With upwards of $30 million in likely cap space this summer, the Lakers are going to make a hard push to bring in a star in free agency. As they always do. They made pitches to LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony last summer, and they’ll be in the mix for the big names this summer. As they always are.
The Lakers are not in the market for a guy who can make the team better; they need a bona fide star, the kind of player they thought they were getting when they traded for Dwight Howard in 2012. The Howard deal flopped, though, and the Lakers have been rudderless since. It could be Bryant’s final season, and the franchise does not want to send him off with yet another rebuilding year, though that might be in the best long-term interest of the team. Assuming the Lakers stay in win-soon mode, it is a safe bet that they will go hard after the two top point guards on the market, with Bryant’s pal Rajon Rondo at the head of the list and Goran Dragic behind him.
It’s not news that Rondo and Dragic are going to be the Lakers’ primary targets this summer. That much as been clear for a while. What’s interesting is that Rondo is at the top of their list. Maybe that’s because of his relationship with Kobe, or maybe it’s because he’s more attainable. Rondo has been an awkward fit in Dallas so far, and it’s a lot more likely that he leaves the Mavericks than that Dragic leaves the Heat. But we’ll find out.
Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: James Harden drops 51, stirs pot on MVP race
1) James Harden drops 51 reasons he should be MVP. More and more it feels like the MVP race is down to two men (although Russell Westbrook keeps making his case, keep on reading this post). Tuesday night Stephen Curry put on a show and sent a vine viral (and created a Chris Paul meme). Wednesday night it was the James Harden show as he scored a career-high 51 points, going 8-of-9 from three to get there. It was vintage efficient Harden — he only took 25 shots, but he hit his threes and got to the free throw line 13 times. He had 16 points in the first quarter, 17 in the third and 10 in the fourth to help hold off a feisty Sacramento team that had DeMarcus Cousins going off (keep reading).
We’ve got to acknowledge Cousins, who took advantage of Dwight Howard being out (resting half a back-to-back) and scored 24 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and dished out 10 assists on a monster night. That’s just a second career triple-double for Cousins.
2) Chris Paul takes over, drops 41, may have earned Clippers home court in the first round. This was maybe the Clippers best win of the season — second night of a back-to-back on the road, having just lost to Golden State, and needing this game to both maintain their playoff seed and keep home court in the playoffs. The Clippers were down by as many as 19 in the second quarter, but Los Angeles went on a 25-7 fourth quarter run — something partially inspired by Chris Kaman shoving Chris Paul to the ground — to take the lead and get the 126-122 win. The Clippers didn’t do it with defense, they did it with an unstoppable offense, and that was led by CP3 in point god mode, scoring 41 and dishing out 17 assists.
3) Russell Westbrook scores his 10th triple-double of the season, but Dallas wins a 1980s throwback game, 134-131. Up tempo, high scoring, not a ton of good defense? It must have been 1980s throwback night in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder playing the role of Doug Moe’s Nuggets. Westbrook did his best, giving us another triple-double with 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It wasn’t efficient — he shot just 31.3 percent — but Westbrook put up the numbers that kept OKC in the game and spark a comeback that had the Thunder ahead in the fourth. They just couldn’t stop Chandler Parsons, who had 13 in the fourth quarter for Dallas.
4) Evan Turner records triple-double, and Boston wins…. but so do the Nets thanks to Brook Lopez. Almost lost in all the other big performances Wednesday night, Evan Turner recorded a triple-double for Boston — 13 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. Boston easily beat the fading Pacers, 100-87. The problem for the Celtics is the Nets got a put-back bucket from Brook Lopez with two seconds left to lift Brooklyn past New York 100-98. The Nets/Celtics/Heat race for the final couple playoff slots in the East remains fascinating — Brooklyn and Miami are tied for the seven and eight seeds at 34-40 (with eight games left) while Boston is half-a-game back at 34-41. This could go any way the last couple weeks of the season.
5) Nowitzki reaches 28,000 points. Congratulations to the greatest European player ever in the NBA, and the best shooting big man ever. Only seven players have reached the 28,000 point plateau, and Dirk Nowitzki is one of them.
James Harden scores career-high 51 to strengthen MVP case (video)
Go ahead and make your case for James Harden, it’s a good one. Russell Westbrook admits he wants to win the MVP this year and has played well enough the last couple months to be in consideration. If your criteria is the best player, it’s still LeBron James. Chris Paul has some staunch backers.
Oddsmakers care about none of it — they care about who is likely to win and who the bettors are putting their money on.
They have Stephen Curry far ahead as the MVP favorite. Here are the latest odds courtesy online gaming site Bovada:
Stephen Curry 1/4
James Harden 3/1
Russell Westbrook 5/1
LeBron James 25/1
It seems trendy to pick against Curry, dismissing the “best player on the best team” argument out of hand. But Curry is averaging 23.7 points a game shooting 43.4 percent from three, he’s dishing out 7.8 assists a game, plus he is the focal point of one of the NBA’s top two offenses. He has a PER of 28 (third in the league), and he’s second in win shares. If you want value to his team, the Warriors are 16.9 points worse per 100 possessions when he is off the court.
Curry is going to win this award. More than that, he’s earned it.
You can make a good case for Anthony Davis to be the MVP — he’s scoring 24.7 points a game on 54 percent shooting, he’s pulling down 10.4 rebounds a game and blocking 2.9 shots a night. His PER of 31.1 this season would be not only the best in the NBA this season but in the top 10 all time (with Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan).
But he’s not going to win it, not on a Pelicans team that will miss the playoffs. He should be on voter’s five-deep ballots, but he’s not going to win it.
Who should? If you ask Davis, he says James Harden.
“It’s tough. A lot of guys are playing out of their mind. James Harden, Russ (Westbrook), Steph (Curry), LeBron (James)…
“(Harden is) out of his mind. He’s definitely playing out of his mind. We talk about this on my team every day. It’s like every day. I think with him not having Dwight [Howard] for as much as he did, and he still competed and is still winning games for them, it’s unreal.”
Harden and Stephen Curry seem to be the frontrunners right now. Russell Westbrook and LeBron James seem just half a step back as momentum builds for the vote. Davis is on the outside looking in, Chris Paul has people making his case — and he’s been making it on the court lately — but he seems to be coming from too far behind in most voters’ eyes.
None of that is fair; any one of those guys could claim legitimate claim to the crown. But the smart money is on Curry.