How the Pacers’ slump could cost Paul George more than $6 million

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When Paul George signed a  contract extension with the Pacers before the season, it seemed nearly a foregone conclusion he’d take advantage of the Derrick Rose Rule and receive the higher of the two possible salary paths he could take in the next five years.

All he had to do this season: Make at least the All-NBA third team (or win MVP, but achieving the latter without the former is essentially impossible).

George made the All-NBA third team last season at age 22. Previously, 43 of 56 players ever to make All-NBA so young made it the next year. And nearly half the exceptions can be explained at least in part by injury (Derrick Rose in 2011-12, Chris Bosh in 2007-08, Amar’e Stoudemire in 2005-06, Stephon Marbury in 2000-01, Michael Jordan in 1985-86) or other extenuating circumstance (Rick Barry in 1967-68).*

*Barry signed with the ABA’s Oakland Oaks that year, and though he was barred from playing due to his Warriors contract, he obviously wasn’t going to make All-NBA in the ABA, anyway.

It seemed as long George remained healthy, he’d get there – and he’s remained healthy. George has played in all 76 of the Pacers’ games this season. He’s played pretty well, too, making his second straight All-Star Game.

But that might not be enough in a season that has seen the NBA’s first-class forwards both improve from within and expand from the outside.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant will take the two All-NBA first-team spots at the position. Blake Griffin should, and likely will, also place ahead of George. That means George can fall behind only two of these players and get his higher salary:

  • Kevin Love
  • Anthony Davis
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Maybe Tim Duncan

There’s a chance Neolithic voters will punish Love for racking up empty stats while playing for a non-playoff team, but I really want to believe we’re past that. Yes, Love sometimes targets rebounds rather than contesting shots at the expense of Minnesota’s defense. Yes, the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs. But he had a fantastic season overall, and Minnesota still has a chance to finish with a winning record in a loaded Western Conference. Despite George’s defensive advantage, I would absolutely choose Love over George.

Davis’ candidacy, the next-strongest of the group in my eyes, will depend on his health down the stretch. He’s been incredible these last few weeks, really appearing as if he turned a corner. And his start to the season was solid enough to serve as a base for his closing fireworks.

If New York makes the playoffs, Anthony’s stock will go through the roof. Somehow, he’s quietly worked his butt off (even more than usual defensively) for a Knicks team that appeared to be going nowhere. Regardless of whether New York outlasts Atlanta and Cleveland, Melo has certainly given the Knicks their money’s worth heading into free agency.

Aldridge appeared to be a shoe-in earlier in the season, even an MVP candidate in the circles intent on applying the word “valuable” in an extremely team-specific manner. But the Trail Blazers and Aldridge have collectively slipped, though not so far to eliminate him from the discussion.

Nowitzki is having his best season since leading the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship, and Daallas’ place on the playoff fringe will draw eyeballs. If Nowitzki steps up and leads the Mavericks into the playoffs, he’ll get All-NBA consideration.

As always, Duncan has been quietly excellent. Maybe a 19-game winning will actually get voters to notice, though that accomplishment will likely have faded out from view by the time ballots are submitted. It’s possible, though, Duncan gets more All-NBA votes than George and takes a center spot. Until last season, he’d been a forward for all 13 of his All-NBA selections. That’s why Duncan is listed with the “maybe.”

The appeal of the Pacers – and by extension, George – was their team-first attitude and team-wide success. The former is headed out the window, and the latter might be going with it. Fairly or unfairly, Indiana’s late-season slump could cripple George’s All-NBA hopes.

There will be another time for more thoroughly analyzing the candidacy of George and the other forwards – and each has a couple more weeks to build their cases – but it’s definitely conceivable at least six of the bunch could finish ahead of him in All-NBA voting.

And if that happens, it would be quite costly to George.

What’s at stake? Using the latest salary-cap projections: $6,755,943 during the next five seasons.

Typically, a player’s rookie-contract extension can begin at only 25 percent of a slightly adjusted variant on the salary cap. But if he meets what are called the “5th Year 30% Max criteria,” he can negotiate a contract that starts at up to 30 percent of the adjusted cap. (Hat tip: Larry Coon for providing adjusted cap estimate)

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The two sides struck an interesting compromise, according to several sources who have seen George’s deal: If George makes an All-NBA team this season, triggering the raise, his salary will settle at 27 percent of the cap level, instead of the full 30 percent.

