The most overlooked – and maybe most significant – reason Carmelo Anthony won’t waive his no-trade clause this season

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Carmelo Anthony says he’s committed to the Knicks, says he trusts Phil Jackson, says he believes in Kristaps Porzingis.

And that might all be true.

But so is this: Anthony will get a bonus if he’s traded, and that bonus would be larger if he’s traded in 2016-17 or 2017-18 rather than this season. Anthony also has a no-trade clause, giving him final say in if and when he’s dealt.

Those circumstances – perhaps more than anything else – make it likely the star forward will remain with the Knicks this season.

Anthony’s contract contains a 15% trade kicker, which means if traded, he gets a bonus of 15% of the contract’s remaining value (including the season following his early termination option) from the Knicks. That bonus is allocated across the remaining years of his contract before the early termination option proportionate to the percentage of his salary that’s guarantee. Because Anthony’s deal is fully guaranteed, the trade bonus is allocated equally to each season.

But there’s the major catch: Anthony’s compensation – salary plus trade bonus – in the season of the trade can’t exceed his max salary as defined by years of service or 105% his previous salary, whichever is greater.

That’s why trade bonuses for max players have mattered only minimally. There just isn’t much room under the limit for their compensation to increase.

For example, Anthony has $101,606,280 remaining on his contract – 15% of which would be$15,240,942. But if Anthony is traded this year, his trade bonus would be just $2,118,963. That’s his room below the max –105% his previous salary ($23,581,321) minus his actual salary ($22,875,000) – multiplied by the number of years remaining before his early termination option (three).

And the bonus is only so high because Anthony took a smaller raise this season to give the Knicks extra cap space. If he had gotten his full 7.5% raise, as he does in other seasons, he would have already been above his applicable max. So, his trade bonus would have been $0.

But because the salary cap is skyrocketing in coming seasons due to the new national TV contracts, Anthony will be far below his max salary. That leaves room for the trade bonus to matter.

Next year, Anthony’s max projects to near $30 million while his salary will be shy of $25 million. He could accept a trade bonus of twice the difference (twice because he can allocate it over two years). That still won’t get him his full 15%, but it will come much closer than this season.

Remember, we won’t know 2016-17 max salaries until next July. If the cap comes in higher than expected, Anthony could get a higher portion of his potential trade bonus – up to the full 15% of $11,809,692.

If the cap isn’t quite high enough to get him that full amount, he could amend his contract to remove the early termination option just before the trade. That would allow him to allocate the bonus over three years rather than two, which should get him to the full 15%.

By 2017-18, the cap is projected to rise high enough that Anthony would get his full 15% if traded ($8,125,785). Obviously, though, each season Anthony plays reduces the amount of money left on his contract. In fact, the value shrinks even throughout the regular season.

Anthony has an early termination option before the 2018-19 season, so if he wants to leave the Knicks at that point and can still command so much money, he might as well terminate his contract and become a free agent.

Here is the projected trade bonus for Anthony if he’s traded before each season of his contract:

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Anthony’s bonus won’t change at any point this season. Even at the trade deadline, 15% of his contract’s remaining value will far surpass his potential bonus.

His bonus could begin to decline during the 2016-17 season, depending exactly where the cap lands and whether Anthony is willing to remove his early termination option. By 2017-18, it will matter when in the season he’s dealt.

Really, this whole conversation exposes the perverse incentive of trade bonuses. Anthony’s salary with the Knicks is set unless they renegotiate it upward (the only direction allowable, and why would they do that?), he accepts a buyout (why would he do that?) or he gets traded.

Simply, the only realistic way for Anthony to get a raise before 2018 is to get traded. And the way for him to maximize that raise to get traded in 2016-17 or 2017-18.

Of course, an NBA paycheck is not Anthony’s only concern. Playing in New York creates marketing opportunities he wouldn’t get elsewhere. He must also consider his family – his wife, La La, and son, Kiyan. Does he want to move to a new city? He also probably cares about his legacy, and many would look unfavorably on him bailing on the Knicks after forcing a trade from the Nuggets. There’s a lot to consider.

It’s also easy to see why Anthony would want to leave. The Knicks are (surprisingly patiently) rebuilding, and Anthony is on the wrong side of 30. His window could easily close before New York’s opens.

Don’t underestimate how good Anthony is now, though. Barring injury or major regression, teams will want to trade for him next summer. Remember how strongly he was courted just a year ago? The market for him will probably only expand.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside and Timofey Mozgov could all be free agents next summer. Even add potential restricted free agents like Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond. That’s just nine players. More than nine teams will have max cap room. The ones that strike out on that premier group could very well choose to deal for Anthony rather than splurge on lesser free agents.

Trade bonuses create difficulties in matching salaries, but that’s much easier for teams under the cap. The odds of the Knicks finding a viable trade partner are higher with the cap shooting up. They can probably get a nice package of young players and/or draft picks to enhance rebuilding. That’s especially important, because New York must send the Raptors a first-round pick next year.

This is all hypothetical, though – assessments based on what previous players like Anthony and teams like the Knicks have desired. Anthony and/or the Knicks might buck precedent.

Perhaps, Anthony is totally loyal to the Knicks. But, if he’s not, his trade bonus dictates he should give him the benefit of the doubt this season.

