Kurt Helin

,FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2015, file photo, LSU's Ben Simmons looks to pass against the College of Charleston during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.  As the Southeastern Conference heads  into league competition, it remains tough to figure which teams stand as defending champion Kentucky’s biggest competition. Simmons ranks second nationally in rebounding (13.0) and fourth in the SEC in scoring (19.3).  (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)
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Report: Ben Simmons could get $100 million shoe deal as rookie

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It’s simply supply and demand — there are not a lot of guys that move shoes. Guys that can sell shoes get paid.

Ben Simmons, the LSU forward who is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft this June, might be one of those guys. He’s a 6’10” forward with point guard ball skills and vision. (That said, not every scout is sold he will become a franchise cornerstone guy, Rob Dauster of CollegeBasketballTalk and I discussed that in the latest PBT Podcast.)

With Nike trying to hold off Under Armour — who has Stephen Curry under contract — there could be a bidding war that will make Simmons a rich man before he ever sets foot on the court, according to a report from the well-connected Adam Zagoria at www.sny.tv.

Ben Simmons could sign a sneaker deal worth in excess of $100 million as he transitions from LSU to the NBA, an industry source told SNY.tv.

Nike remains the favorite to sign the 6-foot-10 Australian point forward, who is projected as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, but Under Armour and adidas could get involved to drive up the bidding.

“The number doesn’t astonish me, the number’s been stagnant since LeBron,” grassroots sneaker guru Sonny Vaccaro told SNY.tv on Thursday. “It would be the new precedent because LeBron was the last and [Simmons] has the makings in the mind of the NBA that he could be a great, great player. So that’s basically what they’re saying, he’s going to get a $100 million deal. I would understand that.”

LeBron signed a $90 million deal right out of high school with Nike. He has since signed a $500 million lifetime deal with Nike and that relationship has worked for both sides.

Nike still dominates the market and all things being equal most players — particularly young ones — would rather sign with the swoosh. That said, it’s a business and Nike can’t afford to lose another rising star to Under Armour or Adidas (which inked James Harden last summer).

Good for Simmons. But that’s a lot of cash for a guy with a broken jump shot.

AP source: Taylor, Kaplan talks on Wolves ownership hit wall

Flip Saunders, Glen Taylor
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Memphis Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan’s pursuit of a new role in the ownership group of the Minnesota Timberwolves has hit a wall, two people with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Kaplan and partner Handy Soetedjo met with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor before the game against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night to talk about the status of a process that began about four months ago. The two have been spearheading a group trying to acquire 30 percent of the Timberwolves, with the possibility of taking over majority ownership from Taylor down the road. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.

But Kaplan owns a significant stake in the Grizzlies along with Robert Pera and others, which has complicated his ability to divest himself from Memphis.

League rules prohibit ownership stakes in two teams. So Kaplan’s inability to remove himself from Memphis has prevented a deal from taking place to this point. Neither person involved in the discussions would say the deal was dead, but both acknowledged that Kaplan’s exit from Memphis has been more complex than expected.

Taylor has long been in search of a person or group willing to buy in to a minority share of the Timberwolves, sit by his side for a few years and then eventually take over the team. After having difficulty finding anyone open to riding shotgun first, Taylor opened discussions with Kaplan in November.

Kaplan was in the bidding to acquire the Atlanta Hawks last year, but was outbid by Tony Ressler’s group, and had been very enthusiastic about getting involved with a Timberwolves team stocked with young talent and equipped with a shiny new practice facility and renovations to its arena scheduled to begin this summer.

Soetedjo is an Indonesian coal magnate who was among the initial investors in a group that bought the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011. He also is part of the ownership group that bought 70 percent of the Inter Milan soccer team in 2013.

Talks centered around a plan to purchase 30 percent of the Timberwolves by the end of this season and then, an unspecified time later, purchasing a majority share when Taylor was ready to relinquish full control. Taylor and Kaplan built a mutual respect during the negotiations, but with no quick fix to Kaplan’s situation readily apparent, discussions have stalled.

The standstill could have ramifications in Minnesota.

Both sides were hoping to complete a deal before the end of the season to allow Kaplan to come aboard and give input into several major decisions facing the franchise. Two of the biggest are the fates of GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell, both of whom are essentially working on an interim basis after taking over for Flip Saunders, who was both president of basketball operations and coach before he died in October from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Too much Stephen Curry, Warriors in fourth quarter for Thunder to contain

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Serge Ibaka knocked down a three that put the Thunder up nine, 80-71, with 4:53 remaining in the third quarter.

From there on out, it was all Warriors — they outscored the Thunder 50-26 the rest of the way, including 11 points from Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors remained a perfect 26-0 at Oracle Arena with a 121-106 win. That is seven victories in a row for Golden State, who are now 55-5 on the season. The Warriors also beat the Thunder in OKC last weekend and swept the season series.

The Warriors have now won 44 in a row at home, tying the Chicago Bulls’ all-time record.

This is the second game in a row the Thunder led entering the fourth quarter but could not hold it. However, Thursday’s loss is more understandable than the loss to the Clippers the night before — this was second night of a back-to-back — but the same issues reared their heads. Late in games, their offense is a predictable series of isolations/pick-and-rolls for Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, and good teams can defend predictable. The other problem is defensive, the Thunder are middle of the pack defensively for the season and 25th in the NBA in their last 10 games — they are not getting enough stops.

The Thunder have no margin for error against the Warriors, and they simply are not playing that well right now. The Thunder’s mistakes — and the holes in their lineups, like the shooting of Andre Roberson, or the bench — get exposed against elite teams. There is time to correct that, but the Thunder have work to do.