The Pacers also gave George an opt-out after Year 4 of the new deal,which Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com has reflected in his salary database. Indiana was reluctant to do the opt-out, but ultimately yielded on the issue, per sources close to the talks. They’ll have the advantage of George’s Bird rights as long as he’s on the team, regardless of the opt-out clause. The main point of the “designated player” provision is to give teams the chance to lock up a franchise player they drafted for a year longer than usual. George’s deal subverts that principle, and allows him to hit the open market earlier than expected.

Here are the different versions of George’s contract –  25 percent max in blue, 27 percent max in gold – based, again, on the latest salary-cap projection.

image

Season 25% max 27% max
2014-15  $14,686,832  $15,861,779
2015-16  $15,788,344  $17,051,412
2016-17  $16,889,857  $18,241,045
2017-18  $17,991,369  $19,430,679
2018-10  $19,092,882  $20,620,312
Total  $84,449,284  $91,205,227

So, George has more incentive than the typical player to finish the season strong.

The Pacers, with a No. 1 seed on the line, probably wouldn’t mind if he does. But if he doesn’t, that might be OK, too.

On the flip side of a George-focused analysis, Indiana would have to pay him more if he makes an All-NBA team. On an obvious level, that would cost Herbert Simon real dollars. It would also limit the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson and remain under the luxury-tax threshold.

Here’s how much money – using a $76.7 luxury-tax-limit estimate and assuming the Pacers 2014-15 roster is comprised of George, Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan, and two minimum-salary players – the Pacers could have under tax limit for Stephenson, depending on George’s contract.

  • George at 25 percent max: $8,985,162 starting salary,$51,664,682 over five years
  • George at 27 percent max: $7,810,215 starting salary,$44,908,739 over five years

Either way, the Pacers might be able to clear more room by waiving Scola, whose salary is only partially guaranteed depending on incentives. Indiana could also carry fewer than 13 players for portions of the season.

George, in his quest to trigger a higher salary, doesn’t have so many options. Thanks to the Pacers’ slump and a strong pool of forwards, his All-NBA candidacy is pushed further against the ropes than ever seemed possible.

It’s up to George to step up in these final six games and leave a lasting impression for All-NBA voters. A lot is at stake.

Warriors know they have is something special, with uncertainty ahead

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry hears the dynasty discussion about his Golden State Warriors during another postseason run.

Draymond Green realizes special teams only stay together for so long before something breaks them apart.

That’s why the Warriors decided from Day 1 of training camp to cherish this season.

Golden State is a franchise in its prime – five straight trips to the NBA Finals and seeking a third consecutive title. But the clock is ticking and the Warriors are well aware of the possible ramifications of free agency and how things could change in a hurry this summer.

“Basketball careers aren’t that long. If you can get 10 out of it, you’re lucky,” Green explained. “To be to five straight finals, I don’t even know what to say about it. This is what you play for. This is our goal every year and to get here five straight times is special.”

The Warriors started this run with three All-Stars in Curry, Green and Klay Thompson. They added two more in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. How many they’ll have after free agency is any and everyone’s guess.

Curry – with nearly 11-month-old son Canon regularly in his arms for the ride – is certainly relishing this stretch of his decorated career, appreciating how far the Warriors have come during the 10 years he has been in the league.

A third straight title is suddenly within reach, which would be Golden State’s fourth championship in five years.

“We know what’s at stake and what we’re chasing this year, this series, this game, and that’s the only way that you can really put your best foot forward in terms of trying to get back to the mountaintop,” Curry said. “We’ll have plenty of time when we hang the sneakers up to really go back and think about all the different experiences and highs and lows, but right now, we’re two games away from another finals appearance. It’s pretty special.”

The Warriors are the first team to reach five straight finals since the Celtics advanced to 10 in a row from 1957-1966.

Another championship would cement this run of titles among the best ever.

The Los Angeles Lakers of 2000-02 – led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal – are the last team to capture three straight titles.

Golden State advanced without Durant, the reigning two-time finals MVP, and Cousins. Both were sidelined with injuries for the entire Western Conference finals. The finished off Portland without Andre Iguodala, another finals MVP who sat out Game 4 with an injury.

