Draymond Green at center gives Warriors wrinkle necessary to beat Rockets

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After the Warriors’ 110-106 Game 1 over the Rockets, both coaches were asked about continuing to use small-ball lineups throughout the series.

“The one thing I can tell you is that both teams like to play small,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.

Speak for yourself.

“No,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “I hope that Dwight is healthy and we can stay big. I like us playing when we play big. We didn’t have that option tonight with Dwight out.”

The Rockets didn’t show much against the Warriors’ small units with Dwight Howard, who’s battling injury.

Golden State outscored Houston 47-29 in 16 minutes with Draymond Green at center. When Howard was in, it was 12-2 Warriors in three minutes.

In his final six possessions against the Warriors’ small lineup, Howard committed three turnovers, missed a shot and got strongly boxed out by Green after two other Rockets missed.

Green – who finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block – sure enjoyed his last possession against Howard:

The Warriors played 330 minutes entering Game 1 with Green at center and four wings/guards – a collection of Harrison Barnes,Andre Iguodala,Stephen Curry,Klay Thompson,Shaun Livingston,Leandro Barbosa,Justin Holiday andBrandon Rush – behind him. The results have been spectacular:

  • Offensive rating: 120.4
  • Defensive rating: 93.0
  • Net rating: +27.4

All three marks would easily lead the league.

Tuesday, the Warriors kicked it into overdrive on both ends with Green at center:

  • Offensive rating: 138.2
  • Defensive rating: 87.9
  • Net rating: +50.3

It works offensively, because the Warriors have excellent shooters who love to get out in transition. Smaller lineups are faster lineups.

When most teams go small, they sacrifice defense. Not the Warriors.

“Draymond is one of the best defensive players in the league because he can guard low-post guys and perimeter guys,” Kerr said. “He can switch onto James Harden. He can guard Dwight Howard. Doesn’t mean he’s always going to get a stop, but he’s always going to put up a fight, and he’s got a chance.”

Green’s interior defense is excellent, though not unique. Other players can duplicate or even best his ability defend the paint, including teammate Andrew Bogut.

But find another player in Green’s interior-defensive class with his ability to lead the fastbreak, pass and shoot 3-pointers. Some of his defensive peers are lumbering centers who are offensive minuses or, best-case scenario, inside scorers. Green is a floor-spacer.

I think that often gets lost in discussions of Green’s defense. It’s his ability to defend while contributing so much on offense that sets him apart.

Green is the total package, and that shines through when he’s at center (thanks in part to his wonderfully capable perimeter teammates).

Kerr saw it tonight, and that’s why he wants to see more. McHale saw it, too – and that’s why he’s seen enough.

Harrison Barnes declining $25,102,512 player option with Kings

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Harrison Barnes‘ salary was so high, he became a talking point in the debate about WNBA salaries.

But he’s so confident enough he’ll a better deal, he’s leaving $25,102,512 on the table with the Kings.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Kings project to have about $60 million in cap space – likely more than they know what do with.

They could re-sign Barnes. By trading for him last year, they indicated they value him more than the rest of the league does.

Even if he settles for a lower salary next season than his player option called for, this could be the 27-year-old Barnes’ opportunity to secure a long-term deal. He’s a solid outside shooter and, even if he’s better at power forward, capable of playing small forward in a league thirsty for wings.

Sacramento could definitely use a player like him.

Can the Kings lure someone better, either this summer or – if they keep their books clean – a future year? Unless way overpaid, free agents have tended to avoid Sacramento. But the rapidly improving De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are leading a turnaround.

Barnes’ free agency could be a good litmus test for the Kings’ reputation now. Can they convince him to continue his role on a rising team? Will they have to pay a premium to keep him? Or does he just want to leave?

Report: Anthony Davis intends to receive full trade bonus

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The Lakers are reportedly on track to trade for Anthony Davis on July 6 – the date an important distinction in determining the Lakers’ cap space.

The other key question: Will Davis take his full $4,063,953 trade bonus?

The Pelicans will pay the bonus. It will count against the Lakers’ cap.

Especially considering Davis requested a trade, New Orleans could have pressed him to waive the trade bonus in order to accommodate him. Likewise, the Lakers – his desired team – could have made the deal contingent on Davis waiving the trade bonus.