Meanwhile the Warriors do what they do — six Golden State players scored in double figures, led by Stephen Curry’s 33. He had 11 in the fourth quarter, including some dagger step-back threes to seal the win. But it wasn’t just the stars — Mo Speights had 10 key points on 4-of-5 shooting, while Sean Livingston added 11 points and a team-best eight assists.

Kevin Durant had 32 points to lead the Thunder, Russell Westbrook scored 22, and Serge Ibaka added 20.

The Thunder are now 2-6 since the All-Star break.

Kawhi Leonard scores 30 and Spurs rally past Pelicans, 94-86

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard talks to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich between plays in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Thursday, March 3, 2016. The Spurs beat the Pelicans 94-86. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard darted into the lane to grab a long offensive rebound, dribbled back out beyond the top of the key and let a few precious seconds tick off before suddenly rising for a shot from 25 feet out.

The San Antonio star backpedaled, holding his right hand triumphantly above his head as his 3-pointer went through. Much of what had been a raucous crowd began quietly heading for the exits.

Leonard capped a 30-point, 11-rebound performance with a game-sealing 3 with 35 seconds left, and the Spurs extended their winning streak to seven games with a 94-86 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night.

Leonard was 12-of-22 shooting, including 6 for 10 from 3-point range, one night after San Antonio clinched its 19th straight playoff berth with a victory at home against Detroit. Leonard’s difficult, game-tying, baseline turnaround with Jrue Holiday‘s hand in his face also helped fuel a 12-0 San Antonio run to close out the last 3:10.

“I’m just playing in the flow of the game. It doesn’t matter what quarter it is. I’m going to play the right basketball so we can get the right shots,” Leonard insisted when asked if he tried to be more assertive at crunch time. “Fortunately, I was able to make shots down the stretch.”

LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and Danny Green scored 11 for the Spurs, who trailed 86-82 after Anthony Davis‘ short baseline jumper with 3:36 to go.

Aldridge began the decisive run with an 11-foot jumper and later gave the Spurs the lead for good with a jumper set up by Tim Duncan‘s no-look pass from the lane.

“He was great – rebounded, played defense well, made shots, especially big ones in the fourth quarter that we needed,” Leonard said of Aldridge, who seems to be growing increasingly comfortable in his first season with the Spurs. “Being able to play with him … I see how good he really is and I’m just starting to learn more about him.”

Patty Mills widened the lead with a 3 before Leonard put it away.

Davis had 17 points and 13 rebounds for New Orleans, which dropped its third straight. Eric Gordon added 23 points and Holiday scored 13.

The Pelicans missed their last six shots and allowed the Spurs to grab a pair of critical offensive rebounds that led to five second-chance points during San Antonio’s game-ending run.

“There’s a reason they’re 52-9,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of the Spurs, whose 23 road wins match the Pelicans’ overall victory total this season. “We gave ourselves the opportunity to beat a real good basketball team, but in the last 3 minutes we struggled again to get it in the basket and come up with stops.”

HIT IN THE MOUTH

Davis went to the locker room in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the mouth from Duncan while trying to defend the Spurs’ star near the basket. Davis, who was bleeding from his lip, was called for a blocking foul, which incensed Gentry and drew a torrent of boos.

Yet New Orleans was able to control tempo during the 7 minutes Davis spent getting his lip treated and turned a two-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Consecutive 3s by Gordon made it 68-61, but the Spurs closed the gap after Davis returned and trailed 68-67 following Leonard’s layup.

After the game, Davis’ lip was so swollen he declined to speak with reporters, but typed out a few comments on a team spokesman’s phone, saying the injury disrupted his rhythm.

“I basically had to get warmed up again,” Davis said.

CRUNCH-TIME BLUES

The Pelicans lost a six-point lead inside the final 5 minutes for a second straight night after doing the same thing in Houston on Wednesday.

“We have to find a way to figure out who we can go to at the end of the game that can get us those baskets,” Gentry said.

TIP-INS

Spurs: For the second time this season, San Antonio arrived in New Orleans on a six-game winning streak. The first time, the Spurs lost.

Pelicans: Davis tied David West‘s franchise record of 127 games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. … With 7-footers Omer Asik (sprained right ankle) and Alexis Ajinca (fractured sternum) both out, Kendrick Perkins started at center. He finished with two points, four rebounds and two assists in about 27 minutes.

Jimmy Butler expected to return to Bulls lineup Saturday

Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, left, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Injuries, combined with poor defense and a roster that doesn’t fit the new coach’s style, have the Bulls on the outside looking in at the playoffs as of this writing.

One of those problems is getting better; the Bulls are getting some guys healthy again. Derrick Rose is back from his hamstring tendonitis, and Jimmy Butler should be back in the rotation on Saturday, reports Vincent Goodwill at CSNChicago.com.

The Bulls will get their best player back Saturday, as Jimmy Butler will return to the team’s lineup against the Houston Rockets, in a game that could see the Bulls fall below the .500 mark with a loss.

Butler has missed the last 11 games with a left knee strain, and will officially practice with the team tomorrow, where coach Fred Hoiberg will likely be cautiously optimistic about Butler’s status.

The Bulls have gone 3-8 in those 11 games Butler has been out, and with that have slid half a game out of the last playoff spot in the East.

The Bulls are 3.2 points per 100 possessions better when Butler is on the court, and he brings improvement at both ends. He is a guy they can run the offense through, and he is their best perimeter defender.

Needless to say, his return is huge for the Bulls. Will it be enough is another question, but he’s not going to get eased back in going up against James Harden.