Kurt Helin

Report: Cleveland, J.R. Smith impasse may be about years, Cavs want shorter deal

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At some point, J.R. Smith is going to sign a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is not looking at other teams, and the Cavaliers are already $22 million over the salary cap so they can’t go get a replacement for him.

Still, the Cavaliers are a couple of weeks away from training camp and there is no deal.

The hold up may not be money as much as years, reports Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

While neither Smith nor (his agent Rich) Paul has ever confirmed this figure, it is believed he’s looking for a contract worth about $15 million annually. The two sides may not be arguing over money so much as the length of the deal — the Cavs would likely prefer a shorter contract.

Smith played well for the Cavaliers last season, averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 40 percent from three. He’s developed into a reliable catch-and-shoot wing who works well off the ball. Cleveland doesn’t have its first title in 52 years without him.

The Cavaliers want him back, but they also want flexibility down the line. More importantly, LeBron James wants him back.

The deal will get done, and Smith will be back with the Cavaliers. However, remember that Rich Paul was Tristan Thompson‘s agent a year ago, and that led to a holdout where Thompson missed most of training camp.

51Q: Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:

Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?

The Western Conference has a couple of young teams that should leap into the playoffs this season and could be far more dangerous a few years down the road: The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz. They are teams fans need to start watching now.

The Denver Nuggets want to get in that conversation.

They have a quality young core: big men Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, a two guard in Gary Harris, a young point guard with promise in Emmanuel Mudiay, plus in the latest draft they added Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, and Juan Hernangomez. All of those players are 22 or younger, and 10 players on the roster total are age 25 or younger. Coach Mike Malone is an excellent choice for the franchise to develop that core while building a professional culture  (something Denver lacked for a few years and Malone brought back last season).

There is reason for hope in Denver.

However, development takes time, and the Nuggets have a few of players who are past the development stage and should be at their peaks now: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried in particular. There are other stabilizing veterans on the roster: Jameer Nelson, Mike Miller, and Darrell Arthur, for example.

Will the Nuggets young core come of age in time to meld with those veterans and form a team that is a threat not only to make the playoffs but do some damage?

Or should Denver’s front office be shopping those veterans and going all-in with the youth movement?

Based on their actions, Denver’s management already has an answer — they have looked for trades. However, they aren’t going to just give those veterans away, either.

Gallinari and Faried have been named in more trade rumors than there are joints at a Cypress Hill concert. But a combination of injuries and, in the case of Faried in particular, uninspired play had suitors coming in with lowball offers that Denver was never going to accept. The economics of a deal for these two may be changing, however. Gallinari’s $15 million this season is a much smaller hit against the new cap for a team looking for a stretch four, and he has a player option for next season ($16.1 million) that he may well not pick up as he looks for some long-term security (if he has a strong season he likely opts out). Faried is owed $38.6 million over three seasons, a figure that will not be easy for Denver to move but is far less daunting for potential trade partners under the new cap numbers.

Don’t expect anything rash from Denver.

With Malone at the helm, there is a sense that Denver is turning the corner, that a foundation is in place now that could turn this into a very good team in a few years. This season that good foundation may not result in many more wins than the 33 they had a season ago (their schedule to start the season is brutal with eight of their first 10 games against playoff teams from last season and most of those games on the road), but the team should be taking steps forward.

There still is work to do with this roster. They have a strong young core, however the Nuggets lack a potential superstar in that group, that’s something they may need to get via trade or free agency (the only name they went hard at this summer was Dwyane Wade, who used to fit that bill but would have given them some legitimacy now). However, if Denver can win games and show established players they have a strong young core they have a pitch to make — come here and win now by putting us over the top. That can sell in an NBA where the big market teams do not have quite the same drawing power advantage they did a couple of decades ago.

Part of the work to do is moving the veterans on the roster that have trade value but are not part of the long-term future. Get more players that fit with the timeline of the young core.

Denver fans should be hopeful. More of them should come out to Nuggets games than they have the past few years — it’s time to get on board this bandwagon. But they also are going to need a little more patience. Which sucks.

And they are going to have to trust management to make the right moves this time around.

Moves that should start this season and into next summer on the trade market.

Atlanta Hawks sign Will Bynum, Ryan Kelly to training camp contracts

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The Atlanta Hawks have 15 guys under guaranteed contracts heading into training camp, the max number they carry into the regular season. Their roster is set.

But the Hawks are rounding out their training camp roster with some veterans — Will Bynum and Ryan Kelly are coming to camp, reports Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks have signed Will Bynum and Ryan Kelly to non-guaranteed contracts to set their training camp roster, according to a person familiar with the situation…

Bynum, who played at Georgia Tech, is a veteran of eight NBA seasons with the Warriors, Pistons, and Wizards. The 33-year-old guard appeared in seven games with the Wizards last season after signing two 10-day contracts. He played in China before and after the stints….

