After seeing him bulked up at Summer League and looking like a man among boys, after seeing him play well for his native Lithuania over the summer, a lot of people picked Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas to have a breakout season.
Not so much. He’s scoring a little more per game but that’s just because he’s shooting more, his shooting percentage dropped from 55.7 percent last season to 49.5 percent this season. He’s grabbing a slightly higher percentage of rebounds, but overall he’s not taken the expected step forward.
Sunday Pau Gasol was having his way with Valanciunas and Raptors coach Dwane Casey went with his other options, as he told the Toronto Sun.
“He needed to do a better job on Pau Gasol and I thought Chuck (Hayes) and Amir (Johnson) did a better job on him and we went for the defensive matchup,” Casey explained…
Valanciunas struggled Wednesday in Boston as well, but on that night all the bigs were having a tough time. With Hayes playing Gasol tough, Casey chose to go with him over his sophomore centre.
Amir Johnson is having his second solid season in a row up in Toronto, and Chuck Hayes is the definition of a solid veteran who can be relied upon.
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Valanciunas gets 31.9 percent of his shot attempts out of post-ups and shoots 48.5 percent on those, which is fairly pedestrian (via Synergy Sports). He’s far more effective when moving off the ball, and he can be a force on the offensive glass at times, but he’s not as big a force as the roll man as the Raptors would hope with Kyle Lowry.
Valanciunas still is a good second-year player, and maybe the third season is the year he makes the leap. You could see him as part of what is being built by Masai Ujiri in Toronto, but how big a part will depend on if he can consistently find his game.
It’s everyone’s favorite parlor game around the NBA: Where will Kawhi Leonard play next season? Philadelphia? Los Angeles? Somewhere else? Fans of 29 teams are posting their trade scenarios online, while GMs of 29 teams privately have tried to come up with offers that could tempt San Antonio.
The most likely answer: San Antonio.
While the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is frayed — and with the people close to Leonard and in his ear seemingly trying to push him out the door — the Spurs would rather keep one of the five best players in the NBA (when healthy) in-house. From Tom Osbourne of the San Antonio Express-News.
Still, the Spurs hope to meet with Leonard and his representatives soon in a bid to mend fences and pave the way for Leonard to come to terms on a five-year $219 million supermax contract that he will be eligible to receive starting July 1. If attempts to patch up the relationship fail, the Spurs will be forced to explore trading a player coach Gregg Popovich once labeled “the future face of the franchise.”
The timing of that meeting has been slowed in part because of the death of Popovich’s wife and everyone involved understandably giving him all the space wants. It will happen.
Can the relationship be salvaged? Maybe, $219 million can mend a lot of fences. There are things the Spurs can and would be willing to do to promote Leonard more (although that all starts with him getting out of his comfort zone and building his brand, starting with speaking more in public). Also, Gregg Popovich was able to sooth LaMarcus Aldridge‘s ego when the big man demanded a trade, and not only did the player stay he had an All-NBA level season. Popovich and Leonard still have a strong relationship.
Is that enough? Time will tell, but people around the league think at best it’s a coin flip. Things are not good right now. However, the Spurs will get the first crack at fixing this before they are forced to consider a trade.
Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”
Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.
Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”
Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.
“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”
That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”
Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.
Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.
The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.
However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.
Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.
Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.
Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?
We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.
How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?
Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?
We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.
Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.
The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.
Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.
But we’re not to the Finals yet.
In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.
Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:
Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.
Why is this happening?
The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.
Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.
No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.
Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.