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.

Kevin Durant on Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan: ‘How do you not say they’re by far better than anybody who’s played the game?’

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Kevin Durant has already called Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan the greatest of all-time.

Now, the Warriors star is intensifying the rhetoric.

Durant, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

But watching Kobe and Mike, I’m like, ‘How do you not realize how good these dudes are?’ How do you not say they’re by far better than anybody who’s played the game? Just by the way they move, how fluid they are.

“Everybody that comes to my house, whether it’s friends or family, I make them watch Jordan highlights. This is equivalent to (Albert) Einstein … fucking (Ludwig van) Beethoven … or (Barack) Obama. This is the greatest talent and athletes and minds of the world. Just because they play sports, people think one way. But they’re masters, they’re geniuses. I just started realizing that a few years ago: Watching those guys can really spark my creativity.”

I don’t view basketball the same way Durant does. The players with the most skills are not necessarily the greatest players. Not all skills are equally important. I’d rank players with narrower skill sets – like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal – ahead of Bryant. Duncan and O’Neal were so efficient in what they did, and they were far better than Bryant at avoiding miscues like missed shots and turnovers. I care more about the end effectiveness than the means to get there when ranking greatness.

And what about LeBron James? I’d rate Jordan and LeBron top-two by my criteria. But even by Durant’s, I’m not sure why he doesn’t consider LeBron in that elite pantheon of skills. LeBron does everything.

Durant’s point of view comes out often enough to recognize his philosophy. When I interviewed him for this article about Knicks undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier, Durant said:

“Scorers that go get baskets, especially inside the 3-point line, they’re like extinct at this point. Because games are so fast, and it takes Zo longer in a possession to get his game off. So, a lot of people bypass that. But everybody needs a scorer on their team.

“I think just natural scorers, the guys that get baskets before anything, they’re kind of frowned upon in this league. But that’s the core of the game to me.”

That’s the mindset of someone who calls Bryant and Jordan “far better than anybody who’s played the game.”

This all also speaks to how Durant views himself. He tries to perfect different aspects of his game. He entered the NBA as a scorer, but he since added rebounding, passing, defense, playing like a big. I’ve never been convinced Durant cares as much about willing his team to victory as he cares about expanding his skill set (which obviously indirectly helps his team win).

There’s nowhere Durant can try new skills like Golden State. The Warriors’ elite roster offers him room to experiment and keep winning, anyway. Just something to consider as he enters free agency next summer.

Zach LaVine on meeting with Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘This is a business. This isn’t a dictatorship’

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Tension between new Bulls coach Jim Boylen and his players boiled over Sunday. When Boylen called for a practice the day after a back-to-back, some players threatened to boycott. They ultimately compromised on a team meeting.

So, guard Zach LaVine met individually with Boylen.

LaVine, via Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“You just want to be real with people,” LaVine told ESPN. “There shouldn’t be any clouds. I think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I just wanted to voice my opinion to them.”

“This is a business, this isn’t a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We had a situation over the weekend that could have been handled by a leadership group walking into my office and saying, ‘You know what, Coach? This is how we feel today. What do you think?’ That was the teaching moment,” Boylen said. “I’m juiced, man. I’m jacked up about it.”

A leadership committee sounds like the type of thing college teams have – which makes sense, because Boylen is treating the Bulls like a college team. Frequent and long practices. Harsh public criticism. Five-man substitutions. These are not normal power dynamics in the NBA.

Chicago players are already running thin on patience for Boylen. But he has plenty of job security. So, hopefully for everyone involved, he has learned as much as he indicates. He can’t keep coaching like this without inciting a mutiny.

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson out 2-4 weeks

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Tristan Thompson has been one of the biggest bright spots in an otherwise miserable Cavaliers season. The center is averaging 12.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He has also taken on more leadership.

And now he’s out.

Cavaliers release:

Cavaliers forward/center Tristan Thompson will miss approximately 2-4 weeks with a left foot sprain. Thompson was injured in last night’s road game at Milwaukee late in the third quarter

This will help Cleveland improve its draft position, though it’s not as if Cleveland (6-21) was having much issue losing even with Thompson.

At least the Cavs have plenty of options at center. Expect Larry Nance Jr. to take a larger role. Ante Zizic likely joins the rotation. Cleveland could dust off Channing Frye. Kevin Love might return before Thompson.

Magic suspended Mohamed Bamba for being late to walk-through

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Seven of the top eight picks in the 2018 NBA draft are scoring double-digit points per game.

The exception: Magic center Mohamed Bamba.

Bamba certainly hasn’t been bad. He’s just acclimating to the NBA at a more common rate than peers like Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Deandre Ayton. This is an exceptionally good rookie class.

But this won’t help Bamba catch up. He missed Orlando’s 101-76 loss to the Mavericks last night.

Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel:

Bamba, who was suspended for a game for being late for the team walk-through at the hotel in Dallas on Monday

“It was a violation of team rules,” Clifford said. “It’s just a one-game thing. Mo will play again on Thursday, but that’s what it was.”

“It’s just bad on my part and I just need to be better … just gotta be on time,” Bamba said. “It’s very difficult because you want to be out there and impact the game in any way possible and hope for a different outcome.”

I doubt Magic coach Steve Clifford suspended Bamba for a single instance of tardiness. This was likely a culmination.

Orlando (12-15) is eighth in the Eastern Conference, in the thick of the playoff race. If the Magic are going to take advantage of the low bar for making the postseason, they need all hands on deck – including Bamba.