LeBron suggests contraction might not be a bad thing

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LeBron James never actually used the word contraction.

But that is how it came off when he talked about three big name players in Miami being good for the sport, how a game against the Lakers was a reminder of better times.

“How can it be bad for basketball when you have guys who want to win playing on the same team?” he said. “Hopefully, the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the ’80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team. The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is…

“We had more (star) players on the team, which made almost every game anticipated, not just the Christmas Day game or the Halloween game, things like that,” James said.

“It’s not my job; I’m a player, but that is why the league was so great,” James said. “Imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the (league). Looking at some of the teams that aren’t that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that aren’t that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good.

“I’m not saying let’s take New Jersey and let’s take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid, I’m not stupid, it would be great for the league.”

Billy Hunter would like to thank you for telling David Stern there needs to be fewer NBA jobs as he heads into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiation.

Back in say 1985, there were seven fewer teams in the league than there are now. But there were still bad teams and James would have to look no farther than his local Cleveland Cavaliers to see it (well, he was 1 at the time so he may not remember a lot). That squad was led by World B. Free (coached by George Karl) and after that it was guys that Cavs fans have a fondness for but didn’t really light the league on fire. There was Roy Hinson and Melvin Turpin and John Bagley and even guys like Mark West. That was not the Celtics or Lakers.

Back in the 80s the game was exciting in part because the pace was faster — Seattle played at the slowest pace in 1985 of 97.4 possessions per game, this season that would be the second fastest team in the league. Faster than the Knicks or the Warriors. And make no mistake, the talent on those teams was pretty concentrated in the 1980s — look at the Lakers and Celtics rosters compared to the rest of the league.

The NBA’s talent pool is much deeper now than it was in 1985 — the influx of international players alone brings in a lot more quality players. The popularity of the sport that was sparked by Magic and Bird and taken to another level by Jordan changed how many American youth play the game, which means more good American players to choose from.

We could go through any NBA era and say “what if we pulled World B. Free off those Cavs teams and put him on the Bucks with Terry Cummings and Sidney Moncrief, wouldn’t that be great?” But I’m not convinced that is what would make the league better.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook forming unprecedented MVP backcourt

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By rejecting the Thunder’s sub-max contract-extension offer seven years ago, James Harden set two superstar careers in motion.

When last teammates, Russell Westbrook and Harden complemented each other fairly well. Westbrook was a young star, prone to wild play. Harden was a backup who provided steadiness. Both were very good. Neither was great. They leaned on each other.

Separated, both blossomed into Most Valuable Players.

Westbrook advanced through stardom then really took off when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City. Westbrook became an all-around marvel, averaging a triple-double with excellent clutch play in 2016-17. He won MVP, edging Harden in the closest vote of the last dozen years.

After multiple runner-up finishes, Harden snagged the award the next year. He led the Rockets with one of the best offensive seasons in NBA history then topped himself last year.

Now, Harden and Westbrook reunite in Houston. Barring a sudden drop, they’ll become the first teammates in NBA history who are both in-their-prime former MVP guards. The pairing offers incredible upside – but plenty of potential pitfalls.

Harden and Westbrook will become just the fourth duo to play together within three years of already having won MVP, joining:

  • Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (2017 Warriors)
  • Moses Malone and Julius Erving (1983 and 1984 76ers)
  • Bill Russell and Bob Cousy (1959 and 1960 Celtics)

Those other top-end twosomes had more positional balance. Curry is a guard, Durant a forward. Malone was a center, Erving a forward. Russell was a center, Cousy a guard.

Harden and Westbrook will be just the third set of former MVP guards ever to play together. The other two:

  • Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash (2013 and 2014 Lakers)
  • Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy (1970 Cincinnati Royals)

By the time he got to Los Angeles, Nash was rapidly declining out of stardom. Bryant missed nearly all of their second season together due to injury. Nash was washed up by that point, anyway. After six years of retirement, Cousy – who was coaching the Royals – returned to play seven games mostly as a publicity stunt.

Harden, 29, is definitely still in his prime. Westbrook remained in his prime last season. Though there’s risk the 30-year-old reliant on his athleticism falls off quickly, Westbrook should remain pretty darn good next season.

That creates a tough question for the Rockets: How do they deploy both stars?

Star guards generally provide their value by handling the ball. That’s why super teams have rarely stocked up on multiple guards. The fit is especially tricky because both Harden and Westbrook are lead guards. Westbrook has spent his whole NBA career at point guard. Harden has become so good at point guard under Mike D’Antoni, there’s no going back now.

Harden is better than Westbrook. But Harden’s superior shooting also makes him a far better off-ball player than Westbrook. When Westbrook is away from the ball, defenses will sag off him and clog spacing.

Will the Rockets take the ball from their best player to give it to their second-best player? That doesn’t seem ideal.

