Tuesday NBA grades: LeBron reminds Cleveland what they’re missing

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking it’s crazy that “Lost” is 10 years old

source:  LeBron James, Miami Heat. Nobody likes it when their ex-girlfriend walks into the party looking smoking hot. LeBron pretty much did that to the Cavaliers on Tuesday night — he had 25 points in the first quarter on 10-of-11 shooting (4-of-4 from three) on his way to 43 for the night. He slowed a little on offense in the second half but when it mattered in the fourth he did have a couple blocked shots. Maybe after this the Cavaliers will remember how to spell his name.

source:  Cleveland Cavaliers. They deserve a shoutout here — no Kyrie Irving, no Luol Deng and yet they pushed the Heat to the very end. Jarrett Jack had 22 points, every time I watch the Cavaliers I wish they’d play Anderson Varejao more.

source:  Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks. A career high 34 points but what really mattered was he picked up 15 of those in the fourth quarter and overtime to help spark the Hawks to another much needed win (they are now 4.5 games up on the Knicks, 5 games in the loss column, with 15 to play). Can’t leave Paul Millsap completely out of the Hawks conversation — 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for a triple double. (Toronto could have used that win, too. Chicago is now just half a game back for the three seed, Brooklyn is 2.5 back for the division crown.

source:   DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. When the Kings needed him late he was there — 19 of his 24 points came in the fourth quarter or overtime to help get the Kings a win at home over the Wizards. Cousins also had 14 rebounds. The joke is that the Kings have the “only three” (rather than the big three, because these guys have no help) and the other two guys came up big like Cousins — Rudy Gay had 24 points and hit and seemed to own the overtime; Isaiah Thomas had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists on the night serving as his usual spark plug. (If you’re asking how the smallest guy on the court got 11 rebounds, ask the Wizards front line.)

source:   Randy Wittman, coach, Washington Wizards. Wittman is a coach who gets incensed when someone in the media questions his moves, but he should answer about how his team executed at the end against the Kings — Washington blew this as much as Sacramento forced overtime and won. Can’t blame Wittman for John Wall missing two key free throws or a few o. We can question why his team didn’t push to go for a two-for-one late. We can question why he left John Wall in the game to pick up his sixth foul in overtime, killing the comeback chances. With this loss the Wizards fall to the six seed in the East for now, which could mean the Bulls in the first round. The Wizards need to avoid that, they need to climb the standings. They need wins. Which will be rough with Portland next on the schedule, a back-to-back the next night against the Lakers, then on the road in Denver (always a tough spot to play). Washington needs to get wins fast.

Marc Gasol opting in with Raptors for $25,595,700

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He joined the Raptors this season, helped them win a championship and will stay.

No, not him.

Marc Gasol, who had a $25,595,700 player option for next season.

Raptors PR:

Marc Gasol has exercised his player option with the Raptors for the 2019-20 season.

If Kawhi Leonard re-signs, Toronto will be happy to have a solid starting center like Gasol for a title defense. This leaves Leonard and Danny Greenwho’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – as the only core Raptors not locked up for next season.

But if Leonard leaves, Gasol will be an overpaid cog on a middling playoff team. There just isn’t that much of a market for merely solid centers, especially a 34-year-old.

Of course, Toronto knew Gasol’s salary situation when acquiring him just before the trade deadline. The Raptors got the best immediate outcome with a championship. Paying him $25,595,700 next season is a perfectly acceptable cost.

Report: Sixers ‘expressing confidence’ they will re-sign Jimmy Butler; Rockets still seek sign-and-trade

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If the Philadelphia 76ers put a five-year max contract of $189.7 million in front of Jimmy Butler, the smart bet is he signs it. Fast. Butler will be 30 next season and has a growing history of injuries, plus the Sixers are going to be contenders with him. That’s a lot of money and a good situation to walk away from.

The Rockets are still hoping to lure him away to Houston, forcing a sign-and-trade on Philadelphia, but the Sixers are confident they will keep him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN.

As noted in the ESPN story, there is no indication that the Sixers or Butler are down with this trade idea.

The only way this sign-and-trade happens is if Butler goes to the Sixers and says he’s leaving anyway and wants a sign-and-trade to Houston. Then Philadelphia would play along only because they could get something back for Butler, rather than losing him outright.

However, I have heard from league sources that if Butler leaves Philly the Lakers are the team at the top of his list, paring with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Whether that is true or not, he has options including the Knicks. Maybe for Butler the chance to chase a ring with James Harden and Chris Paul is a bigger draw, however, to make that happen the Rockets will be stripped of a lot of depth. If the Lakers add Butler at the max, they will have three stars, Kyle Kuzma, and the rest of the roster will be minimum contract guys (plus somebody for the $4.8 million room exception).

If Butler leaves Philadelphia, the most he can sign for with any team is a four-year, $140 million contract. That includes in a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, under the new CBA a player cannot sign the larger five-year max as part of a sign-and-trade, it can only be for the $140 million the Rockets could sign him with outright.

While this is a fun rumor and report that gets a lot of ink, it seems highly unlikely to come together. Never say never in the NBA, but this seems a longshot.

That said, a Rockets locker room with Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Chris Paul, and a lame duck coach would be good for those of us who love NBA drama.

Rumor: Several teams want to pair Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler

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Kawhi Leonard is choosing between staying in Toronto with the Raptors or coming to Southern California and being a Clipper, according to sources and multiple reports.

Jimmy Butler probably signs a five-year max contract to stay in Philadelphia if the Sixers put it in front of him (as their management has said it would do), but if not the Lakers are considered to be the frontrunners according to the buzz around the league.

However, there are teams dreaming of pairing Butler and Leonard this summer, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.

Those teams, obviously, would need to create the cap space required to sign both players. The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.

This doesn’t suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn’t fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together.

There is a whole lot of supposition in that report (and from teams).

First, and Begley touches on it, this assumes that Leonard wants to team up with Butler, or anyone for that matter. Superteams are not his style. Butler can bring drama with him, and that is also not Leonard’s style. On the flip side, does Butler want to partner up with Leonard?

Second, there are not a lot of teams that can clear two max salary slots. Brooklyn, the Clippers (if they trade Danilo Gallinari, something certainly possible), the Knicks and maybe a couple others with some cap gymnastics. Just a note here: the writer Begley is based in New York and covered the Knicks for ESPN for many years. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

Third, this is most likely not the path for either of them. Never say never, because NBA free agency can flip on a dime, but pairing those two is not the most likely outcome.

But it’s the silly season, so rumors are everywhere.

NBA reportedly clears Omer Asik’s $3 million salary off Bulls books

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Omer Asik came to Chicago as part of the Nicola Mirotic trade, but last season he never set foot on the court for the Bulls. Back in training camp, Asik was ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, the latest flare-up in a condition that has been an issue for years. Asik had played in just 49 games combined the two seasons before sitting out this last one.

During training camp, the Bulls waived Asik. He was paid his full $11.3 million for this season and had a $3 million guarantee for next season.

After applying to the league to have it removed (because Asik hadn’t played in a year due to injury and was not expected to in the future), that $3 million is coming off the Bulls’ books in time for free agency, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

That $23 million is not a max player slot, but it is a little more money for the Bulls to spend as they chase a point guard and look to add depth and shooting to their young roster.

Asik still gets paid the $3 million, it just doesn’t count against the Bulls salary cap.