Gasol, Bryant end Lakers’ losing streak, spoil Paul’s return to the court

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The Los Angeles Clippers held the lead over the Lakers for most of the game on Wednesday night, but were unable to put the game away at any point, and ended up succumbing to the Lakers because of Pau Gasol’s aggressive play and yet another late-game takeover by a Mr. Kobe Bryant.

The Clippers got off to a hot start against the Lakers, and they might have gone into halftime with a double-digit lead if it weren’t for Pau Gasol’s excellent play. Gasol absolutely eviscerated the Clippers’ interior defense by making contested shots in the post, aggressive drives to the rim, attacking the offensive glass and swishing jumpers from both short and mid-range. Gasol came into Wednesday night’s game averaging just over 15 points a game — by halftime, he already had 17 points on 7-9 shooting.

After the game, Mike Brown, who mentioned both before and after the game that he had stopped a prior day’s practice to hug Gasol after he made an aggressive rim-run and get post position in transition, expressed how pleased he was with Gasol’s play, saying “he was impressive the whole night, whether he got the ball in the high or low post. We like to move him around; he’s a versatile guy, he’s a guy that doesn’t need to post all the time, he can face up and shoot jumpers, he can face up and take you off the dribble, he can pass the ball out of the post and you saw that all tonight. His aggressiveness was phenomenal.”

Gasol’s defense on Blake Griffin was also excellent — Griffin scored 4 of his first 5 baskets on 3 turnaround jumpers from the post and a spot-up jumper from midrange, but after Gasol allowed one dunk by biting on a Griffin shot-fake, he stayed grounded and refused to bite on any of Griffin’s shot-fakes, which allowed him to use his size advantage to bottle him up. Griffin finished with 26 points, but he didn’t make a free throw all game, needed 22 field goal attempts to get his points, and shot an abnormally good 6-10 on shots outside of the paint, so all in all Mike Brown has to have been pleased with the job he did on the Clippers’ superstar power forward.

While Gasol’s play kept the Lakers within striking distance for most of the game, it was, unsurprisingly, Kobe Bryant that triggered the run that ultimately gave the Lakers the win in the fourth quarter. Bryant made three fourth-quarter jumpers to put the Lakers up by one point with five minutes remaining, then pulled down a crucial offensive rebound minutes later and dished the ball to a wide-open Metta World Peace, who calmly swished the open three to give the Lakers a five-point lead and control of the game. With the Lakers up 2 with 40 seconds to play, Bryant lofted a perfect lob pass to Andrew Bynum, who made the catch, came down, and softly laid the ball in to officially put the game out of reach for Del Negro’s Clippers, whose late-game execution was absolutely miserable — on a key possession, a Clipper play out of a time-out resulted in Blake Griffin shooting a three, which he missed while getting called for stepping out of bounds.

While Chris Paul managed to dish out 12 assists in his 1st game back from a hamstring injury, he looked tentative on offense, and finished with only four points on 2-8 shooting from the field — in fact, Laker rookie guard Andrew Goudelock, who had a breakout 14-point performance, managed to handily outscore one of the best scoring point guards in the league. After the game, Mike Brown was glad that the Lakers made Paul “work for his shots” and noted that the Laker bigs did a very good job of getting up the floor on pick-and-rolls and not allowing Paul to have too much space to operate, which led to him having to go through two or more Laker defenders on each possession.

It was a chippy game, with a flagrant foul, six combined technical fouls, one ejection, and lots and lots of trash-talking between the two teams, but after the game neither the players or the coaches seemed to have an issue with the “chippiness” of the game, although nobody seemed eager to admit that the Lakers and Clippers are now rivals, either. The Clippers certainly played with intensity under the rim, but they were unable to make that intensity work for them — they finished the game with 15 fewer made free throws than the Lakers, and while they did a great job of grabbing offensive rebounds, they shot only 4-15 on 2nd-chance opportunities, something Mike Brown was very pleased about after the game.

Overall, it was a hard-fought game, and it looks like a fun new rivalry is brewing in the City of Angels, even if nobody will admit it. The Clippers have shown all season that they’re not just LA’s “other team” anymore, and continued to show it in the first three and a half quarters of Wednesday’s game, but when it was all said and done they simply didn’t have enough to hold off an apparently rejuvenated Gasol and a vintage close-out performance from a five-time NBA champion.

Report: Rockets tried to give away Chris Paul, but teams – including Knicks – said no

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey not only denied a report that Chris Paul demanded a trade, Morey said Paul would remain in Houston next season.

We might never know how tense the situation has gotten between Paul and James Harden. We might never know whether Paul requested a trade.

But we will know whether Paul begins next season in Houston.

Morey’s credibility is on the line with that. Will he really refuse to trade Paul? That’s not Morey’s style.

More likely, Morey made that declaration only after exhausting the market for Paul and the three years, $124,076,442 remaining on his contract.

Shams Charania of The Athletic, via CBS:

There’s not a team in the league right now that is like, “I’m going to go trade for Chris Paul.” Even some teams that they’ve called, I’m told, as just a dump, like, “We’ll give you Chris Paul for free,” those teams are like “We’re good.” So, the value just is not there right now.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York’s cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources.

Good for the Knicks resisting. With Kyrie Irving apparently (maybe?) headed to the Nets and Kevin Durant‘s future up in the air, that’s the type of desperate move New York is known to make.

Paul, 34, is overpaid and declining. No team should absorb his contract into cap space.

But he’s still pretty good. Not nearly as good as he once was, but good enough to help the Rockets. Their championship window hasn’t necessarily snapped completely shut yet. There’s value in keeping Paul and trying to repair his and Harden’s relationship.

