Three Stars of the Night: Kobe Bryant gets some help

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Regardless of how you feel about Kobe Bryant, you have to admit that he’s doing something pretty incredible this season. How many players in their 17th NBA season average nearly 30 points a game on career-best efficiency numbers? It’s unprecedented.

Problem is, Kobe hasn’t been getting an awful lot of help offensively, and he’s nowhere near the defender he once was. But if you’re looking for a non-Earl Clark related glimmer of hope for the Lakers, look to the stars.

Third Star: Ty Lawson – (24 points, 12 assists)

The primary concern with the Nuggets is that they don’t have a late game scorer, but you would never know it watching Ty Lawson tonight. Lawson was brilliant late in the fourth quarter, pouring in Denver’s last eight points to help keep the Blazers temporarily at bay. Although the Blazers tapped into some more Wes Matthews magic with a late 3-pointer to tie it, Lawson played excellent individual defense on a potential game-winning attempt from Damian Lillard. In overtime, Lawson picked up right where he left off, drilling a jumper and creating open looks for others in Denver’s sixth straight win.

Second Star: Kobe Bryant – (31 points, 6 assists)

While we’re used to this sort of offensive brilliance, the on-ball pressure Bryant put on Brandon Jennings seemed to spark the Lakers defensively. Although he still has lapses off the ball, Bryant doesn’t take kindly to being directly challenged. Putting him on ballhandlers plays to his competitive nature, and against a team that trots out offensively inept players like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, it can simultaneously accomplish the goal of hiding Steve Nash. Bryant’s locked in effort defensively (Jennings was 4-for-14) seemed to trickle over to his offensive play, where he made more of an effort to get his teammates involved right off the bat.

First Star: Dwight Howard – (31 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks)

Although Milwaukee is loaded with shot blockers, they lack the bulk up front to deal with a monster like Howard — even if he isn’t at full strength. Howard bullied his way to good position all night and set up shop around the rim fairly easily, putting in little drop passes from Bryant and Steve Nash with ease. Some nights it will be as easy as that offensively, but it’s the defensive side of the ball where the Lakers really need Howard to be a star. Even though the Lakers let up 21 offensive rebounds as a team, Howard contested putbacks and altered a ton of shots. The Bucks shot just 35.8 percent from the field with 34 points in the paint, which are numbers more in line with what you’d expect from a Howard-led defense. If Howard isn’t drawn away from the rim defending pick and rolls or players with decent mid-range jumpers, he can still be a force.

Rumor: Clippers not planning to keep Milos Teodosic

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The Clippers have (an ideally healthier) Patrick Beverley at point guard. Lou Williams and Austin Rivers are comfortable as lead ball-handlers. With the No. 12 or 13 pick, L.A. could add another point guard – Trae Young, Collin Sexton or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Where does that leave Milos Teodosic, a 31-year-old who’s coming off a rookie season in which he missed 37 games while dealing with a foot injury?

O. Cauchi of Sportando:

The Los Angeles Clippers, in fact, are not planning to keep the Serbian point guard for the next season, a league source told Sportando.

his health is one of the main concerns behind Clippers’ decision, a source told Sportando. The team would love to add a younger player in that position and fear that Teodosic’s foot issue won’t be fixed easily, sources told Sportando.

Teodosic holds a $6.3 million player option for next season, but just $2.1 million is guaranteed until July 15. He ought to opt in and collect his $2.1 million before moving on. And if he opts in, maybe the Clippers strike out in free agency, don’t need the additional cap flexibility and keep him.

If they go through with waiving him, Teodosic could land with another NBA team or return to Europe. His foot issues could determine whether another NBA team wants him.

Teodosic is a wonderfully creative passer and good shooter. He’s also a woeful defender, and foot problems would only set him back further.

Report: Chris Paul recruiting LeBron James hard to Rockets

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Chris Paul built himself into the NBA’s greatest point guard since Magic Johnson (until Stephen Curry came around). Paul mastered the game, offensively and defensively. He led two franchises, New Orleans and the Clippers, taking huge burdens for each.

