Kurt Helin

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Report: Cole Aldrich bolts Clippers, signs three-year, $22 million deal with Timberwolves

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Last season, Cole Aldrich was quietly impressive backing up one of the best centers in the game — DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers.

The Timberwolves are betting he can do that same thing behind Karl-Anthony Towns.

Minnesota snapped up the center entering his seventh NBA season, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

That’s a great price for a quality rim-protecting center who does well against second units. Last season Aldrich averaged just 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, but he played just more than 13 minutes a night as Doc Rivers leaned on Jordan and some small ball lineups. But Aldrich did well defensively in the paint, shot 59.6 percent from the floor, grabbed 19.6 percent of the available rebounds, and had a PER of 21.3.

I’m surprised a team in need of rim protection didn’t jump in and offer him more already. This is a smart move by Tom Thibodeau and his group.

The Clippers have now lost another of their free agents and part of their depth. Already Jeff Green left for Orlando, and Jamal Crawford is looking at other teams and not likely to return to Los Angeles. Now Aldrich is gone. The only guy they kept was Austin Rivers, and they overpaid a little to keep him.

The Clippers were thin last year; all these defections make that long-time Los Angeles issue worse.

Meanwhile, every move Minnesota makes has you thinking they are going to make a leap this season.

Kevin Durant meeting with Heat end, one follow up with Thunder still on his schedule

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Miami has made its pitch to Kevin Durant. We don’t know the details, but you can be sure it involved Pat Riley and the word “rings.”

Next up, the Oklahoma City Thunder get the last word. David Aldridge of TNT/NBA.com tweeted this.

Remember Oklahoma City got the first shot — before free agency officially started last Thursday, because he’s a member of that team — and then the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Celtics, and Heat got their turns in the room. Maybe he goes into the Thunder meeting Sunday night and says he’s staying. The buzz around the league is that the Thunder remain the clear front runners, although it’s not known what impact the Al Horford signing might have had on the Celtics’ pitch. Or if the Warriors — long rumored his most likely destination if Durant left OKC — won the day with the promise of rings.

Durant reportedly has told teams he will make his decision Sunday night, or Monday morning at the latest.

Until then, we wait.

No. 1 pick Ben Simmons makes it official, signs contract with Philadelphia

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There’s no real negotiation when it comes to signing an NBA rookie deal — the figures are set by the CBA (although teams can, and most do, give up to 120 percent of that number). So for No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, it was just a formality that he would sign with the team and get the deal done.

He did that Saturday.

(Note: Free agents who agreed to terms in recent days can’t officially sign with teams until the end of the moratorium on July 7; however that rule does not apply to rookie contracts.)

Simmons likely will make $5.9 million next season (which is 120 percent of the No. 1 pick slot).

He is expected to play with the Sixers Summer League team in Utah and Las Vegas.

Reports: Clippers make offer to Jamal Crawford, he’s not impressed, likely to move on

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The Clippers wanted Kevin Durant to tell them by Saturday if they were out of the running for him so they could start to retain their own free agents (they already lost Jeff Green to Orlando, although how big a loss that really is we could debate). He must have told them they were out because Saturday the Clippers locked up Austin Rivers, for example.

The Clippers also started talking to their sixth man Jamal Crawford,according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Heard that Clippers formally offered 6th Man of the Year Jamal Crawford on Saturday, too. But he is still weighing options. Not sure where they get bench scoring if he bolts.

Sam Amick of the USA Today was far less optimistic about the Clippers retaining him.

While the specifics of the Crawford offer were not known, it’s clear that it came in well shy of the three-year, $35 million deal given to the son of Clippers coach and president of basketball operations, Doc Rivers, on the same day. It doesn’t take a detective to figure out why Crawford may not be thrilled at the moment.

The Clippers slightly overpaid to keep Rivers, but I’m surprised they lowballed Crawford. At age 36, Crawford can still get buckets. He averaged 14 points a game last season, often running the second unit for the Clippers while Chris Paul rested. He still has one of the best crossovers in the game, and can knock down pull-up jumpers. There are legit concerns: at age 36 he is showing declining efficiency, and he’s never been strong at the defensive end (and that’s getting worse).

Philadelphia, Golden State, and Washington all have reached out to Crawford. He has options.

Here’s the problem for the Clippers: Who are they going to get that’s better than Crawford as a sixth man? Along those same lines, who are they going to get to replace Jeff Green as a starting three that’s an upgrade? The Clippers still have their core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, but they may be getting worse around that big three. And remember, both Paul and Griffin can opt out next summer and become free agents (and with the market the way it is, it’s safe to bet they will). If the Clippers take a step back this season, can they retain those two?

Doc Rivers the GM has some real challenges coming up. Losing Crawford is not going to help.

Danny Ainge finally gets his breakthrough star, Celtics start to change balance of power in East

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This is what Danny Ainge — not to mention legions of Boston Celtics fans — have been waiting for.

Years of gathering assets, developing players, and coming along slowly had gotten the team to the ceiling of 48 wins, but the Celtics were not going to move past that number in any serious way without adding elite talent. They were a team of role players led by a dynamic point guard in Isaiah Thomas and a fantastic coach in Brad Stevens, but talent wins out in the NBA, and the Celtics had maxed theirs out.

Now they have Al Horford.

And that changes everything.

It does not make them an instant threat to beat the Cavaliers next season; they are still a tier below the champions. For now. They may be the second best team in the East, about on par with Toronto, but that’s not the level of a title contender.

What this does — besides seriously upgrade Boston’s talent — is open the door to the next wave of free agents. No more “they can’t land a star” talk. Stars that might have been hesitant to take a hard look at the Celtics before will now give them more serious consideration. Remember, the 2017 free agent class is much deeper than this year’s class (and 2018 could be good as well). Also, players (and their agents) may be more willing to push for a trade with Boston than they had been before.

The Horford signing probably does not change the Kevin Durant dreams — although this news broke during their meeting with him, which certainly gave it a boost. Still, everyone but Oklahoma City is a longshot, and the Warriors may well land him if he does bolt OKC. However, if Durant does sign a 1+1 contract with the Thunder and reconsiders staying in a year, Boston’s meeting and landing Horford will have laid a foundation to open up talks again.

Horford changes the dynamics in the East — Boston has gone from a nice team of role players and picks (thanks again, Brooklyn) to a good team with the assets to make the moves needed to get great. They become a team that could be a contender in a couple of years with the right moves. They look like a team about to be a real threat in the East.

Danny Ainge got his man. And with that it will be easier to get the next one. And the one after that.

An 18th banner in the Boston Garden suddenly seems like less a fan pipe dream and more like a road the Celtics could travel down. It’s a long and difficult road, but suddenly the map is there.

All thanks to Al Horford’s decision. It has started to change the landscape in the East.