Which teams are most impacted by LeBron James not touring for free agency?

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We told you earlier that LeBron would not be going on a worldwide tour of his free agent destinations as had been previously reported. But the question now is, which teams are most impacted by that decision? Let’s take a look at the candidates and rank the impact this has on their chances on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “no change” and 5 being “dramatically impacts.” 

New Jersey Nets: Like we filled you in earlier, the Nets will get first swing, and they’re bringing Jay-Z as their big bat. James decision not to tour the free agent cities helps the Nets quite a bit, evening the field. Why? Because they’re not in Brooklyn for another two years. James knows all the free agency spots, having visited then already. But trying to pitch him on the draws of Newark versus the other locations for two very long years was going to be a hard sell (no offense, Newark). Now the Nets can bring in their basketball impact, with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, and the financial benefits of being involved with Jay-Z and Prokhorov. Two years from now this would have hurt the Nets. But meeting James in Akron may be a blessing in disguise in the Nets’ now slim-hopes of landing the King. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 3 (Positive)
Los Angeles Clippers: James hosting the Clippers in Los Angeles is a mixed bag for the still-headless club.  On the one hand, bringing James to the LA hot spots and showing him the gorgeous weather would have been a nice boost for them, the best part of their pitch, really. The team’s not very good, on top of being perennially snake bitten, so pitching James hard on the glamorous life in LA would have been ideal. On the other hand, not bringing him to LA means he won’t see how deeply that city is invested in Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and how James will always be viewed as a sideshow to the other LA city. Plus, there’s always the chance of James being heckled in public by devoted Kobe zealots who can’t seem to get over comparisons of the two, despite them playing completely different positions with different skill-sets and games.The overall impact is negated by these conflicting factors. Let’s face it, the Clippers have no shot. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 2 (Neutral)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Home court advantage. With James not going to see the bright lights of the bigger cities, it means more time for him to be home, with everyone wanting him not to abandon them. The Cavs walk out of this arrangement in even better position to re-sign him. If you’re anything like me, whenever I visit a place, I’m constantly saying “I could definitely live here” whenever I’m having a good time (I said that precise thing about Omaha, Nebraska last night. I could not live in Omaha, Nebraska). With James not leaving town, it means that the other cities’ advantages in non-basketball matters will be negated. This is a huge asset for the Cavs, who will be relying on the fact that James has won 60 games with the clubs in the past two seasons, and home, after all, is where the heart is. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Positive)
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls could show him the great dining and awesome Chicago way of life if James were to visit, sure. But unlike Miami or Los Angeles, they don’t have great weather. Unlike New York, Chicago isn’t the center of the cultural universe (though it’s definitely close in orbit). So what does this mean for Chicago? Simple. They can walk into the meeting and say “If you want your best chance over the next ten years to win a championship, you’ll choose Chicago. Thanks for your time.” and walk out. Okay, they won’t actually do that. But they could. With Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose as the core assets, the Bulls can focus on basketball with James, and that is a huge leg up for them. Chicago itself has a global reputation that precedes it. The Bulls can use that as an advance and then focus on the team and it’s two-max-free-agent cap space. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Positive)
New York Knicks: Well, they’re screwed.  The Knicks had a luxurious feast being prepared by a top-name chef. Everything was in place to show James why he should choose the greatest city in the world. And now? Trying to sell the Knicks without New York is like trying to pitch a father of two on going to Disneyland from the bar. It just sounds like a lot of hassle compared to where you’re at. The Knicks feature a series of swapped picks over the next few years, and their next best player is a young Italian sharpshooter named “The Rooster.” Mike D’Antoni may have to resort to offers like “I’ll make sure you break Wilt’s scoring record” or “We can get you a sextuple double.” This is a pretty big disaster for Knicks fans. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Negative)
Miami Heat: It has not been a great week for the Heat. First, the Chicago Bulls managed to dump off Kirk Hinrich’s contract, meaning they can now offer nearly two-max free agents, the same as the Heat. Then this news, which devastates the Heat’s chances. Let’s face it, the Heat are clinging to two things. 1. If James comes to Miami, Dwyane Wade will re-sign. And that’s still a very good pitch. And 2. the weather. That’s it. The team is in complete ruins, having dumped off everyone to make room for free agents, except there’s no guarantee of there being anything to surround the two big fish. Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley are literally the remaining core. And when you shape that up against the other teams vying for James? Only the Knicks are in worst shape. When the Clippers can show they have a roster closer to a championship than you do? You need the weather. And oh, was the weather a big deal. Throw in the friendly tax laws, which James will be reading on some sort of PowerPoint presentation instead of seeing in action, and the Heat are still one of the top bidders, but this is not good news for them. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Negative)

Ryan Saunders reportedly likely to stay on as Minnesota head coach

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When Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said this a few weeks back, it was pretty clear interim coach Ryan Saunders was probably staying on after the season and getting the job full time.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]. It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start. I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”<

Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler sabotaged the team’s season early on in a push to get out of town, a move that came with a high price coach/GM Tom Thibodeau. Remember Thibodeau wanted to speed up the winning and to get Butler traded Zach LaVine and just drafted Lauri Markkanen, but when Butler didn’t work out in Minny Thibs was doomed.

If you want more evidence that Saunders is staying on, there is this reporting from the well-connected Marc Stein of The New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Saunders, who turns 33 in April, is known to have a strong relationship with the All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played some of the best basketball of his career since the departures of Butler and Thibodeau.

The growing expectation around the league is that the credit Saunders will get for his impact on and the buy-in from Towns will more than offset ownership’s disappointment about returning to the draft lottery.

Towns is the franchise cornerstone, one of the top centers and top 10-12 players in the league, if Saunders can get the most out of him — and so far he has — then that is a good reason to keep him around.

When Sauders got the coaching job, Scott Layden took over as GM. His job is not as secure. There have been rumors about Taylor wanting to go big game hunting — specifically Chauncey Billups — but it seems the Timberwolves are likely to go another direction.

Calvin Booth, a Denver executive who the Nuggets hired away from the Timberwolves before the 2017-18 season, is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate to replace Layden if Taylor does make a change.

Whoever gets the GM job, retooling the Timberwolves roster around Towns will now be difficult — Thibodeau showed no patience and now they are paying the price. Towns’ well-deserved max extension kicks in next season and that gives Minnesota two of max deals for young players — Andrew Wiggins is maxed out as well and an anchor on any rebuild (he has four years at the max after this season, good luck trading that). Don’t forget Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million next season. If Jeff Teague opts into his $19 million for next season, the Timberwolves will have very little room to maneuver and shore up the roster.

All of that will make Saunder’s job a real challenge.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

Associated Press
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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.