There also might be better opportunities later in the summer to trade Paul. Teams want to preserve their cap space now for free agents. But some teams will strike out and might view Paul as a good fallback option.

Of course, if Morey thought a deal later in the offseason were a possibility, he probably wouldn’t have so explicitly insisted Paul will remain in Houston.

Report: Minnesota “aggressive” in trying to trade up in draft, talked to Pelicans about fourth pick

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are slotted to pick 11th in the NBA Draft Thursday night. There they could land players along the lines of Brandon Clarke or Rui Hachimura, both of Gonzaga.

The Timberwolves have their sights set higher and they are looking to move up in the draft — maybe all the way to No. 4, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic fleshed out some details.

Among the options being considered, as first reported by ESPN, is moving all the way up to No. 4, presumably for a shot at Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. He missed most of his lone season in college due to a knee injury, but prior to that was widely scouted as the top point guard in the draft class. Interest in such a move is indicative of Rosas’s mindset of star-chasing, an approach honed in Houston.

That sounds great in theory, but what is the deal to be made for the fourth pick? David Griffin of the Pelicans has made it clear the No. 4 pick is available, but they want a veteran — and one not too old — in return. The Timberwolves don’t have that guy on their roster. (Technically they do in Andrew Wiggins, but that’s not a contract — four years, $122.3 million remaining — that the Pelicans would take on.)

Minnesota’s head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas told The Athletic how hard this kind of trade can be.

“The reality is, and history will tell you, it’s hard to trade up into the top three of the draft, even top five in the lottery,” Rosas said. “It’s very difficult. We know, because we’re tried, and will continue to try. But that price, the premium that teams charge for that is at a high level in any draft in any year.”

Minnesota seems a long shot, but don’t be surprised if the Pelicans trade the No. 4 pick. New Orleans has worked hard to find someone to take that pick off their hands, so long as they get a fair price back.

Report: Nets debating whether or not to sign Kyrie Irving without Kevin Durant

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The Nets want to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn appears set to get Irving. Durant a much bigger unknown.

Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

The question is if they can’t land Durant, do they still want Irving?

It also has become an internal debate the Nets are having right now.

The Post has confirmed Brooklyn might have qualms about signing the enigmatic Irving if he isn’t bringing the injured Durant with him.

Irving brings chemistry concerns, to be sure. He’s mercurial, and his season with the Celtics raises legitimate questions about him leading a team.

But Irving is a major talent upgrade. To win at the highest levels, teams must assemble a lot of talent and hope for the best.

I’d also caution Brooklyn against assuming re-signing D'Angelo Russell would mean the team maintains its current culture. The Nets can’t freeze time. Situations change. People change. There’s no guarantee Russell on a lucrative contract and his teammates jell as well as contract-year Russell and his teammates did.

Keeping Russell might look like the safe route, but nothing is assured.

The other huge issue: Durant might not know where he’ll sign when Irving is ready to commit. The Nets could have to decide on Irving before knowing whether Durant will accompany him. At that point, would Brooklyn really spurn Irving and a chance at getting both stars? I can’t see that.

Really, with so much talk of Irving joining the Nets, I thought we’d already crossed that threshold.

Report: Bucks trading Tony Snell, No. 30 pick to Pistons

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For a team only lukewarm on paying the luxury tax, the Bucks are in a payroll crunch. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic will be free agents this summer.

That’s why Milwaukee was trying to unload Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova.

But if they re-sign their key free agents to multi-year deals, the Bucks could face more payroll/tax concerns in 2020-21.

That’s why Milwaukee is willing to deal Snell and its first-round pick for Jon Leuer‘s burdensome contract – which carries a slightly lower salary than Snell’s next season ($9,508,043 vs. $11,592,857) and, more importantly, ends one year before Snell’s ($12,378,571 player option for 2020-21),

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This trade lowers Milwaukee’s team salary by about $4 million next season and $14 million the following season.

The Bucks could stretch Leuer and reduce team salary by an extra $6,338,695 next season. But that’d also lock in a cap hit of $3,169,348 each of the next three years.

Milwaukee can make that decision later in the summer. It’ll depend what other free agents – especially Lopez, who has only Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights – command. Clearing extra money this offseason could be useful in multiple scenarios.

If Lopez signs for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to start at about $9 million), the Bucks could maintain Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic then exceed the cap to re-sign those three. But Milwaukee would be hard-capped at a projected $138 million. Stretching Leuer could help the Bucks stay under that line.

If re-signing Lopez requires more than the mid-level exception, Milwaukee could open about $14 million in cap space by waiving George Hill and renouncing all its free agents besides Middleton and Brogdon. Stretching Leuer would open even more cap room to spend on Lopez.

If Lopez leaves, the same math applies to an outside free agent who could get the mid-level exception or cap room.

This extra maneuverability comes at a cost, though a reasonable one.

Snell, who fell from the Bucks’ rotation, could be the Pistons’ starting small forward next season. Detroit was desperate for wing depth. Though Snell isn’t the biggest wing, he adds size to a group comprised of Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway.

The No. 30 pick is a helpful piece to the Pistons, who also have the No. 15 pick in tomorrow’s draft. But this is a weak-looking draft that thins considerably before the end of the first round.

Milwaukee also had to take Leuer, who has been ineffective for years.

Detroit gets helps now with Snell and potentially later with the No. 30 pick. In between, that extra year of Snell’s contract looks burdensome.

The Bucks are just happy to have it not be theirs.