Where do the bucks stop for Brendan Haywood?

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Depending on how you classify players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Brendan Haywood is likely the top center in this free agent class. He’s a skilled defender and a seven-footer who can finish open opportunities; in the NBA, that’s a combination that brings a serious paycheck.

Now that the games have begun, Haywood is being pursued from a number of interesting angles. On the one hand, there are the incumbent Dallas Mavericks, the team that traded for Haywood mid-season. At the time, it was made clear that the Mavs’ real target in the Josh Howard trade was not Howard’s replacement, Caron Butler, but the defensive big man who could help to anchor the Dallas D. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson even said as much. However, Brendan may not have been feeling the same love by the end of the playoffs, after he and Rick Carlisle butted heads on a few occasions.

Still, Dallas can offer Haywood more money than any other team over the cap by using his Bird rights. While other contenders are throwing Brendan the full mid-level exception, Dallas is expected to offer around $8 million per year. That’s a substantial difference, particularly if the Mavs sign Brendan to a long-term deal.

The competition is pretty intense, though, and a lot of Brendan’s decision likely hinges on how the top tier of free agency shakes out. The Cleveland Cavaliers have expressed their interest in bringing in Haywood to replace Shaquille O’Neal, a move that really only makes sense for Brendan if LeBron James is still on board. A sign-and-trade seems to be the Cavs’ only option; they began free agency technically under the salary cap (which means no mid-level exception), yet their cap holds will prevent them from making any serious plays for Haywood’s services.

Plus, wouldn’t it be a bit weird for Haywood to play alongside a once reviled opponent in LeBron James?

The Miami Heat have also contacted Haywood, which presents a far more interesting opportunity. While it’s still unclear whether LeBron would really want to return to the Cavs, it seems as though someone of note is going to end up with the Heat. Dwyane Wade is resolved to bring a notable free agent to South Beach, and even if it’s not LeBron or Chris Bosh, it could present a great opening for Haywood. The other center options are slim, and Brendan could likely do a lot of good (and make quite a bit of coin for himself) playing alongside, say, Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire. That free agent trio doesn’t quite have the drawing power of a the James-Wade-Bosh supergroup, but it’s the foundation of a contender: an MVP caliber wing, a high-scoring, offensive-minded forward, and a big center with a mind for defense.

Haywood has also caught the eye of the reigning Eastern Conference champs, and given the Celtics’ success over the last few seasons, I’d expect that they could at least keep Haywood on the line. But again, the only realistic option for Boston is to use their full MLE to sign Haywood, and for a player who hasn’t really had a big NBA payday of yet, that may not be enough. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN threw out the idea of a sign-and-trade for the retiring Rasheed Wallace, who could subsequently be bought out. I just don’t see the angle for Dallas. If Haywood is going to walk anyway, why would the Mavs agree to take on additional salary (even if it is just a smaller chunk of Sheed’s total salary) just to see him go?

Ultimately, total dollar amount is even more important to a player like Haywood than it would be to a James or Wade, who not only have plenty of years ahead of them, but endorsement opportunities galore. Brendan’s already 30, and this could be his last substantial NBA contract. That should motivate him to sign with the highest competitive bidder, even with other intriguing options on the table. Unless the Heat, Cavaliers, Celtics, or others can put together a package to rival the Mavericks’ potential offer financially, the odds are Haywood re-signs in Dallas for a deal worth more than the MLE.

UPDATE 11:57 AM
: According to Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld, the Detroit Pistons are also offering Haywood their full mid-level exception. However, they’re the Pistons. They’re obligated to pay the dynamic duo of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva almost $80 million through ’13-’14. Need I say more?

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”