antetokounmpo – who once said he wanted to play for the Bucks forever – took to Twitter:

A lot of young players believe they’ll stay with one team their entire careers. It rarely works out that way.

Could Antetokounmpo be an exception? Sure.

But he might also wake up one day and realize he never picked the Bucks. His loyalty was founded on them picking him in a draft system that removes choice from labor. Even if he’s commitment-oriented, if he could have originally chosen a franchise to devote himself to, what are the odds it would have been Milwaukee? Just because the Bucks have seemingly treated him well, that doesn’t mean he should remain beholden. The Jazz treated Hayward great. He also made the forward-looking decision that the Celtics would be better for him in coming years than Utah would have been. Antetokounmpo might someday make a similar determination.

But the Bucks ought to feel good Antetokounmpo keeps pledging his loyalty to them. The more committed he feels now, the less likely he is to leave later.

Plus, Milwaukee could have an advantage in retaining Antetokounmpo the Jazz didn’t with Hayward – the new designated veteran player.

If Hayward made an All-NBA team this season, he might still be in Utah.

If Antetokounmpo makes an All-NBA team in either of the next two years, he’ll be eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension in 2020. That could pay him a starting salary of 35% of the cap with 8% raises over five years. Another team could offer just 25% of the cap with 5% raises. It’d be hard for Antetokounmpo to turn that down.

As we’ve seen with DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler, teams might hesitate to commit so much money to sub-superstars. But Antetokounmpo might be a superstar by 2020. Even if he’s not, he’ll be just 26 when that extension would kick in. Because he entered the league so young, the concerns about Cousins and Butler aging poorly by the end of super-max extensions don’t apply to Antetokounmpo. So, the Bucks will probably offer a designated-veteran-player extension if they can rather than preemptively trade him.

Maybe Antetokounmpo remains loyal to Milwaukee regardless. But that extra money sure wouldn’t hurt.

Lakers president Magic Johnson: LaVar Ball told me it’s all just marketing

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LaVar Ball says outlandish things to get attention. He gets attention.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

But how will that that notoriety affect the Lakers, who drafted LaVar’s son, Lonzo Ball?

Lakers president Magic Johnson, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“He just said it’s marketing,” Johnson says. “That’s what he had to do to market not only his son but the brand. Before I met him I had already thought that. I already knew what he was doing.”

But hearing it straight from LaVar’s mouth helped put Johnson and Pelinka at ease.

As Johnson recalls, “He said, ‘Earvin, look, I’m not following my son. I’m not going to be hanging out in L.A. I’m going to be training these young kids [his other sons].'”

“‘As far as training my boy, this is as far as I can take him,'” LaVar says he told Johnson. “‘I’ll leave it up to you to take him further. You can get him better with the film time and the coaching. You can take him to another level.'”

“I trust you with my boy. I just got a great feeling that you guys are going to take Zo to a whole other level.'”

Steve Alford also said LaVar never meddled while Lonzo was at UCLA. But Alford is also (implicitly or explicitly) recruiting LaVar’s other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo. So, Alford has incentive to side with LaVar.

Former Chino Hills coach Stephan Gilling tells a far different story about LaVar’s involvement.

Of course, the Lakers aren’t Chino Hills. And even if LaVar tries to intercede on behalf of his son, he wouldn’t be the first father of an NBA player to do so. He’d just be the most public. Well-run NBA teams are equipped to handle stuff like that.

Still, even if LaVar keeps his distance and just talks into microphones far from the Lakers’ facility, not everyone will be as accepting of his marketing scheme. LaVar’s words can put a target on Lonzo from opponents and teammates.

LaVar isn’t the bogeyman some make him out to be, but this won’t necessarily be simple for the Lakers.