Festus Ezeli working on his game, confident money will come to him

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If you’re looking for a top candidate to get a head-scratching contract extension, thanks to the coming flood of money from the new NBA television deal, look no further than Festus Ezeli.

The Warriors backup big man is eligible for a contract extension this summer (before Nov. 1) and he is looking for one, but he’s not too concerned about it, according to Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

Ezeli will earn $2 million next season but can become a restricted free agent next July. It has been speculated that Ezeli could be in line for a deal averaging as much as $10 million….

“I deal with playing and training and getting ready for next season,” Ezeli said. “In terms of that stuff, I’m not really worried about it. The Warriors are committed to their players. They love our team. We’re going to be winning for a long time. It’s a young group.”

Talk to Warriors management and they see Ezeli as part of their future. It makes sense. He came into the league with a lot of athletic talent and real defensive potential, but he had a ways to go and this habit of dropping the ball. Manos de piedra. But his hands have gotten better and his defensive awareness has started to blossom.

“It’s never been about my hands,” he said Thursday, as he prepared to meet with about 150 boys and girls at a team-sponsored basketball camp. “It’s kind of weird, because I always hear people talking about my hands…

“It’s more of an issue of the game slowing down. The more I play, the more I get to see the game and it slows down. I get to have a feel for what to do and how to respond.”

In an old-school NBA that is nowhere near worth $10 million a year. But the new TV deal changes everything — the salary cap is going to jump by $40 million in two seasons.

For Golden State, seeing if they can reach a three-year extension averaging around $8 million a season could be a steal. Ezeli could start to take on more defensive load off the bench behind Andrew Bogut, who has two seasons left at $26.4 million total, and physically can only play limited minutes. The Warriors could have Ezeli for a couple seasons after Bogut at an affordable deal if they are willing to bet on his development.

There are going to be some crazy extensions coming in the next couple months, and they are all going to be similar — a team looking at the cap and betting on the player, thinking this could be a steal in a couple years. These teams have to spend 90 percent of the cap anyway — that is the salary floor — so if you have young player you like, why not bet on developing him?

 

Rajon Rondo breaks hand, will be out weeks

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It was a big night for the Lakers. LeBron James was the most aggressive he has been as a Laker and took over the game, dropping 44 points on the Trail Blazers. It was also the Lakers’ sixth win in seven games, moving them up in the crowded West.

But it was not all good news: Rajon Rondo has broken his hand.

While the Lakers will not put a timeline on the injury, traditionally it takes a month or more to heal.

The Lakers have been 3.4 points per 100 possessions better this season with Rondo on the court, with that improvement coming on the defensive end. Lonzo Ball has started in front of him and will continue to do so.

Rondo was brought in as a mentor to the young LAkers and that is going to continue.

LeBron James passes Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on all-time scoring list

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LeBron James followed Wilt Chamberlain’s footsteps in establishing himself as a great player then joining the Lakers.

Now, LeBron has passed Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list.

LeBron scored 44 points in the Lakers’ win over the Trail Blazers on Wednesday to move ahead of Chamberlain for fifth in career points. LeBron now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

The leaderboard:

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LeBron had his finest game with the Lakers on Wednesday, posting 44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks in a 126-117 victory. He tried and failed to get a triple-double late, but he still got the win and an enhanced place in NBA history.

Next up for LeBron: Jordan, the only top-six all-time scorer who never played for the Lakers.

76ers lose Jimmy Butler’s, Timberwolves win Robert Covington’s and Dario Saric’s first games with new teams

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Jimmy Butler had 14 points in his Philadelphia debut, but the 76ers collapsed late and lost at Orlando, 111-106, after Terrence Ross hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left that helped the Magic finish off a big comeback Wednesday night.

Orlando scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, then held the 76ers without a field goal over the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points for the Magic, including two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining.

Joel Embiid finished with a triple-double of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for the 76ers, who lost for the seventh time in nine road games. J.J. Redick led Philadelphia with 22 points but committed two turnovers in the final 31 seconds.

Butler played 33 minutes and shot 6 for 12 from the field. The four-time All-Star was acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade.

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves improved to 2-0 since trading Butler with a 107-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 16 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins scored 23.

The game was Minnesota’s first with forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric. They were acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers along with injured guard Jerryd Bayless in exchange for the disgruntled Butler.

The trade was completed Monday, meaning Covington and Saric did not join their new teammates in time for the Timberwolves’ 120-113 victory over Brooklyn that night.

Covington started Wednesday, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He drained a pair of long, catch-and-shoot 3s in the third quarter as the Timberwolves were trying to hold off a Pelicans comeback.

E'Twaun Moore scored a season-high 31 and Anthony Davis had 29 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans, who had won three straight.

TIP-INS

76ers: Embiid made all three of his 3-pointers in the first 4:09 of the game. … Ben Simmons is 23 for 28 (.821) from the foul line at home, and 22 for 44 (.500) on the road.

Magic: F Jonathan Isaac played 16 minutes after missing six games with a sprained right ankle. … By winning for the fifth time in seven games, the Magic broke a four-game losing streak against the 76ers.

Pelicans: C Nikola Mirotic returned after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. He had 16 points and 10 boards. . Head coach Alvin Gentry said PG Elfrid Payton is close to returning from his own right ankle sprain, but he sat out his ninth straight game.

Timberwolves: The win was Minnesota’s fifth straight against New Orleans. . G Derrick Rose (left knee soreness) did not dress after playing 39 minutes in the win over Brooklyn on Monday. Rose is averaging 19.2 points and 4.8 assists per game this season. . Teague played for the second time in three days after missing six games with a bruised left knee.

UP NEXT

76ers: Home against Utah on Friday night.

Magic: Home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

Pelicans: Host the New York Knicks on Friday night.

Timberwolves: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

PBT Extra: Philadelphia has Jimmy Butler. Now what?

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Not long after the trade sending Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia was announced, there were some Sixers fans were on Twitter planning the championship parade route.

Reality, of course, is never quite so simple. The Orlando Magic made that clear knocking off Philadelphia in Butler’s debut.

What should we expect from these Sixers now? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra. Expect exceptional defense. However, are the big three of Buter/Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons willing to make the sacrifices necessary to their game to win at the highest level? We will see.