Report: Paul George, Pacers finalizing five-year max contract

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Of the 15 players who made the All-NBA first, second or third team last season, Paul George was the youngest.

On a related note, the 23-year-old is also arguably the most raw star in the league. Even though he just won Most Improved Player, George can become a a more-polished ball-handler and take his game to an even higher level.

That’s what the Pacers, whom George already led within a game of the NBA Finals, are apparently banking on.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

All-Star forward Paul George and the Indiana Pacers are finalizing a five-year, $90 million-plus maximum contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.A deal is expected to be signed this week, league sources told Yahoo.For the Pacers and George, who was voted the 2013 NBA Most Improved Player, the five-year deal will cement the gifted young forward as Indiana’s designated franchise player.

George joins Derrick Rose, James Harden, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook as the only players to receive the “designated” player tag. The distinction, created in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, allows teams to give one player a five-year extension rather than a four-year extension.Because George made the All-NBA third team last season, he could be eligible for even more money than otherwise allowable. Most players with six or fewer seasons of experience can make only up to 25 percent of the salary cap. But George, if he makes another All-NBA team (first, second or third), would be eligible to receive up to 30 percent of the salary cap. Because the extension will be signed before the season’s award votes are tallied, George and the Pacers will agree to stipulations based for both scenarios.

No matter how the final details shake out, George will earn a lot of money, and Indiana is happy to pay him. It had been clear a deal was coming, both sides committed to each other.

The Heat are aging, and as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh show their wear and tear (or leave in free agency), the East becomes more wide open. The Pacers are in the mix, but George was integral to that.

With George to be locked up, Indiana ensures it will contend next season and maybe even play favorite down the road if George improves as hoped. If he doesn’t, it’s still possible this is a decent deal for the Pacers. He’s that good.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.