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Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Highest-paid rookie in NBA history, Bogdan Bogdanovic proving himself with Kings

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LOS ANGELES – Kings rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic insists he wanted to get to the NBA much more quickly than he did.

He declared for the 2013 NBA draft.

“That’s how I put myself on radar here,” said Bogdanovic, who was playing in his native Serbia.

He garnered some attention, but not enough, so he withdrew. He declared again in 2014, and the Suns picked him No. 27.

“Honestly, I wanted to come right over that year,” Bogdanovic said.

But Phoenix told him he’d likely spend significant time with its minor-league affiliate, so he returned to Europe.

“The plan was one only,” Bogdanovic said of how many more seasons he’d spend overseas.

He signed with Turkish power Fenerbahçe and helped the club reach its first-ever EuroLeague Final Four. Bogdanovic again considered coming stateside, but a prohibitive buyout and desire to win a EuroLeague title pushed him back to Fenerbahçe another year. That season, he helped the team reached the EuroLeague championship game. Fenerbahçe fell behind big early, made a thrilling comeback to force overtime, but still fell to CSKA Moscow.

“I learned to be ready to pay every single game – like it’s the last one in life,” Bogdanovic said in what sounded like a nod to that devastating result or the time a previous coach choked him during a game.

The Suns dealt Bogdanovic’s rights to Sacramento on draft night 2016 (trading up for the No. 8 pick to get Marquese Chriss), delaying Bogdanovic’s NBA debut yet another year.

Finally, just more than three years after getting drafted, Bogdanovic signed with the Kings.

The wait meant Bogdanovic was no longer restricted by the NBA’s rookie scale for first-round picks. That, his major improvement in Europe and Sacramento’s ample salary-cap space meant he got a three-year, $27 million contract. His rookie salary is $9,470,614 – the highest in NBA history – and Bogdanovic visibly beams about the deal, the upside of deferring his NBA dream so long.

He also keeps perspective.

“Money doesn’t play,” Bogdanovic said. “You’ve still got to go there and show out what you got paid for.”

So far, Bogdanovic is doing that.

He’s a strong contender for an All-Rookie team in this loaded class, and he won MVP of the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend. Bogdanovic is outperforming No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and arguably No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, which makes some sense, considering Bogdanovic is also out-earning them – and every other rookie in NBA history.

Here are the highest-paid rookies with where they were drafted and the team for which they debuted:

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Bogdanovic – who’s averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game – is a good shooter with a decent all-around game. He’s one of just 10 qualifying players* shooting 50% on 2-pointers and 40% on 3-pointers. Most of them are All-Stars.

*The other nine: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Otto Porter, E'Twaun Moore and Darren Collison

A peer group comprised mostly of All-Stars is probably overly ambitious, but perhaps Bogdanovic shouldn’t be compared to other rookies, either. He’s already 25 and a veteran of professional basketball.

In fact, the Kings don’t treat him like a rookie at all.

“We’ve got four rookies on the team,” said De'Aaron Fox, the No. 5 pick in the most recent draft. Himself, No. 15 pick Justin Jackson, No. 20 pick Harry Giles and No. 34 pick Frank Mason. Older than most of his teammates, Bogdanovic doesn’t have to do typical rookie duties like picking up food or carrying bags.

“They respect me,” Bogdanovic said.

So does Buddy Hield, the crown jewel of the DeMarcus Cousins trade and Sacramento’s incumbent starting shooting guard.

The 6-foot-6 Bogdanovic and 6-foot-4 Hield can share the wing in some matchups, but some small forwards are too big for either. So, the two have alternated stints in the starting lineup.

“It’s competition, but you don’t want it to be easy for you,” said Hield, who also played in the Rising Stars game. “You want to work for your own and work for your spot. And me and Bogi have a great relationship. Whether he starts or I start, it doesn’t matter.”

Neither Hield nor Bogdanovic is a can’t-miss prospect. Bogdanovic is having a nice season, but his age creates major questions about his upside. The Kings gain value by hedging bets.

Bogdanovic sounds determined to prove himself, not fall back on his current contract, which already guarantees life-changing money.

“If you don’t use that chance,” Bogdanovic said, “it might be your last one.”