While the Bucks and Raptors are slugging it out in the East, the Warriors are rehabbing.

“I hope it doesn’t go unnoticed or underrated. Five straight finals hasn’t been done since the 60s, since Bill Russell’s Celtics,” fifth-year Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Hasn’t been done for a reason: It’s really, really difficult. I just can’t say enough about the competitive desire about the group of players that we have here and the culture that they have built together, playing together regardless of injury.”

Each Warriors run has been unique. When they won in 2015 it was the first title for the franchise in 40 years.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers derailed them in 2016, but the Warriors bounced back in 2017 with a dominant 16-1 record during the postseason.

Last year, Golden State joined Russell’s Celtics, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and trio of Lakers teams – including George Mikan and company in the 1950s, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the `80s, and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant nearly 20 years ago – as the only franchises in NBA history to capture three championships in four years.

“When I was here the first time, they rebuilt and retooled,” said Andrew Bogut, a member of the 2015 title team before rejoining the Warriors in March.

“They didn’t just sit on their hands thinking it was going to last forever. They freed up cap space, you have to give (general manager) Bob Myers, (owner) Joe Lacob and the coaching staff a lot of credit. There are a lot of teams that win a championship and kind of reward the whole roster, then they end up two-three years down the track and end up in a bit of a hole. Whereas this is a great run for a franchise that will end up as one of the all-time greats.”

The Warriors enjoy playing together and with so many selfless stars and a deep bench they are rarely out of any game.

That doesn’t mean it has been easy, especially with the constant free agency chatter this season.

Durant is an impending free agent and the basketball world continues to speculate on his next move. Thompson’s future with the Warriors is unclear as well, while Green is signed through next season.

“We know that these runs don’t last forever, and obviously there are so many questions and things that could possibly happen with this team this summer,” Green said. “So want to try to take advantage of this opportunity and make the most of it, and deal with the things that come after whenever those things arrive, but right now we’re focused on the task at hand and try to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time, or many times.”

The Warriors are aware of the dynasty talk, but aren’t labeling themselves. They have consistently said their focus is the task of raising another banner in the final season at Oracle Arena before the franchise moves into Chase Center in San Francisco to begin 2019-20.

“I don’t think in those terms. It’s just every opportunity we have to play, these are big moments, big games,” Curry said, “and the context of what this five-year run has been and all that stuff doesn’t really dominate my mind when we’re out there competing.”

 

Nikola Jokic announces he will play for Serbia in World Cup

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This year’s World Cup is going to be stacked with elite NBA players. It usually is a big draw, but this World Cup brings a couple additional things to the table. First, it’s part of the Olympic qualifying process for the 2020 games in Tokyo.

More importantly for players, the World Cup is in China. That is a fast-growing basketball shoe and apparel market and that will push Nike, Adidas, Reebok and any other shoe brand you can think of to “encourage” their stars to go. For example, the Sixers’ Ben Simmons will be playing for Australia.

Nikola Jokic will be one of those stars. The Denver Nuggets center told the Serbian state news agency, via ESPN.

“I am very pleased with everything I did in the NBA this season. I had a great year in which I performed at the All-Star Game and was selected [to the All-NBA first team]. For me, the cherry on top of this whole season would be a medal with the national team.”

Jokic and Serbia may be the USA’s biggest threat in that tournament, this is the team that picked up the silver medal in the last Olympics. Jokic is a better player than he was a few years ago and the team has a long list of quality players including Bogdan Bogdanovic, Milos Teodosic, and Boban Marjanovic.

The World Cup tips off Aug. 31 in China, right up against the start of NBA training camps.

 

Rumor: Clippers not interested in Jimmy Butler, he would sign with Lakers for max

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Should a team feel comfortable giving Jimmy Butler — who will turn 30 before next season, is a hard-charging personality who plays a hard-charging style that can be hard on his body, and has only once played 70 or more games in the past six seasons — a four-year, $141 million max contract?

If the Lakers strike out with Kyrie Irving and other top targets (Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are not interested, according to sources), should they give Butler the max and sign him comfortable or not?

LeBron James has already reached out to start recruiting Butler, and if the Lakers offer him the max Butler would love to come, Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times said on the Colin Cowherd. Markazi adds that the Clippers are not interested because they are aiming higher on the food chain.