Westbrook can attack scrambled defenses rotating back to him when he gets the ball from Harden. But closeouts won’t be coming hard at Westbrook.

One of the disappointing developments of Harden’s time with Chris Paul was Harden not developing his off-ball game. Harden just doesn’t seem into whizzing around screens, pressuring defenses without the ball.

Harden also hasn’t shown much pace in starting his moves in isolation. He often pounds the ball until the shot clock gets low, neutralizing his teammates. That was a problem when Harden played with Paul. It’ll be an even bigger issue with Westbrook.

Maybe Westbrook’s attacking style will spread to Harden. The duo could be dangerous if attacking quickly. But there are questions about whether an up-tempo system would wear down Harden before the end of a deep playoff run.

Harden and Westbrook can stagger their minutes as much as possible. That’ll allow each time to have the offense catered to him. But that will still leave significant time they must share the court.

And that’s only offensively. The defensive issues are far worse.

Harden is a lousy defender at everything other than guarding post-ups. Westbrook is sometimes active and often reckless defensively. His reliability on that end is low.

P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela can cover for some miscues in front of them. But that’s a big ask, especially with Eric Gordon playing in three-guard lineups.

D’Antoni has never looked especially interested in defense. It’s hard to see who will address the inevitable problems, if they’re even solvable.

But the Rockets get a major talent boost with Westbrook. He’s better and more durable than Paul. The upgrade is evident with the picks surrendered and extra year of salary absorbed by Houston.

That’s what the Rockets are betting on – MVP-level talent, no matter how it comes.

Report: After two-year, $21 million deal falls apart, Knicks signing Reggie Bullock for less than room exception

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Reggie Bullock agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with the Knicks.

He’ll get far less.

A health issue became apparent before the original deal was finalized. So, New York used nearly all its remaining cap space on Marcus Morris, who got a one-year, $15 million contract.

That left only the $4,767,000 room exception available for Bullock.

And he won’t get even get all that.

Ian Begley of SNY:

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

That’s a tough turn for Bullock. Less than the room exception and a team option – man. I wonder how much more, if any, Bullock got than his minimum ($2,028,594).

But David Bauman sure sounds pleased with the process. If his agent isn’t slamming the Knicks, Bullock hopefully also feels treated fairly.

This significant drop in salary sure signals major health concerns.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has rough go of hitting baseball off tee with New York Yankees (video)

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NEW YORK (AP) In hoops, Giannis Antetokounmpo is court royalty. But in baseball, he’s a complete rookie.

In fact, the 24-year-old from Greece said he’d never even touched a baseball before he did so Monday night at Yankee Stadium.

The reigning NBA MVP was shocked.

“It was really heavy,” Antetokounmpo told The Associated Press. “I thought it would be lighter.”

The Milwaukee Bucks star went on to take a few swings in the batting cage beneath the stands before the Yankees faced the Tampa Bay Rays. The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo got some coaching, with limited results – he swung and missed once with the ball on a tee, and made light contact on two other tries.

“I would be a terrible baseball player,” he said.

The “Greek Freak” was in the Bronx with his three brothers to promote his new signature sneaker and signed a pair for a fan – Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia.

Antetokounmpo watched the Yankees take batting practice, which reinforced his notion that he wasn’t destined for the diamond.

“I saw Aaron Judge hitting the ball into the stands. That’s amazing. You’ve got to be really strong to do that,” he said.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NBA 2K20 ratings released, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard earn 97s to lead way

NBA 2K20
Via 2K Sports
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How do NBA players measure respect? There are a few ways, with the size of the paycheck being at the top of the list. Awards and accolades fit in there.

However, few things rile guys up like their NBA 2K rankings. Most play the game, and their ranking (out of 100) is seen as a measure of status among fellow players and fans.

2K Sports unveiled the top rankings for NBA 2K20 in a live-streamed show on Monday night, and LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard got the top honors. Here’s the top 20:

1. LeBron James 97
2. Kawhi Leonard 97
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo 96
4. Kevin Durant 96
5. James Harden 96
6. Stephen Curry 96
7. Anthony Davis 94
8. Paul George 93
9. Damian Lillard 92
10. Joel Embiid 91
11. Kyrie Irving 91
12. Nikola Jokic 90
13. Russell Westbrook 90
14. Klay Thompson 89
15. Karl-Anthony Towns 89
16. Jimmy Butler 88
17. Kemba Walker 88
18. Donovan Mitchell 88
19. Rudy Gobert 88
20. Blake Griffin 88

The highest-rated rookie: Of course it was Zion Williamson (81).

Anthony Davis is on the cover of NBA 2K20, which will be released on Sept. 6. Sorry, you’ve got to wait until then to play it, but here is an early teaser video.