NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz Game 3: The Jazz get everything they want, except the win

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Fisher_Korver.jpgWhat if?

Not just what if Deron Williams nailed the crossover 22-footer, a favorite move of his and a shot he has buried so many times before? Not what if Wesley Mathews tip chance off that shot had gone in?

But for the Utah Jazz, what if you do basically everything you want to do, and you still can’t win?

That’s why this Lakers 111-110 win has to hurt in Salt Lake City. Not just because the Lakers are now up an insurmountable 3-0 in the series. Okay, maybe that’s part of it. But it’s also because they have been so close, and because they did so much of what they wanted in game three.

Think about the Jazz checklist coming in to this game: Limit the Lakers inside. Make Ron Artest and Derek Fisher beat you, ideally with threes. Get off to a fast start at home. Pick up the pace. Have D-Will be more aggressive in transition and attacking Fisher off the dribble.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check

And they still lost.

Just barely — this was one of the most dramatic games and finishes of the playoffs. There was a stretch of the game where Kyle Korver and Ron Artest were trading threes. There were big shots and answers. There was a key last minute turnover, and a chance for the Jazz to win.

What if? It’s just hard not to ask it.

There will be a game four Monday, there’s no more strategy for Jerry Sloan to employ. They did nearly everything they wanted to do. Still wasn’t enough.

“Tonight we went over getting the ball out of the post, we were trying to help on the post, make them beat us from the perimeter,” Williams said postgame in interviews shown on NBATV. “Fish hadn’t shot well, Artest hadn’t shot well in the series. So we felt like we could live with outside shots, but it kind of bit us in the butt a little bit.”

“I was so happy that Coach Sloan had that defensive strategy to play off me,” Artest said. “Got me going a little bit.”

Twittering Artest was hot from three — he had been 7 of 42 so far in the playoffs. But he hit his first three on his way to 4 of 7 from deep and 20 points. Derek Fisher was 3 of 7 from deep and had 20 points as well.

All that shooting was par It was one of the most fun, dramatic games in a postseason and the end was fantastic as the two teams combined for 20 points in just over the last two minutes.

The dramatic end started with 1:25 left and Williams blowing past Fisher, again, but then kicking out to the hottest shooter in the game, Korver. All nylon on the three. Again. He was 5-5 from three, 9-10 overall and had 23 points.

A couple possessions later, down three with 54 seconds left, the Lakers come down and at this point the triangle is forgotten in Lakers minds. It’s all Kobe setting up whatever it is he wants. Pau Gasol set a high pick and Kobe’s defender went under it, so he drained the three. Tie game. He had 35 points. Because he’s good. And feeling healthy.

D-Will comes down and just attacks Fisher again, then even with Gasol there he got to a good spot and hit a high-arcing 12-foot baseline jumper. Fisher answers with a three over Kover’s outstretched arm.

Lakers up one when Mathews passed up three looking hesitant but then got the ball back two seconds later and missed an open three. He had a rough ending to the game. The Jazz fouled Kobe and two made free throws later the Lakers were up three. The Lakers then foul Williams before he can shoot, two free throws that he makes, and we’re back to the Lakers by one with the ball.

Then on an inbounds play (on the Lakers end of the floor after a timeout) Artest threw the ball to where a cutting Fisher would be, but the rookie Mathews made a veteran play, wrapping his off arm around Fisher to slow him down, and the pass went bounding into Korver’s hands, and he called timeout to set up D-Will’s game winner. Or what might have been

Williams’ crossover was pure, he just missed it. Mathews — who was Kobe’s man but Kobe was watching the ball and not boxing out — timed it right for a great tip in. Both just rolled on the rim and out.

What if?

Are Raptors viable trade destination for Kawhi Leonard?

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The Lakers, Clippers, 76ers and Celtics have dominated Kawhi Leonard trade discussions for most of the summer.

But the Raptors have emerged as a trendy pick for the star’s destination. One betting site even gave Toronto even odds against the field – including the Spurs – as Leonard’s team to begin next season.

