Kurt Helin

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Report: Lakers to “aggressively pursue” Hassan Whiteside in free agency

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Hassan Whiteside made $981,348 last season for the Miami Heat.

Next season he is going to make $22 million — the max salary he can get — playing somewhere. Maybe Miami, Pat Riley has said bringing Whiteside and his elite shot blocking plus efficient 14.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game back is the team’s highest priority. But Golden State also is interested in Whiteside. So is Dallas. So is Portland. And that’s just the start of a long line of teams.

You can add the Los Angeles Lakers to the list, reports Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN.

With rim protection and perimeter shooting ranking as the Lakers’ foremost areas of concern heading into the open market, sources told ESPN.com that Whiteside has emerged a priority target for L.A.

This is about as surprising as Hamilton winning a wheelbarrow full of Tony Awards.

The Lakers are likely refocusing their free agent targets after it appears they have not been able to get a meeting with Kevin Durant (and even if they do they are long shots to land him).

The Lakers certainly need rim protection inside. They like their young forwards Julius Randle and the just drafted Brandon Ingram, but in Luke Walton’s more Warriorsesque system someone has to protect the paint on defense and that is not those guys strength. Whiteside would do that, he could score a little, and he would fit the young, up-and-coming profile of the Lakers.

Whiteside will have options. While teams (including Miami) would like to get Whiteside for a little less than the max, with so many teams in the mix that seems unlikely. Simple supply and demand. In an NBA trending toward space bigs who are athletic and can protect the rim and cover in space are highly sought after and there are only a few of them. The Lakers want him.

Miami likely keeps Whiteside with a max offer, but as they are in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes they may want to stall a move on Whiteside (the Heat only have early Bird Rights on Whiteside, they need to use cap space to re-sign him, they can’t do that and max out Durant). Maybe that cracks the door open for another team. The Lakers will try to get their foot in that door.

 

Pau Gasol says he wants to play in Rio Olympics for Spain despite Zika

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MADRID (AP) — Chicago Bulls star Pau Gasol says he wants to play in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics despite concerns over the Zika virus.

The 35-year-old center announced in an article for Spanish newspaper Marca on Saturday that he’s available for the Spanish national team in what will be his fourth Olympics.

Gasol said last month he was considering not playing in Rio because there was too much uncertainty about Zika. He later said he was considering freezing a sperm sample.

The mosquito-borne disease has been linked to severe birth defects in infants born to infected women.

Two-time silver medalist Gasol called Zika “a serious issue” and said it was his duty to make people aware of it.

Pau Gasol is a free agent this summer but will try to have a destination and contract signed long before the Olympics start Aug. 5.

Report: Harrison Barnes accepts spot on Team USA for Rio Olympics

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Our natural recency bias is going to have people rolling their eyes at this one, even though it is a good pick.

Golden State’s Harrison Barnes has accepted a spot with Team USA to play in the Rio Olympics, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes has been selected as a member of the final 12-man Team USA roster for the Rio Olympic Games this summer, league sources told The Vertical….

Barnes had a poor NBA Finals, shooting 25 of 71 (35.2 percent) in the seven-game series loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers… Barnes averaged 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Warriors last season, but shot only 38 percent in the NBA playoffs.

Barnes is a good defender, is long and athletic, can run the floor like Mike Krzyzewski wants to do, and he can hit threes — he shot 38.3 percent in the regular season. And the defenses he will see in Rio are generally not as good as those he sees nightly in the NBA. He will play better than he did in the Finals, when he couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean for a couple of games.

Barnes is also a restricted free agent this summer — a lot of players who are free agents balk at playing for free over the summer, although Barnes will join Kevin Durant in that spot this summer. Barnes will try to get his status resolved before the start of Team USA camp in Las Vegas on July 18. If the Warriors can land Durant in free agency, they will not match any offers for Barnes, and he will be on the move.

Here is the USA Basketball roster for Rio as we understand it (the official announcement is Monday):

Kyrie Irving (not confirmed yet but expected)
Kyle Lowry
Jimmy Butler
Klay Thompson
DeMar DeRozan
Kevin Durant
Paul George
Draymond Green
Carmelo Anthony
Harrison Barnes
DeMarcus Cousins
DeAndre Jordan

Yes, that’s a Team B roster because of the number of players who were injured or backed out — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, and Bradley Beal.

No, it will not matter, that roster will still win the gold medal. It may not be seriously tested in Brazil.

Kris Dunn’s harrowing journey takes him to Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Seldon had just finished watching his son, Kris Dunn, finish an introductory press conference as the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It had been 36 hours of tears, joy and reflection for father and son, who had been through a harrowing journey to get to this point, when Kris was selected fifth overall in the NBA draft.

Millions of dollars await with Dunn’s first contract. He has become an important piece for a young team that is considered to be on the rise in the league and he was welcomed by an excited coach and general manager who never thought they would have the chance to draft him.

The tears in his eyes showed the pride and love Seldon had for his son. And after all they had been through, he drew a big chuckle when remembering the day Dunn gave him some heartbreaking news – that he was quitting football to focus on hoops.

