Winderman: After lockout, preseason games look pretty good

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How much do we miss the game? This much: We’re actually looking forward to the start of the preseason.

Yes, in this space a week ago we said the process is too long, that it shortchanges players who spend the month working without pay (with the NBA calling to remind that 50 percent of revenue generated in the preseason goes to the players, as revenue under the new collective-bargaining agreement).

But after having nothing at this time last year due to the lockout, the gradual roll out of the league allows for plenty of time to sample in between NFL and college-football fare.

So what’s about to commence? Here’s what:

Friday, Celtics vs. Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul, Turkey: Kevin Garnett gets an early chance to further complicate international relations. Word is he already has forgotten the phone numbers of all the Fenerbahce players, as well as Ray Allen’s. Fenerbahce says that’s a shame since they’re nice to talk to on the phone.

Saturday, Nuggets vs. Clippers in Las Vegas: Now what possibly could go wrong with sending a pair of NBA teams to Vegas for an exhibition, including one that features JaVale McGee? Think of it as a return to the original “Hangover.” Wondering how many players the Clippers will be able to round up after the fact to take to China and how the Nuggets are going to be able to get that lion out of their hotel suite and back to Mike Tyson’s house.

Sunday: Magic vs. Hornets in Mexico City: And this is an attempt by the NBA to promote the game internationally? Or are they trying to keep the league’s top teams out of harm’s way?

Sunday: Warriors vs. Lakers in Fresno, Calif.: What if Steve Nash’s first pass as a Laker isn’t to Kobe?

Monday, Real Madrid at Toronto: Flash back to 2005 when the Raptors lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Another humbling NBA preseason moment on the horizon? It sort of would be like Barca losing at home to Toronto FC.

Oct. 10: Pacers vs. Timberwolves in Fargo, N.D.: They’re playing in the FargoDome. That is all.

No, matter. It’s as close as we’ll come to real hoops until Oct. 30, and the mere fact they’re bouncing balls anywhere puts us ahead of where we stood last year at this time.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Rumor: Bulls’ belief in Zach LaVine waning

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Zach LaVine was the centerpiece in the Bulls’ return for trading a star. Chicago was reportedly willing to match a max offer sheet for LaVine in restricted free agency.

But maybe the Bulls have at least somewhat soured on him.

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

I don’t know why the Bulls would be down on LaVine now. I also don’t know why they were so high on him the first place.

LaVine is a good 3-point shooter and impressive dunker. But, despite his athleticism, his all-around contributions are lacking. He also hasn’t looked completely over his February 2017 ACL tear.

This leak could just be strategy. Instead of trying to scare off teams with the threat of matching any offer to LaVine, Chicago could be trying to dissuade suitors by projecting its own reluctance.

The Bulls don’t want to overpay LaVine. But they also don’t want to lose him for nothing.

Will anyone make a hard push for the 23-year-old? He surely wants a lucrative long-term contract, whether he re-signs directly with Chicago or gets an offer sheet. But, if the Bulls aren’t sold on him, I’m not sure any team will is.

LaVine’s qualifying offer will be $4,333,932. That might wind up his next salary.

PBT Extra: Grading the top of the NBA Draft

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The Phoenix Suns got it right at the top of the draft — they took Deandre Ayton.

But what of their move to trade for Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 pick, surrendering a valuable pick and the potential of Zhaire Smith for what should be a solid “3&D” wing to go with their athletic stars?

How did the Kings do at No. 2? What about Dallas’ big trade up to land Luka Doncic at three, or the Atlanta bet on Trae Young?

In this PBT Extra, I grade the top 10 picks in the draft, from the moves I like (I think Dallas did well) to ones I’m not sold on (sorry Chicago).

 

Have questions leading up to free agency? Submit your questions via e-mail for our PBT Mailbag feature. Drop us a line at pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.