Dan Feldman

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 12:  Ben Simmons #25 of the LSU Tigers dribbles the ball in the game against the Texas A&M Aggies during the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 12, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Report: Presumptive No. 1 pick Ben Simmons signing with LeBron James’ agent, Rich Paul

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LeBron James approved of people calling LSU freshman Ben Simmons the next LeBron.

No wonder why.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

LSU freshman star Ben Simmons, a possible No. 1 overall pick, plans to sign with the LeBron James-funded Klutch Sports agency for his pro representation, league sources told The Vertical.

Rich Paul of Klutch Sports will serve as Simmons’ agent.

Simmons’ older sister, Emily Bush, has been a marketing/branding employee of Klutch since 2014. She is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Her hiring came shortly after James and Paul started recruiting Simmons as a potential future client.

Rich Paul has used his relationship with LeBron to build a successful agency, also recently drawing John Wall. Paul impressed with his handling of Eric Bledsoe‘s and Tristan Thompson‘s free agencies, getting extra money for his clients.

Paul’s firs job with Simmons will be convincing the team with the No. 1 pick that Simmons still deserves selection after a lackluster end to his season. Then, Paul will have to negotiate a major shoe deal and navigate a possible Olympic appearance.

All in all, it’s a pretty great job to land.

Giannis Antetokounmpo fakes pass, sets up pretty dunk (video)

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I’m not sure whether Shane Larkin fell for this fake pass as badly as it looked — or whether he just wanted to get out of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s way.

Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic wants to help Serbia reach 2016 Olympics

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 21:  Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets and Tyler Zeller #44 of the Boston Celtics battle for rebounding position at Pepsi Center on February 21, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Despite having only one active NBA player – Nemanja Bjelica, who had yet to begin his rookie year with the Timberwolves – Serbia finished fourth in EuroBasket last fall.

That put the Serbians into an Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they’ll have one more chance to reach the 2016 Rio Games.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic wants to provide more NBA reinforcement.

Jokic, via Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post:

“Oh my gosh,” Jokic said. “I would be really honored to play for my country.”

Serbia will play in and host the Belgrade Olympic Qualifying Tournament and is a strong favorite to win the event and reach Rio. Angola and Puerto Rico appear to be the strongest competition.

Jokic, 21, looks ready to help. The Denver rookie has impressed with his combination of size and skills this season. Many national teams value experience, but Serbia would be wise to get Jokic on the roster.

Doc Rivers implies Clippers will keep core together at least two more years

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  DeAndre Jordan #6, Chris Paul #3 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers gather during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Ladies and gentlemen: Doc Rivers, Clippers president.

Rivers, in a Q&A with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

Q: What is the key change needed for the Clippers to be a championship team?

Rivers: “We’re right there. It’s funny. People think it’s easy to go win a title. Winning is hard. Winning a game is hard. I love the fact that we are on the door. We’ve knocked on the door twice as far as getting to the Western Conference Finals. We haven’t made it, so you just keep doing it. I don’t feel the push or the pressure of, ‘Man, if they don’t do it …’ Why not? We keep doing it.

“We clearly have proven that we can get to a Game 7 and a Game 6 back-to-back years. Last year we were up 3-1 [in the second round to Houston and lost]. Then [in 2014], we had the meltdown in the Oklahoma City game [in the conference semifinals] that kind of changed the series. What it tells me is we’re closer than people think. We just got to keep going.

“Obviously, if we are not there in two years from now you re-think things. But you don’t blow your team up every year. I keep laughing at everyone who says [to do] that. That’s the guys who have never really been in it. You keep just going forward. Keep your core and see if you can get it right. That’s it. We have to rebound better. Our defense is light years better this year to me. We have to make the right shots. Make the right plays. Our whole thing is to keep playing.”

Rivers is right. It’s absolutely ludicrous for anyone to suggest the Clippers break up their Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan core. Who would suggest such a thing?

Oh.

Right.

Doc Rivers.

Before the season, Rivers said he might blow up his roster if the team fell short in the playoffs. Apparently, the idea is now laughable.

At least Rivers is right now. It’s hard to assemble a core as good as Paul, Griffin and Jordan. Don’t throw that away for the sake of change. If the Warriors and Spurs weren’t historically good, the Clippers would factor more prominently into the discussion of title contenders. Like all potential championship teams, the Clippers would need luck to win, and that will probably remain true the next couple seasons. But changing the roster won’t change the odds of good fortune. It’ll just make it more likely the team’s talent falls out of title-contention level.

Of course, Rivers doesn’t have complete control here. Paul and Griffin can become free agents next year and Jordan the year after that. If Rivers wants to keep this group together, he must convince everyone to stay.

Rivers also might be saying this as a negotiating ploy. I don’t want to trade any of my top players, but if you make an over-the-top offer, I’d have to consider it… Remember, there have been reports the Clippers would shop Griffin first if they change directions. Teams totally content with their core don’t make that determination.

The Clippers’ performance in the playoffs will certainly affect Rivers’ plan, so it’s difficult to project what that will be before the postseason.

It’s also difficult to discern Rivers’ plan by listening to his contradictory statements.

Rumor: Thunder traded James Harden because he partied too much during 2012 NBA Finals

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder fights for position against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The James Harden trade is one of the most analyzed trades of all-time.

The 2012 deal, which sent Harden from the Thunder to the Rockets, backfired for Oklahoma City. Harden has developed into a star, and the Thunder didn’t get nearly enough return in hindsight.

But their thinking at the time of the trade has often been defended for two major reasons:

1. Oklahoma City — with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka already signed long-term – was wary of paying the luxury tax year after year. The salary cap has risen higher than anticipated, making this concern less important, but the Thunder probably couldn’t have known the cap would climb so quickly.

2. With Durant and Westbrook, Oklahoma City thought another perimeter scorer like Harden would be superfluous. The Thunder could turn Harden into a collection of more helpful assets, and the trade netted starting center Steven Adams.

Was there also another reason Oklahoma City — coming off a loss to the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals — dealt Harden?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

It was a lot more about James and James’ mindset. You’re kind of seeing it play out now in Houston, is what the Oklahoma City Thunder were afraid of, and that is, if you rewind back to the NBA Finals run, James was kind of a ghost in the NBA Finals. In Miami, there were rumors that he was out late on South Beach.

Harden might have partied too much in Miami, though this also strikes me as the type of rumor people believe simply because it fits the facts.

After averaging 19.3 points per game on 49.1% shooting, including 39.1% on 3-pointers, in the regular season, Harden’s output plunged in the Finals — 12.4 points per game on 37.5% shooting, including 31.8% on 3-pointers.

Whatever caused Harden’s downturn, the Rockets have surely been glad to have him. They’ve certainly gotten more than enough production from him to justify the trade.

But Houston is also learning the pitfalls of relying on Harden.

Did the Thunder have reason to see those coming?