“If you would’ve watched him play football, it was unbelievable,” said Seldon, a football fanatic who never paid much attention to basketball before Dunn started playing. “Everybody says he made the right decision. That’s what he wants to do. I’m going to back him on what he wants to do. That’s what parents do. You back your children up.”

Dunn laughed even harder as he recalled the day he finally had to tell his father – the man who rescued 10-year-old Kris and his 15-year-old brother John when they were living on their own after their mother was jailed – that basketball is what drove him, not football.

“You don’t even understand the arguments we had,” Dunn said. “He loves football. That’s his thing. He loves contact. And the fact that I was good at football made it even harder.

“It was just my time was up on the football field. I loved basketball more than football. He didn’t talk to me for a whole two weeks. I kid you not. Everything worked out for the best.”

And even after Dunn was the two-time Big East player of the year, an All-American at Providence and a top-five pick several teams were trying feverishly to trade for on draft night, Seldon is convinced the outcome would have been the same had Dunn stayed with football.

“I think he would’ve went pro as a defensive back,” Seldon said. “I would like to see his speed and how fast he really is. That’s what I’d like to see. It’s time to put that work in. It’s going to be fun to watch him play.”

Trivial conflicts like these are easy to laugh about now, especially considering that Dunn had no idea who his father was for the first nine years of his life.

Dunn’s mother left Seldon when Dunn was just an infant, taking the two boys to Alexandria, Virginia. But later, Dunn’s mother served 2 1/2 months in jail, leaving John and Kris to fend for themselves.

“We were just trying to survive every day, so we weren’t really planning for the future,” John Dunn said.

Kris Dunn would play older kids for money on the courts of Alexandria, knowing he was living life on the edge each time the ball checked in.

“The fact that I didn’t have money on me, playing against kids trying to bet $20-$30,” Kris Dunn said. “I’ve lost some games. Sometimes I ran away. Sometimes I got caught. And I had to fight.”

Seldon got word that the kids were on their own and drove down from Connecticut to get them one night. Kris had no idea who the big, burly man was that burst through the door of their apartment one and he swung at him. Then his brother told him the big man was his father.

“I’m the type of person that I don’t just trust anybody,” Kris said. “You have to build that relationship and that trust and my dad, he was very great at that. He didn’t try to put too much pressure on me.”

Seldon’s focus on football early helped Kris develop the toughness that made him one of the best defensive players in the country. It’s also what so enamored Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden as they looked at the draft.

Now basketball has taken the family out of those dark days. The struggles are behind them, but will never be forgotten.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Seldon said. “The kid, he did it all. How much can you ask for? You go back and get your degree and then you still come back out and be ready to play basketball at the next level. It’s really hard, but he did it and we’re going to back him and be supportive of him.”

If Kevin Durant does leave Oklahoma City, signs point to Golden State being at front of line

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The most likely outcome of the Kevin Durant free agency bonanza this summer is he signs a one-plus-one two-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, then we have this same discussion a year from now.

However, Durant is opening the door to other teams — San Antonio and Miami will get to make pitches, along with Oklahoma City. Other teams are still trying to get their foot in the door. One thing about Durant’s free agency is almost always the same, whether it’s the off-the-record buzz around the league, or in the reports that came out Friday:

If Durant leaves Oklahoma City, Golden State is the most likely landing spot.

Marc Stein of ESPN put it best.

But the Warriors, sources say, increasingly believe their chances of convincing Durant to leave the Thunder after a successful 10-season run were enhanced significantly by the fact that Golden State lost the NBA Finals to Cleveland in seven games despite taking a 3-1 series lead.

The Warriors would have to relinquish a number of looming free agents, including Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, and at least one more significant contract — such as Andrew Bogut or Andre Iguodala — to create sufficient salary-cap space to sign Durant. But as ESPN reported earlier this week, Golden State is “all-in” on a Durant pursuit.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports echoed the same idea.

But more than any other rival suitor, the Warriors have Durant’s attention, league sources said. Durant’s public and private criteria for the free-agent selection process have pertained to a singular focus: the chance to win titles immediately.

This is not new; it has been the sense around the league for a while. If this is a “basketball decision” for Durant and about winning titles, you can see why he would go to the Warriors. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Durant? Even with the players they would lose that team would be a better one than the one that came within a game (and a Green suspension) of back-to-back NBA titles.

The question for Durant is will he be comfortable as the No. 2 guy on a team — the Warriors are Curry’s team. He is the fan favorite, and that’s not changing.

Durant would get the same ridiculous criticism LeBron James got when he went to Miami, that he had to get help to win. We tell our superstars in all sports to put winning first, and when they do we can’t complain about it. Nobody wins a title without help. Nobody. Ever. Even Jordan’s Bulls teams won 55 games and went to second round of the playoffs when he went to fantasy baseball camp for a couple of years — that was a good team he made great.

The addition of Durant to the Warriors makes them great (they would just have to prove it).

But the smart money is still on Durant with the Thunder, at least for one more year.