Dan Feldman

Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic says he’s ‘good’ after knee injury

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Nikola Mirotic #44 of Spain reacts during the Men's Basketball Bronze medal game between Australia and Spain on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Only the Spurs (known for their international focus) and Jazz (built off the same front-office tree) had more 2016 Olympians than the Bulls.

Chicago sent Jimmy Butler (Team USA), Nikola Mirotic (Spain), CristianoFelicio (Brazil) to Rio. For a moment, it appeared only two of the three would return healthy.

Mirotic injured his knee when he banged it against Aron Baynes‘ in the bronze-medal game. But the Chicago forward says he’s fine.

Mirotic:

A stretch four, Mirotic will be crucial to the Bulls this season. He’s their only projected starter who’s an above-average 3-point shooter for his position.

All those spacing concerns about Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler? The burden falls heavily to Mirotic to alleviate them.

This was a major injury Chicago couldn’t afford – and apparently avoided.

Report: Celtics draftee Abdel Nader to sign with D-League

AMES, IA - FEBRUARY 13: Jameel McKay #1 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates with teammate Abdel Nader #2 of the Iowa State Cyclones at mid court in the final minutes of play. The Iowa State Cyclones won 85-75 over the Texas Longhorns at Hilton Coliseum on February 13, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 85-75 over the Texas Longhorns. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Abdel Nader faced a dilemma.

Reading between the lines, Nader – whom the Celtics drafted No. 58 and then impressed at summer league – had two choices:

  • Reject Boston’s required tender (a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, a team must extend to keep a players draft rights) and join the D-League. It seemed Nader pledged to go this route contingent on the Celtics drafting him, allowing them to keep his rights another year.
  • Accept Boston’s required tender. He would’ve gone to training camp, almost definitely gotten waived and then become a free agent. He still could’ve gone to the D-League, but the Celtics no longer would’ve held exclusive negotiating rights.

Nader apparently chose the former.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Nader’s mistake was agreeing to this arrangement in the first place. It allowed the Celtics to hold undue power over his career in exchange for… what? The honor of being drafted? Professional sports leagues have so successfully marketed the draft, labor celebrates this anti-labor system. It’s absurd.

Yet, if Nader promised to do something, he promised to do it. Should it matter that he later realized he shouldn’t have made the promise? His word matters, too.

I don’t envy Nader’s situation. The only hope is that fewer players put themselves in it in the future.

D-League salaries rise, remain low

2015 NBA D League Showcase
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At last check, D-League salaries were:

  • Tier A: $25,500
  • Tier B: $19,000
  • Tier C: $13,000

Good news for anyone in the NBA’s minor league next season, especially those on the fringe.

Chris Reichert of Upside & Motor (hat tip: Cody Taylor of Basketball Insiders):

A league source has told Upside & Motor the structure will be altered for the 2016/17 season. Now there will only be two tiers for salaries as the “C” has been eliminated. The new salary levels will be $19,500 (B-Level) and $26,000 (A-Level) and the salary cap will rise to $209,000 also.

To be clear, this is for players on D-League contracts. Players on NBA contracts who are assigned to the D-League continue receiving their NBA salary (minimum: $543,471).

Yes, these salaries are still low. But everyone on a D-League contract is an NBA free agent. NBA teams won’t pay a premium for someone without gaining exclusive control of his rights.

Expect a major shakeup in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. As the D-League grows to 30 teams and a one-to-one affiliate for each NBA team, it’ll be feasible for NBA teams to hold the NBA rights of D-League players. Then, D-League salaries will really take off.

LeBron James says Kawhi Leonard defends him best

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 19, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Joe Dumars’ reputation was boosted significantly when Michael Jordan said the Pistons guard defended him better than anyone. Ruben Patterson labeled himself the Kobe Stopper and is still known for it.

Guarding a generational scorer better than anyone else is a ticket to lasting recognition.

Asked who defends him best, LeBron James anointed Kawhi Leonard.

LeBron, via the Open Run podcast:

Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard, he’s solid. He’s solid, solid at that end of the floor. He’s very, very solid. I like him. I like the kid.

This seems like the right choice. The Spurs’ forward has won the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards. His superior length, strength, athleticism and intelligence gives him a chance against LeBron.

But it’s just a chance.

LeBron excelled against Leonard in the 2013 Finals. Leonard slowed LeBron enough the following year for San Antonio to win the title, though LeBron still thrived for most of the series.

Still, that’s a far higher success rate than most against LeBron.