Report: Andrea Bargnani “a lock to be moved”

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It sounds like the Toronto Raptors are finally ready to give up on Andrea Bargnani. The first pick of the 2006 draft has displayed tantalizing potential and has put together short bursts of production throughout his seven seasons in Toronto, but his deficiencies as a defender and a rebounder have become increasingly more difficult to overlook.

You can see why Toronto has stuck with Bargnani, even as he became the scapegoat for many of Toronto’s  recent failings. There are very few 7-footers in the world that possess the shooting stroke Bargnani has, and even though he made virtually no strides in other areas of the game, he did make marginal improvements as a scorer almost every season.

But that’s the problem with a one-dimensional talent like Bargnani. If that one thing abandons you, what are you left with? Bargnani’s connecting on just 39.8 percent of his shots this year — a dreadful number no matter how tall or small you are. Perhaps predictably, Toronto has become noticeably better defensively while Bargnani has sat out with an elbow injury, putting together a 6-2 record without him in the lineup.

Add everything up and Marc Stein’s report makes an awful lot of sense:

“One source close to the situation said Friday that Bargnani remains “a lock to be moved.” That naturally depends on finding a taker for the underachieving Italian forward, but (Kyle) Lowry’s contract shouldn’t be too hard to attach to a trade, valued at $5.8 million this season and with only $1 million guaranteed of the $6.2 million he’s owed next season.”

Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Bargnani has two years and $23 millions dollars left on his contract after this season. That’s a tough pill to swallow for any team, especially for a guy not playing at all right now, but getting Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon as a reward for taking on Bargnani’s contract might be enticing enough for some team out there.

Toronto, meanwhile, is in a weird spot. A glance at their roster would lead you to believe they’re primed for a rebuilding period if they could shed Bargnani’s contract, but Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo recently decided to pay the uninspiring wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields a combined $15 million dollars a year going forward. Add in that the Raptors likely won’t have their 2013 first round pick (the pick is top-3 protected) because of the Lowry deal with Houston, and it would seem that Colangelo clearly has no interest in rebuilding.

That’s what makes the Bargnani decision even more critical. The Raptors need a real player in any deal for Bargnani in order to contend, but they probably don’t want to lose Lowry for their future, or Calderon for their present. Selecting Bargnani number one overall instead of LaMarcus Aldridge set the franchise back, but forfeiting a valuable asset just to get rid of him would only seem to compound the mistake.

Toronto needs to look in the mirror more than anything else. Are they contending or rebuilding? Are they skewing young or rolling with veterans? Are they planning on improving in free agency or through the draft? Bargnani isn’t the star you can dream on, but trading him may provide Toronto the direction they so desperately need.

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied. Westbrook bounced back up and LeBron James had to hold him back from going after Collins.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.