He can reevaluate next summer. He’ll be a year older, and if the Knicks aren’t a year better – and even that might not be enough to get on Anthony’s timeline – he can explore a trade then. And if they have improved, he’ll surely be credited for the turnaround.

It pays to wait.

Literally.

James Harden struggles, Rockets still beat Jazz 104-101 for 3-0 series lead

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — James Harden never worried.

In fact, he didn’t know he had missed his first 15 shots.

Through it all, he never changed the attacking style that made him the NBA’s leading scorer.

Harden overcame a poor shooting performance and scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Houston Rockets to a 104-101 win Saturday over the Utah Jazz for a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

“Keep shooting. Keep being aggressive,” Harden said of his only thoughts. “My job is to go out there and produce. Be aggressive and in attack mode. Nothing changes.”

Not much has worked against Harden for the Jazz, and even when they thought they had him trapped, they weren’t able to control The Beard for a full game.

“You’re going to give something up. The best thing you can do with him is just try to make it hard on him. Even when you do that, there’s times where he’s going to make plays,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

The Jazz didn’t take it easy on Harden, and took every opportunity to knock him down, even when it sent him to the line. For one of the rare times this season, Harden passed up some shots. But he did take them – and make them – when they counted most.

Though the victory was hardly a thing of beauty, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was grateful for the way it went down.

“Sooner or later we have to win games on defense. We did this time,” D’Antoni said of his team which is known for Harden’s lethal 3-point attack but has drastically improved on the defensive end since mid-season.

Harden made a 3-pointer and added two free throws with 42.4 seconds left to give the Rockets a 101-97 lead. After Donovan Mitchell made two free throws, Harden missed another 3-point attempt, but P.J. Tucker, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, grabbed the rebound, was fouled, making one of two free throws.

Chris Paul said: “You trust (Tucker) to make those plays. … He’s going to do anything and everything to help the team win.”

Mitchell had a wide-open look at a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but like so many of his shots in the hard-fought contest, it was off the mark.

Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Conference series is Monday night in Utah.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well and we still won. That just gives us more confidence,” said Harden, who was 3-for-20 shooting with 10 assists. He was 14 for 16 from the line.

Paul scored 18 points and Clint Capela had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who shot 38.4 percent from the field and 67.6 percent from the line.

Mitchell scored 34 points, but struggled shooting, too, making just 9 of his 27 attempts. Derrick Favors had 13 for the Jazz.

Royce O'Neale, who played tenacious defense on Harden, made a 3-pointer for Utah’s last lead at 89-88. In fact, the Jazz led most of the game, but never by more than eight.

The Rockets made their move in the fourth quarter.

Gerald Green made back-to-back 3-pointers and Harden added a pair of free throws with 8:33 remaining put the Rockets up 84-80.

After two slow starts in Houston, the Jazz came out energized with a deafening crowd hanging on every basket. Utah led 11-3 and Harden picked up two fouls in the first 94 seconds, but stayed on the court. He couldn’t find his rhythm until the stretch run.

The Rockets have made no secret they are keying on Mitchell and Ingles to take away their playmaking and make other Utah players beat them. So far, no one else has made them pay.

Mitchell vowed to be more aggressive and apologized for being a “no show” early in the series. He re-introduced himself to the series in an exuberant show of shot-making and open emotion after big plays. But it didn’t last.

“I just started missing shots,” Mitchell said. “I can’t miss 16 shots (after the first quarter). That’s my role and I can’t miss makeable shots.”

Prior to Saturday’s big game, Mitchell was shooting 32.6% and had more turnovers (nine) than assists (six). After his hot start, Mitchell missed 11 straight field goal attempts but never stopped attacking.

Harden was missing 3-pointers and floaters, including two that were rejected by Rudy Gobert early in the game, and didn’t convert one until his emphatic fast-break dunk with 7:34 to play. But then he made a step-back 3-pointer to give Houston its largest lead at 89-83.

The leading MVP candidate did get to the line – something the Jazz have tried desperately to avoid.

Gobert had 10 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.

 

Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo finished dressing, sat in front of his locker and looked up.

Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.

The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.

“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”

That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.

All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.

“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”

Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.

The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):

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Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

But Khris Middleton (20 points), Brook Lopez (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (19 points), Ersan Ilyasova (15 points), Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and George Hill (11 points) stepped up. The Bucks were +23 without Antetokounmpo – one of their best-ever marks while the superstar sat.

“It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.

For the Pistons, it wasn’t all about Blake Griffin.

Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.

In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.

But this record now falls on the franchise.

Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:

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With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.

“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.

For Detroit, a lot of them.

Nuggets beat Spurs 117-103 to tie series at 2-2

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 117-103 on Saturday night, rebounding from a flat performance tie the first-round series at two games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

The Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said prior to the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White‘s 36-point outing in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

White was limited to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Down by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio 69-45 in the second and third.

Aldridge had 13 points in the opening quarter, shooting 5 for 9. His final points of the quarter came when he grabbed a miss by Marco Belineli and slammed it back in. Denver rallied in the second, with Jokic and Murray combining for 15 points as the Nuggets outscored 34-22.

The Spurs stopped driving to the basket and the Nuggets began making their 3-pointers.

Denver finished 15-for-31 on 3-pointers.

 

Trail Blazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.