Are the Raptors actually a realistic landing spot for Leonard?

Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN discussed on The Lowe Post podcast.

Windhorst:

Toronto Raptors, I think they’re in the driver’s seat for Kawhi. Because I think the Lakers have given up. The Sixers have given up. And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat.

Lowe:

I’ve seen a lot of snark on Twitter that the Raptors stuff is a joke, that the odds went up because of something I said on my podcast and you said on TV. I’ve seen it being dismissed. It may not happen. Most NBA trades don’t happen. But if you think it’s a joke, you should probably recalibrate your expectations.

The Raptors can construct an offer built around:

Because DeRozan and Lowry earn more than Leonard, the Raptors could also take back a costly contract San Antonio wants to dump.

Such a deal would allow the Spurs to remain competitive now while gaining long-term assets under greater team control than Leonard, who can walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.

It’d also give the the Raptors a championship chance they wouldn’t have next season otherwise. The window might not remain open long considering Leonard’s health and contract status, but there’s something to be said for raising the ceiling when it can reach that level – even if it means lowering the floor. Plus, if Leonard left, Toronto could more easily transition into its next phase than if DeRozan and Lowry remained on the books.

This trade framework makes too much sense for the teams not to discuss it. But whether that’d result in an actual deal is another question.

Report: Kawhi Leonard considering participating in Gregg Popovich-led Team USA minicamp

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The Spurs want to repair their relationship with Kawhi Leonard and keep him long-term. Leonard wants to leave San Antonio. Potential trade partners want to know more about his health and mindset.

Something has to give.

Maybe it will next week.

Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich, taking over Team USA, will direct a minicamp in Las Vegas. Leonard is invited and – in a surprising development after he missed the few months of the season due to a quad injury – might actually play.

Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is seriously considering participation in the USA Basketball national team’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week, an event for the embattled All-NBA forward to showcase the status of his recovery to prospective trade partners, league sources told ESPN.

Among NBA teams and USA Basketball officials, there is a belief that Leonard wants to participate in the camp, but could be dissuaded based on ancillary concerns.

Leonard holds some enthusiasm for showcasing his revitalized health in the wake of the quad injury that has been at the center of discord between the Spurs and him, sources said. The question being debated, sources said, is whether participating in the Team USA camp will ignite trade talks that deliver him to his preferred destination — the Lakers — or give the Spurs more cause to hold on to Leonard and push him to report to training camp in September.

For what it’s worth, there is conflicting reporting about Leonard’s preferred destination. Some say it’s the Clippers.

This low-intensity camp won’t be a chance for Leonard to prove he’s fully healthy, but he can show enough to ignite trade interest. Maybe that helps propel him out of San Antonio – though if it’s not to Los Angeles, how much would that mean to Leonard?

The camp could also give Leonard and Popovich a chance to reconnect. Depending on whom you believe, maybe some in Leonard’s camp or even Leonard himself don’t want to give the Spurs boss that opportunity.

If Leonard goes to Las Vegas, it’d become a media circus. All his movements and interactions, especially with Popovich, would be closely scrutinized. At one point, I would have figured the reserved Leonard would want no part of that. But I now believe we incorrectly assumed too much about him just because he’s quiet.

So, I’m not entirely sure what he wants – or what direction participating in this camp would send him.

Leonard knows more about the former. It’s on him to evaluate the latter.

Report: Kings get Ben McLemore back in trade with Grizzlies

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Since the NBA instituted a four-year rookie scale for first-rounders in 1998, just 22 top-10 picks spent their entire rookie-scale contract with their original team then left that team in free agency.

Many stayed on their first team long-term. Others got traded while teams were still intrigued by the talent that got the player drafted so high in the first place. Some were signed-and-traded, the threat of restricted free agency giving teams one last chance to recoup value from a high pick.

There’s a certain stagnancy with a player’s development and a team’s decision-making when a team drafts someone high, holds him for his entire rookie-scale contract then just watches him leave in his first free agency.

