We say again, San Antonio should aim for LA in 1st round

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Gregg Popovich said before Sunday’s game with the Lakers that every Western Conference team is trying to avoid the Lakers in round one. Via ESPN:

“The ones that say, ‘We don’t care who we play,’ they’re full of
baloney,” Popovich said. “We’re all trying to hide from the Lakers in
the first round and that’s the truth.

“Really, it’s like, ‘Who do
you want to play in the first round?,'” Popovich continued before
sarcastically answering his question. “Oh, the Lakers! We’ll play the
Lakers!”

After San Antonio’s 100-81 win, in Staples, without Tony Parker and George Hill (who sprained an ankle early in the ballgame), we’d like to say again what we said earlier.

Yes. The Lakers.

Greg Popovich has forgotten more about basketball than we’ll learn in a lifetime, but even he has to see some of the same signs we do.

While our fearless leader pointed out that today’s game doesn’t show us anything new, it did reinforce some ideas that are important to consider. For starters, Andrew Bynum is a huge missing piece against Tim Duncan. Pau Gasol did a great job back on March 24th, when Duncan was struggling. Today, Duncan ran over Gasol like a freight train. Gasol might as well have been tied to the tracks by some 1920’s film villain with a handlebar mustache.

Playing the Lakers in the first round? Means either no Bynum, or one struggling to get back into rhythm. We informed you earlier that Bynum’s struggling to recover from the Achilles strain that’s sidelined him for two weeks. Another two weeks is in no way out of the realm of possibility. If San Antonio can get a matchup with LA without Bynum? That’s preferable than if Bynumzilla is at full strength.

Then there’s Kobe Bean Bryant. Bryant is somehow managing to take tons of shots and miss a high percentage, impressive for a superstar. Bryant was 8 of 24 today, going 13 of 47 since signing his massive extension. But this is Kobe Bryant. He’s going to wake up. But if this slump is the result of the myriad injuries Bryant’s suffered, you want to catch him before he heals and goes back to, you know, being Bryant. It’s probably not going to work, but it’s the best shot.

There’s also the matter of avoiding Dallas. If everyone is avoiding LA, Portland and Utah are at least not trying to avoid the Mavericks. The Spurs, on the other hand, have lost to Dallas in the playoffs twice, including last season, and the Mavericks have won the past two meetings this season. But if the Spurs fall to eighth and the Blazers move up to seventh, there’s a chance that if the Spurs were to somehow make it past LA they may not have to go through Dallas as well.

Beyond all that is the fact that Popovich has essentially said the Spurs are hoping an act of God knocks off the Lakers, like a matchup advantage a la Golden State ’07 or the Kraken or something. But you tell an aging group of veterans (but not the press under any circumstances), “We’ve beaten them this year. We can beat them. We’re not running from them, we WANT to play them” and they’re going to gear up for that.

You want to win the West? You have to go through LA. And while going through them early may not make a difference rather than later, it may present the best opportunity. And besides, is LA really playing to finish as a runner-up? It’s championship or nothing. The Spurs are playing their best ball of the season. They should try to cash in on that.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.