Then, he engineered a trade to the Rockets to become James Harden‘s sidekick. Paul learned to excel at that, too.

Now comes phase two in Houston. The Rockets must pay him, and it sounds as if they will. And Paul will recruit his friend LeBron James to join him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris is going to return there. And listen, right now, Chris Paul’s focus isn’t so much on his own free agency. He’s trying to recruit LeBron James to Houston, and somebody close to him said to me he is as focused on recruiting LeBron as anything he’s done in this league. He wants to find a way.

The Rockets were on the cusp of beating the Warriors. LeBron could put Houston over the top and get Paul an elusive championship. I certainly understand Paul’s hunger to make it happen. He’ll probably never get a better opportunity to win a title than this.

Could the Rockets get LeBron? Carmelo Anthony, before getting traded to the Thunder, told friends of a desire to team up with Paul and eventually LeBron in Houston. LeBron once said he’d take a pay cut to play with Paul, Anthony and Dwyane Wade – not that LeBron must to play with just Paul in Houston. The Cavaliers, Rockets and LeBron could execute an opt-in-and-trade that sends LeBron to Houston, similar to how Paul got there last summer.

But it seems Paul is fighting an uphill battle. LeBron reportedly said he doesn’t like Houston as a city, and lifestyle matters.

Not that the intensely competitive Paul will just give up.

Report: Marvin Bagley ‘near-lock’ to Kings at No. 2 in draft

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The Suns will almost certainly take DeAndre Ayton No. 1 overall in Thursday’s NBA draft.

The mystery begins with the Kings at No. 2.

They’ve been linked to Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr. and now, most strongly, Marvin Bagley.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

I wouldn’t like that pick. Bagley is a high-end prospect, but I’d take Doncic (and prefer a few others to Bagley).

Bagley is a phenomenal finisher and rebounder due to his athleticism and exertion. He runs the floor hard and is quick off his feet, repeatedly.

But he is a huge liability as a rim protector, making him a tough fit as a defensive center. His just lacks the awareness, length and strength to defend the paint well. He can improve his awareness and maybe his strength to acceptable levels, but there is such a long way to go.

I also don’t trust his jump shot or defensive awareness on the perimeter enough for him to play power forward offensively or defensively.

Of all the top prospects, Bagley might be the trickiest to build around. And the Kings don’t have the greatest track record of roster building, even in the rare times they get a lottery pick right.

Report: Wizards willing to trade No. 15 pick if team takes on bad contract with it

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The Washington Wizards had the fourth highest payroll in the NBA last season — a lot to pay for the No. 8 seed and an unceremonious first-round playoff exit.

One way or another expect changes to the Wizards’ roster going into next season. Big names could be on the move. Even before that, the Wizards have signaled they will trade the No. 15 pick in Thursday’s draft if teams will take on one of the Wizards’ oversized expiring contracts, reports our old friend Ben Standig working for thesportscapitol.com.

The Wizards are open to trading down from the 15th overall pick in Thursday’s draft if another team takes on one of Washington’s expiring contracts. That’s the message relayed from the Wizards to other NBA teams, a league source tells The Sports Capitol.

The Wizards have five players with expiring contracts, including starters Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. Gortat’s $13.56 million salary for the 2018-19 season dwarfs the other expiring deals. The hefty figure counts among the reasons why the 34-year-old center is considered a likely trade piece.

This plan is unlikely to work unless the team in question actually wanted one of those players anyway. It is worth the shot.

That said, expect a lot of trades and movement on draft night — that is the buzz around the league. After DeAndre Ayton going No. 1 there is not really a consensus, and some teams have fallen in love with players and are willing to trade up and get them. Teams starting with Sacramento at No. 2 are fielding serious offers for their picks, and a few may jump at them.

The problem is the guys teams love will be off the board by No. 15, which means the Wizards may be making a pick. Which is not a bad thing, they have traded their picks away for years and they could use the injection of youth. Still, they will look to trade this pick too if it helps lessen the burden on their payroll.