Baseline to Baseline recaps: Melo? We don’t need no stinkin’ ‘Melo?

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What you missed while you were getting arrested fighting over Girl Scout cookies

The Lakers beatdown of the Hawks was our game of the night.

Nuggets 120, Grizzlies 107: That, my friends, is what passion can do.

The Melodrama had this team playing like the walking dead for a month. There was no passion — except from Carmelo Anthony trying to fill up the stat sheet — as this team just meandered through games.

‘Melo is gone and the Nugget team that took the floor cared again (all nine of them). They showed real pride again. The rebounding, the screen setting — all the hustle categories Denver dominated. My god, they defended, holding the Grizzlies to 35 percent shooting in the second quarter when the Nuggets pulled away. J.R. Smith was 6-of-11 from three and finished with 26 points and 8 boards, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo each had 21 points. Nene was a beast inside (until he fouled out).

Memphis had been playing well but they played the wrong team on the wrong night. Denver needed this one and they went out and got it. On one other note, the Grizzlies seemed to be showcasing O.J. Mayo for potential suitors, and he looked pretty good scoring 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting.

Bobcats 114, Raptors 101: The All-Star break did not change the Raptors —were not playing any defense, giving up 33 points in the first quarter. The Bobcats got to the line 42 times and Toronto helped out with 15 turnovers. Charlotte (not exactly an offensive juggernaut) finished at a 120 points per 100 possessions pace.

Pacers 113, Wizards 96: Indiana’s bench won this one for them — the Pacers were down five and playing sloppy (six first quarter turnovers) when coach Frank Vogel put in five new guys for the second quarter and that sparked an instant 10-1 run and things just took off from there. The Pacers led by 27 at one point and cruised through the fourth quarter.

Rockets 108, Pistons 100: This was a one-point game with four minutes to go, but the Pistons had no answer for Patrick Patterson inside. You read that right, Patrick Patterson. He had 8 points in the final five minutes (20 points overall) by running the floor as a big in transition and cutting without the ball. Then the Pistons do things in crunch time like leave Brad Miller wide open from 16 feet (the one thing Brad Miller has always done well is knock that shot down). Meanwhile the Pistons could not execute — bad decisions by Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon, plus misses by Austin Daye.

Heat 117, Kings 97: Miami came out with a bit of fire, Sacramento came out without Tyreke Evans. It was 35-16 after one quarter. Then it got more boring. Credit the Heat for being efficient, but we stopped watching the slaughter early on.

Thunder 111, Clippers 88: It was 47-44 Thunder with four minutes left in the second quarter when Blake Griffin had to go to the bench with his third foul. He was replaced by Brian Cook, and that is never good. The Thunder went on an instant 15-0 run and it was 62-46 at half. That was the ballgame, the Clippers never climbed out of that hole.

Bucks, 94 Timberwolves 88: There was some sloppy execution down the stretch of a tight game. Brandon Jennings pushed on a break when there was nothing there and got blocked. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute ended up with the ball where he had to create off the dribble (that was a turnover). Darko Milicic with a missed 5 footer. Carlos Delfino airballing a corner three. Luke Ridnour taking a contested corner three with Andrew Bogut doing the closout.

Brandon Jennings got to the line and hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final two minutes, and those were the only points by either team. Bucks win. But it wasn’t pretty.

Celtics 115, Warriors 93: Oracle Arena is Boston’s own little house of horrors, they had not won there since 2003. The Celtics played no defense in the first half, giving up 30 points each of the first two quarters. They gave up 33 the entire second half. When the Warriors made a fourth quarter run to try and get back in it Doc Rivers sent the starters back in and squashed it with an 18-2 run. This was actually a good win for Boston. Rondo had 19 points, 15 boards and was in charge of this game.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.

 

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

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When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Sheppard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Sheppard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.

Cameron Payne reportedly agrees to partially-guaranteed contract with Toronto

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Cameron Payne was the starting point guard at one point early in the season in Chicago (until Kris Dunn returned), it didn’t last long, and by the middle of the season he was waived. The Cavaliers picked him up in a limited role at the end of the season.

Payne played for Dallas at Summer League and needed to impress there to have a shot a roster spot for next season. He did, averaging 20 points per game on 51 percent shooting, and he had one 32-point game.

The Toronto Raptors will bring Payne and let him compete to be the third point guard, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Raptors have Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at the point, there are not a lot of minutes to be had there. However, both men are in the final year of their contracts. Plus, he brings some pregame dancing that every team needs.

The Raptors now have 16 potential NBA contracts coming into training camp, which means there will be cuts. The fact Payne has a decent guarantee his first year means he’s going to get a real look.

Payne, the No. 14 pick of the Thunder back in 2015, has struggled to find a fit in the NBA. While his skill set should fit the modern game, he doesn’t quite shoot or distribute well enough to earn a coach’s trust. He will try to change that with Nick Nurse.