Three Stars of the Night: The Truth is Here

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The big scorers weren’t messing around tonight, folks. The clocks were turned back in Boston, an ABA type score was dropped in Houston, and the Highlight Factory was invaded (even more than usual!) by a force that even the great Kyle Korver could not stop. Robin Lopez was also on pace for 56 points after the first quarter, but that kind of fell through. To the Three Stars of the Night!

Third Star: Kevin Durant – (41 points, 13 rebounds, 14-for-23 shooting)

Kevin Durant isn’t just “getting the best” of his opponents or “outplaying” them…he’s absolutely eviscerating them. Ask the Atlanta Hawks after tonight — there’s no good way to defend Durant. Crowd him, and he has the burst and the length to put you on his hip and wish you goodbye as he glides to the hole. Play off of him and he’s simply popping the jumper. Bring a double, and he can see right over the top of it and fire a pass to two very good stand-still shooters (Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka) or a player you don’t want penetrating a gap with a full head of steam (Russell Westbrook). If the goal of the offense is to make the defense pick their poison, the Thunder accomplish that virtually anytime they put the ball in Durant’s hands anywhere remotely close to the basket. Only two players have averaged over 27 points a game over a full season with a True Shooting Percentage over 67 percent: Charles Barkley and Adrian Dantley. That’s it. No Kobe. No LeBron. No Jordan. Durant is averaging that so far this year. He’s been that good.

Second Star: James Harden – (33 points, 17-for-18 from the line, 7 assists)

James Harden might do one thing better than anyone else in the NBA, and that’s draw fouls. Harden’s signature move of extending the ball way out in front of him on drives is too appetizing for opponents to resist. They hack and slash down at the ball, almost always raking Harden across the arms, sending him to the line for two easy points. Harden is dangerous in the open floor when the Rockets are playing fast, but he also found a viable roll partner (sorry, Omer Asik, not you) in the halfcourt in promising young big man Greg Smith. If the Rockets are building their future around Harden — and they are — a great defender and defensive rebounder to spark the break (cheer up, Omer, that’s you!) and a point guard who can push the pace seem necessary along with a solid roll man. The Rockets are trying out a few different pieces, but now that their star is in place, they finally have direction. In the meantime, if opponents allow the Rockets to play fast like the 76ers did tonight? Good luck stopping them.

First Star: Paul Pierce – (40 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 13-for-16 shooting)

Do not adjust your computer monitor, because the numbers you are seeing are indeed the truth. Paul Pierce was absolutely on fire against the Cavaliers, knocking in each and every momentum shot and heat check he could throw at the rim — stepbacks, spotup J’s — whatever it was, it went in. Pierce doesn’t do this nearly as often as he used to, as he’s slowed down and lost much of the explosiveness that made him deadly in the past. But where the body fails, the mind picks up, and Pierce is a great example of that. No one manipulates space with his footwork quite like Pierce, and his ability to trail on the break and make himself available for a Rondo kickout at just the right time is nuanced brilliance. That’s the kind of stuff you learn after 38,000 minutes of floor time in the league, and although Pierce’s body and jump shot will betray him on many nights, he still knows how to ride out the perfect storm, no matter how infrequently they seem to come around.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.

Mavericks reportedly front runners to land Al Horford, Lakers and Clippers also interested

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Al Horford is moving on from Boston, the latest blow in a year where the Celtics went from “they will be in the Eastern Conference Finals every year for the next five years at least” to “they’re okay but have a lot of work to do.” It’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

So where does Al Horford play next season?

How about next to Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas?

That’s the buzz, with the two Los Angeles teams trying to get in the conversation, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard.

Dallas makes sense for both sides.

The Mavericks have the cap space to offer Horford the $20 million or more starting salary he wants, reportedly he seeks $100 million across four years (he opted out of a $30.5 million season in Boston for the security of more years). Dallas has $31.3 million in cap space, even after Dwight Powell opting in. While they likely will reach a max deal on a new contract with Porzingis, the Mavs have his bird rights so they can sign Horford then go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis (who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury).

On the court, Horford can both be paired with Porzingis — two bigs teams have to defend out to the three-point line — and help limit the young big man’s minutes. While not young at 33 (and the Mavs may regret the final year of a four-year contract), Horford is the kind of glue big man who can do everything well, giving coach Rick Carlisle a lot of options. Horford can score in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good man defender and can protect the rim, and all that versatility makes him valuable. He can fit into the Dallas frontcourt rotation with Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber.

That versatility would make him a great second addition to the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard chooses to leave the Raptors to join Doc Rivers’ squad (he Leonard stays the Clippers are out of this running). While Los Angeles start Ivica Zubac at the five, Horford would be an upgrade and they still have Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Horford also could mix in at the four for the Clippers.

For the Lakers, who are looking for a third star, they could sigh Horford at a $20 million starting salary (with raises from there) without having to go through the salary cap gymnastics it would take for them to clear cap space to land someone like Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker.

Horford has fans all over the league and will have options, but Dallas is aggressive and there is a logical fit there.