Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: Russell Westbrook had a new team to destroy Sunday

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out where Jeopardy puts all the daily doubles

1) Russell Westbrook is raining destruction on the NBA. Five out of his last six games Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double. The one game he didn’t he had a line of 43 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Sunday he dropped 30 points, 17 assists, and 11 rebounds and the Thunder beat the Raptors 108-104. The key part is the win — OKC had missed out on a few of those lately despite the big numbers from Westbrook, and even after tonight the Pelicans are lurking one game back of that eighth seed in the West. Westbrook is carrying the Thunder to that until Kevin Durant returns.

2) The Tony Parker that should frighten the rest of the NBA was back Sunday. Last week if you looked up and down the eight teams in the playoffs for the West and said “who is the weakest link?” you should have said San Antonio. They were just coming off a 2-7 Rodeo road trip and even Tony Parker was admitting he wasn’t playing well after returning from a hamstring injury. Then Sunday happened — vintage Parker showed up and dropped 32 on the Bulls to lead the Spurs to a win. This is what everyone in the West quietly fears — Tony Parker gets right and the Spurs flip the switch the last month or so of the season and then be a force come the playoffs. One game does not make that so, but it will have teams paying attention. Nobody is going to say the Spurs are too old. Not yet, anyway.

3) Charlotte looks like a playoff team. The Hornets have won five in a row and that includes wins over Brooklyn, Toronto and on Sunday Detroit. With those wins Charlotte is the seven seed in the West as you read this, and they likely hold that position. While the offense has been great lately (thanks Mo Williams!) it’s the defense getting back to one of the best in the NBA over the past 15 games. The defense is something the Hornets can sustain (they did last season) and that will keep them in the playoffs in the East.

4) Kobe Bryant was back. On the bench. And that couldn’t have been easy to watch. At the request of coach Byron Scott, Kobe was in a suit on the bench for the Lakers’ Sunday. There have been some in LA saying, “Why isn’t Kobe on the bench teaching these guys?” First off, if you could skip watching the Lakers this season you would, too. Second, who on this roster currently playing are the Lakers going to keep around long term? Jordan Clarkson and… nobody, really. This roster is not part of the Lakers future. That said, Kobe was on the bench Sunday, and got to witness another Lakers collapse — Dallas went on a 16-1 fourth quarter run to take the lead and win the game. Kobe couldn’t do anything about it. Nobody can.

5) Don’t tell anyone, but the Jazz have won seven of their last nine. They have become a very good defensive team (you can thank Rudy Gobert’s developing), one that is now getting enough offense to win games. Like Sunday over a Brooklyn team that should have played desperate but have no answers. This season was always about development of a young roster in Utah, we are really starting to see that.

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.