Kelly (6-11, 230 pounds) was a second-round pick (No. 48) by the Lakers in 2013 out of Duke. The 25-year-old power forward appeared in 147 games over three seasons with the Lakers. He averaged 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.1 minutes over 36 games last season.

Both of these guys likely ends up overseas this season, but the will make a little money in camp and maybe turn the heads of another GM who does have a roster spot available.

Jerry West says Adam Silver’s dislike of Durant’s move to Warriors is “sour grapes”

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“I don’t think it’s good for the league, just to be really clear. I will say whoever is the prohibitive favorite, try telling that to the 430 other players who aren’t on those two teams. I mean, we have the greatest collection of basketball players in the world in our league, and so I’m not making any predictions, but there’s no question, when you aggregate a group of great players, they have a better chance of winning than many other teams…. But just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that’s ideal from a league standpoint. I mean, for me as I discussed earlier, part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, talking about Kevin Durant‘s move this summer to the Golden State Warriors. Silver is essentially the voice of the owners, he works for them. He went on to say he and the owners hope to fix some of the “anomalies” in the system to prevent a superstar from going to a 73-win team.

Jerry West, the Golden State consultant who did his part in the pitch to Durant, is having none of that. West was on The TK Show, a podcast hosted by San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami. Here are West’s comments (hat tip Zach Harper at CBS).

“It’s sour grapes. We (when he was with the Lakers) signed Shaquille O’Neal and it wasn’t as big an uproar as this. Listen, the owners make the rules. They negotiate with the players. And for them to say something like that, to me it’s wrong on their part. The commissioner said something like that and I called him about it. I told him I didn’t think the comment was fair. It’s not fair to Kevin. It’s not fair to the Warriors. It’s not fair to any team going forward who will sign a free agent of this stature.

“The players bargained for this. They have a chance to go play where they want to. I only wish I had that opportunity in my career and I’m sure a lot of other people felt the same way.”

For the record, there wasn’t free agency in the NBA, as we understand it, until 1988 (which is why you never saw Magic or Bird or Bill Russell, etc. leave in their prime — they were stuck). West could never have left the Lakers.

West is correct. Both that there were some sour grapes from other owners, and that what Durant did was well within his rights as a player. He earned the right to be a free agent and go where he wanted to go, play with who he wanted as teammates. Just like you or me, he should have the right to change work environments if he wants.

But that’s not the only complaint of owners — they like the idea of flattening out the talent pool. The moves of the last CBA were largely about preventing another LeBron-era Heat team from forming. We can get into how this is misguided — the NBA has been at its most popular when there are one or two dominant teams — but it is what owners want because they think success in the NBA should be easier than it is. The frustration from fans — that Durant took the easy route to a title — also probably rankles West, who would be happy to tell everyone just how hard it is to win a ring.

Nobody is really questioning Durant’s right to do what he did — including Silver. The Commissioner said in that same statement Durant had earned the right to be a free agent and make his choice. It’s just that the owners didn’t like it.

Yi Jianlian confident in return to NBA, but where does he play with Lakers?

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The Lakers — the organization, the players, everyone — is used to a media circus. It’s just part of the institution, from the Showtime era through the Kobe Bryant farewell tour.

So when more than 25 media members, national and international, show up for part of a Yi Jianlian workout in the offseason, it’s just another day at the office.

There was interest in Jianlian after he averaged 20.4 points per game in Rio as the focal point of the Chinese offense, he seemed a more mature player than the one who bounced around the NBA for five seasons after being taken by the Bucks at No. 6 in 2007. In his first stint in the NBA Jianlian never developed as hoped, but after four seasons playing in China he said he feels ready now, as reported by Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

He also said he felt that the Lakers were a “good opportunity” and that the “timing” was right for an NBA return.

“I think I played a lot of games in China, in Asia, Olympics,” said Yi, who joined the Lakers on a one-year deal worth about $8 million, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein. “It’s a lot of experience. For me I probably got stronger and more confidence.”

That one-year deal is about as Laker-friendly as it could get, and the $8 million figure would only kick in he played in 59 games with the team, meaning he was a regular part of the rotation.

It’s unclear if Jianlian would reach that in part because it’s unclear where he fits in with this roster.

Jianlian is a 7-foot power forward or center who can stretch the floor out to the three-point line (he shot 46.7 percent from the international arc in Rio). At the four, the Lakers will likely start Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr., with rookie Brandon Ingram potentially getting some run there as the team tries to figure out exactly where he fits in Luke Walton’s system. At the five they are paying Timofey Mozgov to start and behind him there are Tarik Black and rookie Ivica Zubac. Maybe Jianlian can get some run as a small ball center. However, the Lakers should be focused on getting run for and developing their young players that are part of the future.

Luke Walton has a lot of frontcourt puzzle pieces to fit together, a lot of them younger players than the 28-year-old Jianlian, and it’s unclear what the picture will look like in the end.

But there is a lot of buzz about Jianlian and the chance he is getting.