Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant holds an ice pack on his  right shoulder as he takes a seat on the bench during the second half of the Lakers' NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 117-107. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Associated Press

Kobe Bryant out Friday night vs. Hawks due to shoulder issues

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It’s his farewell tour — Kobe Bryant isn’t taking the court with the pressure of lifting the Lakers to the playoffs (that ship sailed long ago), he’s out there to put on a show for the fans. He takes that responsibility seriously. He doesn’t sit out just to rest.

But he will be out Friday when the Lakers tip-off an eight-game homestand against Atlanta, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. Sucks for Lakers fans, as people are paying good money to see him one more time.

The reason he is out is his sore shoulder. Kobe only played 11 minutes in the last Lakers game in Denver, sitting out the second half, due to the shoulder issue that has bothered him all season.

Byron Scott is leaning more heavily on D'Angelo Russell to run the offense post All-Star break, and the rookie is responding with some impressive play. He is showing improvement, which I would argue has come in spite of Scott’s handling of him, but that’s another debate for another day.

Report: Minnesota tried to pitch a Khris Middleton for Ricky Rubio trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves passes the ball during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 3, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Khris Middleton of the Bucks is a great litmus test for how close someone follows the NBA. If their reaction is “who?” or “why did he get a $70 million contract?” they don’t follow the league that closely. People who do — including front offices around the league — love the guy. He can defend multiple wing positions, is shooting 40 percent from three, has the handles to run the pick-and-roll, and is a quality player who is young and improving.

All of which is why the Minnesota Timberwolves wanted him and offered point guard Ricky Rubio in a trade, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

After some initial talks, the Wolves told Milwaukee they would swap Ricky Rubio for Middelton, and when the Bucks declined, Minnesota even discussed the possibility of tossing in a protected 2016 first-round pick, per league sources familiar with the matter. Other outlets have reported Milwaukee’s interest in Rubio — Jason Kidd seems to have a thing for rangy point guards with busted jumpers — but Milwaukee never seriously entertained trading Middleton, sources say.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker were never on the block, leaving Milwaukee with only one real counter: a point guard challenge trade of Michael Carter-Williams for Rubio. Minnesota obviously wasn’t doing that, and the discussions died, sources say.

The number of discussed trades that never happen would stun many observers, and this was another long those lines.

Minnesota offering up Rubio is significant and speaks to how much they value a better shooting wing player — the Timberwolves are 10.7 points per 100 possessions better with Rubio on the court this season. He means a lot to them. But with Karl-Anthony Towns inside and Andrew Wiggins attacking from the wing, the need for shooting becomes evident in Minnesota (and Rubio certainly isn’t providing that). Long term Minnesota valued Middleton more than Rubio.

Just so did Milwaukee.

Just consider it a note heading into the summer — the Timberwolves are looking for wing shooting. If they find it, a real “3&D” guy to go next to Wiggins, the Timberwolves get a lot better.

Report: Ben Simmons could get $100 million shoe deal as rookie

,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)
Associated Press
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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.