Zach Randolph wants Pau Gasol money

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There’s no denying the fact that Zach Randolph has made a pretty substantial difference in Memphis this year, even if the actual differences in Randolph’s game are anything but. Zeebo’s arrival in Memphis was met with zero expectations, and thus when the Grizzlies experienced an unexpected amount of success this season with Randolph as a 20-10 guy, it was seen as a redemption story.

The catch, of course, is that Randolph isn’t redeemed because he hasn’t changed. The Grizzlies are a better team than expected because of Marc Gasol’s leap, Rudy Gay’s incremental improvement, and O.J. Mayo’s continued ascent into awesome. And, notably — this is where you come in, Zach — because Randolph is a much better player than Hakim Warrick and Darrell Arthur. Zip, bang, boom, and you’ve got a roster that could finish the season with a .500 record with one more win after claiming just 24 victories last year.

Just don’t assume that any of that team success has changed Randolph, who is putting up the same numbers he always has albeit with slightly rosier results. With all that in mind, I hope you’ll understand my cynicism over Randolph’s want for a Pau Gasol-style extension. From Chris Tomasson of FanHouse:

Randolph might not know the exact details of the three-year, $57 million extension Gasol’s brother, Lakers big man Pau Gasol,
signed last December that runs through the 2013-14 season. But Randolph
does believe he’s worthy of getting a similar extension.

“Definitely,” Randolph said.

Randolph said in an interview with FanHouse before Monday’s game at
Denver he wants to sign an extension this summer, and has told Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley his desire to remain with the Grizzlies beyond
when his contract expires in 2011. He brought up the link to Pau Gasol.

“Me and Pau Gasol got signed to the same deal when he was in Memphis
and I was in Portland,” said Randolph, whose contract actually is
slightly less, with Randolph making $16 million this season and $17.33
million next season and the Lakers star earning $16.45 million and
$17.82 million in those seasons. “We got the same contract, and it got
extended. … I hope (to get the extension done this summer). I’d
definitely like to get it done.”

Zach Randolph isn’t Pau Gasol, and he isn’t worth Pau Gasol money. He’s still one of the league’s lesser defenders, and on a dollar-for-dollar basis he could be the worst. Plus, I don’t know if I’ve made this abundantly clear: he’s still Zach Randolph. He hasn’t even been worth Zach Randolph money over the last few seasons, as his game has been picked apart piece by piece and he’s been ridiculed in every media outlet imaginable for his generous contract.

Yet now, because Randolph’s team is actually winning a few games, he’s suddenly validated that deal? Right. Then again, maybe this is pointing to what has really been Zeebo’s issue all along: a lack of self-awareness. He wouldn’t be the first NBAer to overvalue his own contributions, but through all of Zach’s darker years, it’s never seemed as though Randolph even began to grapple with the possibility that something he was doing was wrong. It’s as if in Zeebo world, 20-10 is its own impenetrable logic, and they of the 20-10 cloth can do no wrong.

Well they can. This really isn’t meant to come off as much of as a complete smear campaign, though I’m sure it reads that way. Randolph has a place and a value in the NBA, and all things considered he’s still a very, very productive player. He’s just not quite worth the price tag he’s trying to put on himself, nor quite the redemptive hero he’s made out to be.

Denver keeps executing under pressure, Gordon and Brown spark win to take command of series

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MIAMI — The Nuggets just kept executing.

Nikola Jokić gets sent to the bench with five fouls — after Bam Adebayo earned an Oscar nomination drawing it — and it feels like the game and the series were about to turn. The crowd rocking and the Nuggets’ lead that was at 10 when he went out quickly was just five. But when Jokić returned after 5:16 of game time the Nuggets were still up nine. Without the two-time MVP, the Nuggets just kept executing their offense.

The Heat played their most physical, intense defense of the Finals, selling out to slow Jamal Murray in particular and not letting him score 30+ again. The Nuggets just executed their offense, and Murray finished with 12 assists without one turnover while others stepped up — led by Aaron Gordon with a game-high 27 and Bruce Brown with 21 points off the bench, including 11 in the fourth, highlighted by a critical step-back 3.

