PBT’s Sunday Night Winners/Losers: Anthony Davis is playing like an MVP

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while being glad you didn’t get surgery to look like Kim Kardashian….

source:  • Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. Nobody has an answer for Anthony Davis this season. You would think the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder might, as they have Serge Ibaka in the paint and a handful of other defensive-minded bigs to throw at him. Nope. Sunday night Davis was too much for everyone and put up 38 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a New Orleans win. He did most of his damage at the rim but also was 5-of-8 from the midrange and it didn’t matter if the Thunder defended him will — he was 8-of-11 on contested shots. This season he has been the best player in the NBA, hands down. A lot of voters will only seriously consider a player for MVP if his team is doing well (almost all the winners come from top 4 teams that year) but Davis’ play has to merit serious consideration this season. And when he gets help — like from Jrue Holiday playing good defense on Russell Westbrook — the Pelicans do win. I just wish New Orleans would keep going to him down the stretch, rather than having their guards decide to try to take over.

source:  • Kobe Bryant. He said after the Lakers loss to the Thunder Friday he was tired and feeling it in his legs. Kobe was 8-of-30 shooting against the Kings Sunday night (scoring 25 points), is 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) over his last two games and 33-of-113 (29.2 percent) in his last five games. Byron Scott has got to give the man a night or two off to rest, then run some sets for other guys even when Kobe is on the court. But that will really be up to Bryant as he has all the power in the organization (why do you think when the Lakers needed a game winner against the Thunder a clearly exhausted Kobe got his number called for an isolation set).

source:  • DeMarcus Cousins. The Lakers simply had no answer for the physicality of Cousins in the paint, and down the stretch the Kings leaned on him virtually every time down (New Orleans, this is what I’m talking about). The Lakers tried Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, going small and then eventually doubling — which is when Cousins kicked the ball out to shooters, the reason Ben McLemore had a career high of 23. Cousins had 29 points and 14 rebounds. When he is playing like this the Kings are a dangerous team. No matter who is the coach.

source:  • LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. That is a quality win. The Cavaliers had little trouble with one of the best teams in the NBA so far this season, dismissing the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday behind 25 points from LeBron James. (To be fair, no Zach Randolph or Tony Allen for Memphis). Again it was all about the Cavaliers offense which carved up a usually stout Memphis defense and shot 60.5 percent overall and hit 7-of-14 from three.

source:  • New York Knicks. Did you know that after Sunday’s ugly Knicks loss to the Raptors (118-108, and it wasn’t that close) and the Sixers win over the Magic, the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers are tied in the standings? It’s true. At 5-25 the Knicks are 18 games back of the conference-leading Raptors, and so are the 3-23 Sixers. The Knicks are percentage points ahead of the Sixers in the standings, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact they are terrible.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.