Ramona Shelburne on ESPN:

My understanding is he doesn’t intend to waive that. He’s due the four million dollars, and he’s going to keep it. But again, as you just noted in that monologue, things can change.

If he takes the full bonus, Davis’ salary next season will increase from $27,093,018 to $31,156,971. And good for him. He earned the trade kicker in his contract.

This also supports agent Rich Paul’s contention that he puts Davis’ interests first while representing Davis, not catering to fellow client LeBron James. Because while the extra money is nice for Davis, this hurts LeBron’s Lakers.

The Lakers now project to have just $24 million in cap room. They can still get a helpful player or two, but $28 million would have gone further.

I wonder whether the Pelicans prefer to pay Davis’ bonus. Though a $4,063,953 check is nothing to sneeze at, tying up the Lakers’ cap space has value with New Orleans getting so many future draft picks from Los Angeles. Maybe the Pelicans have already made Davis getting his full bonus an essential aspect of this trade.

If not, the Lakers have a week before the Davis trade can become official to pitch free agents. Perhaps, if they line up certain free agents and show him the spending power of that extra money, Davis would waive all or some of his trade bonus.

But I wouldn’t blame him if he wants his money and puts the onus on the Lakers to build a strong team, anyway. That’d sounds a lot like another Paul client.

Kawhi Leonard leaving NBA-champion Raptors would be unlike anything we’ve ever seen

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Many Raptors fans hoped Kawhi Leonard would use yesterday’s championship parade to declare his plan to re-sign with Toronto.

They got a laugh and not much else.

But they can be heartened – or maybe eventually heartbroken –a by this: Stars almost never switched teams immediately following a title.

Before this year, there have been…

  • 49 Finals MVPs who won a championship. None switched teams that offseason.
  • 147 All-Stars who won a championship. None switched teams that offseason.
  • 124 All-NBA players who won a championship. Only one switched teams that offseason.

In 1998, Scottie Pippen got signed-and-traded from the Bulls to the Rockets. He was neither an All-Star nor Finals MVP that year, but he made the All-NBA third team. After leaving Chicago, he never achieved any of those accolades.

Leonard checked all three boxes this season – Finals MVP, All-NBA, All-Star. He looks poised to take over as the NBA’s best player for the next few several years.

It’d be unprecedented for someone like him to bolt.

The most productive player to leave a championship team immediately after winning a title? It might be Tyson Chandler, who posted 9.4 win shares for the 2011 Mavericks then got signed-and-traded to the Knicks.

Even while missing 22 games amid load management and minor injury, Leonard posted 9.5 win shares last season.

Here’s how Leonard compares to the players with the most win shares in a title-winning season who began play elsewhere the following year:

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Of course, Leonard isn’t bound by history. He’ll make his own decision. If he wants to leave the Raptors for the Clippers, Knicks or anyone else, he can.

But players just usually stick with a champion. LeBron James said he might have re-signed with the Heat if they won the 2014 title. Kyrie Irving was unhappy after the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship but didn’t request a trade until they lost in the 2017 NBA Finals. Shaq and Kobe coexisted peacefully enough until the Lakers stopped winning titles.

It’s just hard to leave a team that has proven its ability to win a championship, and Leonard would have that in Toronto.

Report: Al Horford opting out with Celtics

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Celtics president Danny Ainge called restructuring Al Horford‘s contract status – which would involve the center declining his $30,123,015 player option then re-signing for a lower starting salary but more total compensation in a multi-year deal – a priority.

This is either a step toward that or a step toward Boston, with Kyrie Irving seemingly exiting, losing multiple stars this summer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Celtics would project to have about $32 million in cap space. That’d be about enough for a max player with fewer than 10 years experience, and Boston would get the room exception (projected to be about $5 million)

Or the Celtics could use Bird Rights to re-sign Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris. That route would come with a mid-level exception, either the non-taxpayer (projected to be about $9 million) or taxpayer (projected to be about $6 million).

Horford could determine Boston’s path. If the 33-year-old wants to re-sign, that’d probably consume most of the Celtics’ cap space. If he sees Irving leaving and wants to chase a title elsewhere, Boston could reset around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and three first-round picks in Thursday’s draft.

The Celtics could bring back Rozier, who’ll be a restricted free agent, in either scenario. But if Horford departs, that’d at least open the door to pursue an outside point guard – like D'Angelo Russell or Malcolm Brogdon – to replace Irving.