NBA Playoffs, Celtics Cavaliers Game 6: Shaq has plenty riding on this game, too

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Thumbnail image for ONeal_Dunk.jpgIn 10 years, we’re all going to really miss Shaquille O’Neal.

The player, I mean. Shaq the pop culture personality will still be around on one reality show or another. But on the court he’ll be missed, the classic bruising big body, but with amazing quickness for his size. In some ways, his legacy is already set there — the man has four rings and was the most dominant center of his generation. He’ll be mentioned with Wilt and Kareem and Russell.

But he’s still got a lot on the line — starting tonight.

Shaq’s ego still demands he best Kobe (that is a two-way street, right there). Both have four rings, one ring without the other. But Kobe is well positioned to pick up another one or two in the next few years — the Lakers are a well-stocked team.

Shaq is running out of time. He came to Cleveland to help (or ride the coattails) of LeBron James to a ring. Now they might not even get out of the second round. No rings in that. Shaq needs a win tonight to keep that dream alive.

And after this season, then what? He needs this win to keep the aura of Shaq the winner going, to help his bank account if nothing else.

O’Neal has said he wants to play until he’s 40. And frankly, he can. You’re not going to 82 games of focused play out of him (nobody ever did) but he came back from his injury this year in the best shape he has been in for a long while. In the crucial Game 5, he was the one Cavalier who showed up to play.

At the end of this season he will be a free agent. There will be interest in him. But the multi-million dollar question is:

How big a pay cut will Shaq accept?

This season he is making $20 million. He has made that much or more for the last nine seasons? But what is a part-time center of Shaq’s caliber really worth on the open market? Probably in the $7 million range — a little above the average NBA salary.

Would Shaq accept that? He might not have to — if these Cavaliers come back and win it all, he can claim he helped lead them, that you are paying a little more for a locker-room leader. A winner. Maybe in this economy, he shouldn’t bet on that, but it’s a pitch.

Regardless of what happens in Game 6 Shaq may well not be back in Cleveland. He slows down a team that should run more. The Cavs went out and got him because they needed to counter Dwight Howard (which if they lose tonight because the Celtics are just quicker will be ironic). Bottom line, whether LeBron James stays or goes, the Cavs need to revamp their roster and get younger.

There will be interest from teams around the league. Solid centers who can help with marketing have a place in the league. But that gig doesn’t pay what it used to — and Shaq is used to being paid for being much more than serviceable.

Unless he can still say he’s a winner. Because he has those five rings. But needs a win tonight for any of that.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.