“When he did a step-back three, I wanted to punch him, but when he made it, I was so happy,” Jokić said.

It was like that all game long. Whenever Miami would make a run — the kind of stretch that became an avalanche and overwhelmed Boston and Milwaukee — Denver would just get the ball to Jokić, or Murray would draw the defense and kick to an open shooter, and the Nuggets executed their offense and got a bucket. They calmed things down, they didn’t contribute to their own demise.

It was championship-level execution from the Nuggets as they closed the game on a 17-7 run. The Nuggets were doing to the Heat in Miami what the Heat had done to every other team they faced this postseason.

Denver won Game 4 108-92, sweeping the two games in Miami (both by double digits), and now have a commanding 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

Game 5 is Monday night in Denver and it may feel more like a coronation than a basketball game.

Miami played hard. The Heat came out with their plan, they attacked the rim and did get 46 points in the paint, outscoring the Nuggets there.

But facing Denver’s elite offense, Miami needs more points and the path to that is knocking down their 3s — Miami was 8-of-25, 32%. Denver was 14-of-28 (50%) from beyond the arc.

Early on this felt like it could be a Heat night. The game was a rock fight from the opening tip, with both teams playing intense defense and missing shots they have hit much of the series. However, Denver appeared comfortable in that style and pushed their lead out to seven. Then Jimmy Butler scored seven points in a 10-2 Heat run to end the quarter and it was 21-20 Miami after one.

The start of the second quarter would prove to be a foreshadowing of the critical stretch of the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets were +1 in non-Jokić minutes to start the second thanks to eight points from Gordon in that stretch. Gordon stretched that out to 16 in the quarter and helped the Nuggets lead by four at the half — 55-51 — in a game that continued to be played in the Heat’s preferred style. Jokić had 16 points at the half but just two assists.

Denver started the third playing maybe their best basketball of the series and looking to blow the game open, getting the lead up to 13. But then came a stretch of sloppy basketball that let the Heat get the lead down to six and hang around the game. Things were getting intense…

Then came a several-minute break to check a bent rim and backboard that were at an angle. They were pulled there by a Bam Adebayo missed dunk (he missed a lot of bunnies this game), a problem noticed by Kyle Lowry. Jokić tried to hang on the rim to fix it, but it took a guy in a suit going up a ladder with a level and some tools.

Soon after Jokić to the bench with 9:24 left in the game and it felt like the entire Finals were going to turn.

The Nuggets just kept executing. Nothing changed.

“Every time we felt like we got it to six or eight, they were able to push it to 12,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the night. “That was certainly a frustrating part of the game. Brown was a big part of — some of his random drives and plays in the middle of the paint when you’re expecting it to be Murray or somebody else.”

Those plays have the Nuggets one win away from the franchise’s first NBA title.

Nuggets reportedly trade draft picks with Thunder to help keep title window open

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The Denver Nuggets are just two wins from the franchise’s first NBA championship.

While Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray are trying to pick-and-roll their way to those wins, the Nuggets front office has made a trade to try and keep their title window open. The Nuggets are trading their 2029 first-round pick (protected) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 37 pick in this June’s NBA Draft and the worst of the Thunder’s 2024-first round picks, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Nuggets now control the No. 37 and 40 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, plus this additional 2024 pick. The Nuggets will try to use this 2024 first-round pick to move into the first round of this year’s draft, reports Mike Singer of the Denver Post. (Denver’s first-round pick at No. 27 belongs to Charlotte through a series of trades.)

A first-round pick and some high second-round picks allows Nuggets GM Calvin Booth to bring in several low-priced rookies who can potentially be part of the roster and rotation, freeing up money to keep an expensive core of Jokic, Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and the rest. The hope is to find another Christian Braun at the back of the first round who can contribute as a rookie.