Former No. 2 pick Jabari Parker is an atypical example of that rare situation, as he was picked especially high before the Bucks let his value drain until he signed with the Bulls last week.

Ben McLemore is far more representative.

The Kings drafted him No. 7 in 2013, and his production oscillated between degrees of poor. Sacramento explored trading him numerous times, but never pulled the trigger. The Kings didn’t even extend him a qualifying offer last summer, and he signed with the Grizzlies.

It was a failure of development by McLemore and foresight by Sacramento. The Kings clearly just never figured what to do with McLemore – which makes this trade, oh, so special.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian:

To be fair to the Kings, maybe this isn’t about McLemore at all. He could just be a salary for matching purposes, the player receiving it completely irrelevant.

All three traded players are on expiring contracts. All three are overpaid based on their production. Temple is the best and highest-paid player in the deal. Davis and McLemore have better chances of helping Sacramento win meaningfully.

The Kings, generously, have minimal chance of winning a satisfactorily next season. Temple wasn’t going to change that, and at 32, he had little chance of helping once Sacramento was ready.

McLemore is a longshot to ever become an effective rotation player, but he has the requisite size and athleticism for an NBA shooting guard, and he’s not old at age 25. The 21-year-old Davis is far more intriguing as a bouncy center, but he must make major strides in effort and awareness.

Even as low-odds bets, Davis and McLemore offer more to Sacramento than Temple did. The second-rounder and cash only improve the Kings’ return.

Sacramento also opens $995,049 in additional cap space. Could that go toward signing another restricted free agent to an offer sheet after the Bulls matched Zach LaVine‘s? Marcus Smart? Rodney Hood? Clint Capela?

Temple is the biggest winner of the trade. He opted in for $8 million next season, even though that meant committing to the lowly Kings. But now he gets his money and gets to join a better team. He might even start at shooting guard in Memphis. Temple is a fine player and an upgrade for the wing-hungry Grizzlies. But he’s also 32 and showed slippage last year. Memphis hopes a change in scenery will solve that and it wasn’t simply aging.

The Grizzlies were wise to bet on Temple considering the low cost of acquiring him. They’re trying to win now, which isn’t necessarily the wrong move with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley under contract. It’ll still be an uphill battle in the loaded West, but Temple is another helpful addition along with Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi and Jevon Carter this summer.

Report: Nemanja Bjelica backs out of contract agreement with 76ers to return to Europe

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Nemanja Bjelica had his $4,937,499 qualifying offer pulled by the Timberwolves (so they could sign Anthony Tolliver while remaining out of the luxury tax).

Bjelica rebounded with the 76ers, agreeing to take the $4,449,000 room exception for one year.

But…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

DeAndre Jordan 2.0? Maybe. We don’t know exactly what, if any, contingencies Bjelica and Philadelphia put on the agreement.

A key distinction: Jordan pledged to sign with the Mavericks and reneged all during the July moratorium, when he couldn’t officially sign. Bjelica’s deal with Philadelphia came out a day before the moratorium ended, and he could have signed during the last 11 days.

Teams often delay signing players with the room exception, because they can exceed the cap with it. But the 76ers have long used up their cap space. Unless they have a bigger deal in mind and asked Bjelica to wait just in case, they should have known for a while something might be amiss.

Bjelica is better than any remaining unrestricted free agent, so he won’t be easily replaced. Philadelphia will probably hold its room exception for potential buyout players, as it’s unclear anyone available could command more than a minimum salary.

The 76ers certainly viewed Bjelica as a replacement for Ersan Ilyasova, who left for the Bucks. Depth matters, but at least Philadelphia still has a stretch four in Dario Saric, who improved his range (and a lot more) last season.

Bjelica’s defection will also help, though not solve, the 76ers’ roster crunch. They still have 16 players clearly getting standard contracts – one more than the regular-season limit – and 2017 second-round Jonah Bolden has stated a plan to sign with Philadelphia for next season. So, the 76ers might have to buy out Jerryd Bayless and/or waive players like Justin Anderson and Furkan Korkmaz.