That is what a lot of sources have said about the Clippers, they would need to move Danilo Gallinari (and do a little more) to sign both Leonard and Durant, but would and should in a heartbeat.

Butler is going to have options, starting with the Philadelphia 76ers, who do not want to let him go. As it got near the end of Philly’s playoff run it had seemed Butler had found a home, both on the court as a primary ball handler in the halfcourt, and off the court as a leader and someone who bonded with Joel Embiid. Also, Philadelphia can offer more money, a projected $190 million over five years, and for a guy who has had injury issues that extra year and extra money might matter a lot.

Is Butler going to stay? What should we read into his cryptic Instagram post? If he leaves, does he want to play with LeBron? Is that the Lakers’ best option? (I think the Lakers should prefer Irving, who is younger and coming off an All-NBA regular season, plus he has a track record of winning with LeBron, but if not him…)

It is going to be a wild July in the NBA.

Raptors bench play key reason Toronto on cusp of first trip to NBA Finals

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There are multiple reasons the Toronto Raptors have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks three times in a row and now are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and his play — particularly his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — is a huge one. So is the Raptors incredible halfcourt defense, which has held the Bucks to an 84.3 net rating on halfcourt possessions in this series. When the Raptors have been able to slow the game down (which they have done very well the last two games, with possession totals in the mid-90s) they win.

Just don’t forget about the Raptors bench.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell — the three guys coach Nick Nurse leans on in his regular rotations — have been critical for the Raptors, and if they are again on Saturday night in Toronto it will lift the franchise to a place it has never been before.

Toronto’s starting lineup is -23 in this series. That fivesome — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — was -10 in Game 5, struggling against an impressive Milwaukee starting lineup.

On Thursday night, it was the Raptors’ bench that sparked the comeback after the Bucks’ fast start. It has been that way all series. Lineups that have at least one of those core three Raptors bench guys on the floor are +30 this series. Lineups with all three of them on the court together are +12.

Different guys are stepping up each game. In Game 5 it was VanVleet’s turn. After a rough few games in this series, he got to Milwaukee late after being with his wife for the birth of their son, then proceeded to knock down 7-of-9 threes in Toronto’s come-from-behind win.

“He oozes the confidence that spreads to the other guys,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “Again, he just stepped into the shots that were there tonight, and he was probably due to get hot in these playoffs. It’s been probably a long time coming. Great game by him.”

In the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, it was the Milwaukee bench led by Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill that played better and propelled their side to wins. That has flipped in the last three games, it’s been all Raptors after the starters.

Toronto’s bench — and Leonard — are key reasons that this team responded to adversity, going down 0-2 in the series and bouncing back. It’s the experience of having been there before, having dealt with the pressure before, learning about themselves because they have been tested like this in previous years. Leonard and Green have rings from San Antonio, Gasol has been to conference finals in Memphis, Lowry has been there through all the Raptors struggles in recent playoffs. On the bench, Ibaka has seen plenty, and these guys have not been fazed by the moment.

It’s the test the Bucks are facing now — this group had never been challenged like this. Their athleticism and Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level season propelled this team to the best record in the NBA, then they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. After that, they beat the Raptors the first two games of this series.

However, now they have lost three in a row for the first time all season and they are learning about their weaknesses. The Bucks entire offense is based around the idea that nobody can slow Antetokounmpo one-on-one — except Leonard has done just that. The Greek Freak has shot 35.5 percent this series (11-of-31, via Second Spectrum data) when Leonard has been his primary defender. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t found shooters and those guys have not hit the passes he does make, particularly in the halfcourt. Toronto has controlled the tempo the past few games, and when Antetokounmpo isn’t getting easy buckets in transition the Milwaukee offense stumbles. Toronto also has taken care of the ball and hit shots, with Leonard getting to his spots on the floor, which has limited the Bucks transition chances.

The Bucks need to make adjustments — finding ways to get Antetokounmpo the ball with better matchups, not having him attack from the top of the key every time and giving him some picks to force switches — and they need another ball handler, such as Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, to have a monster game. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can and should do a little more shot creation.

And Milwaukee has to contain that Raptors bench and not get beat so badly when they are on the floor.

If not, the Bucks will be on vacation in Cabo next week while the Raptors are still playing.