With Jokić, Murray, Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon all locked in on big deals for the next two seasons after this, the challenge for the Nuggets is keeping quality rotation players around them to help them compete for a title without going deeper into the tax than ownership wants. Jeff Green is a free agent this summer and Bruce Brown has a $6.8 million player option that he will certainly opt out of (he will get an offer for more than $10 million a season). The Nuggets already are $7 million into the luxury tax (via Spotrac) and are looking for a way to keep below the second tax apron, making bringing those key players back a challenge.

Hence the trade, as the Nuggets look for ways to fill out their rotation with quality, but affordable, players. Good drafting — like Braun — is a way.

What does OKC get out of this? They have more first-round draft picks than they can use in the coming few years, this spreads a pick out to 2029, which they can use then or trade, depending on their needs at the time.

Heat’s Tyler Herro remains out for Game 4. Will he play in Finals?

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MIAMI — With Tyler Herro not cleared to play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and Game 4 just 48 hours later, it should be no surprise that we won’t see Herro on Friday night.

Herro is officially listed as out for Game 4. He has been out since April 16 with a severe hand fracture suffered in the first game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Herro went through a brief part of the public practice/shootaround in front of the media Thursday but didn’t speak to the press. Spoelstra said Herro has not yet been cleared for a game.

“This is just part of the process,” Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to go through stages. First part of it was just shooting, then movement, then contact versus coaches, and then the next level of contact in practice. He has not been cleared for a game, and he is still not cleared yet.”

Even if Herro were cleared for later in the series — and the Heat players and coaches say to a man he is putting in the work — how much of a role could he play at this point? While on paper he provides shooting and shot creation Miami needs this series (although he would be a target on defense), he hasn’t played in a game for nearly two months and Spoelstra can’t just throw him into the highest level of basketball in the world mid-series. Maybe he could get in a few non-Jokić minutes off the bench, but it’s a big ask for anything more than that. And maybe it’s too big an ask for even that.

Listening to Spoelstra’s tone, I wouldn’t expect to see Herro in this series.

And this summer, don’t be surprised when Herro’s name comes up in a lot of trade rumors.

Rumor: Suns could make run at James Harden this summer

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James Harden is widely expected to opt out of the $35.6 million he is owed for next season because, even if you acknowledge he is not MVP-level Harden anymore, he’s worth more than that in the NBA marketplace. At least $10 million more a season. Harden is reportedly “torn” between returning to Philadelphia or going back home to Houston (the sources NBC Sports talks to around the league have Houston as the frontrunner).

Maybe Phoenix can enter the conversation. There had been talk the Suns might make another big swing this offseason, then came this from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne appearing on ESPNLA Radio (hat tip Hoopshype):

“I want you to keep your eye on James Harden [going to Phoenix]. I don’t want to report anything, but that was in the wind for the past month or so. Everybody thinks it’s Philly or Houston, but I don’t know, there have been discussions in the wind.”

Interesting. The smart money should still be bet on Houston. Phoenix is a crazy longshot because the Suns don’t have the cap space to sign Harden outright at market value.

The only way the Suns could make a direct trade work is to convince Harden to do an opt-in and trade, where he picks up that $35.6 million and the Suns extend him off that, because if he opts out — as expected — then any sign-and-trade hardcaps the Suns. With Harden, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker on the books, a hard-capped Suns team would have to round out the roster with minimum contract guys. They would have no depth.

Also, who are the Suns sending back to Philadelphia in that deal? The 76ers have no interest in Deandre Ayton, Philly is pretty set at center with the MVP. That means getting a third team involved, one that wants Ayton, and will send players back to the 76ers they want. It gets very complicated very fast. Or, can Phoenix pick up Chris Paul‘s $30.8 million for this season and do a Harden for CP3 swap? Good luck selling that.

No doubt the Suns, with aggressive new owner Mat Ishbia, want to make another bold move or two this summer, but pulling off a James Harden deal would be challenging. To put it politely.

And Harden probably wants to go home to Houston anyway.