NBA Free Agency Preview: Top five centers

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We’ve gone over the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards. Now it’s time for the big guys in the paint.

There are some talented players in this group but they all come with questions. They are all gambles. What teams will make the smart plays and what teams will overpay is going to be fascinating to watch over the coming weeks. Here is our list of top centers.

1) Andre Drummond (restricted). Just 22 and the second best all-around center in the league (behind DeMarcus Cousins). He’s technically a free agent but he did the Kawhi Leonard move of not taking his extension last season so the Pistons would have more cap room to make moves. Now they will max him out and he will take it.

2) Hassan Whiteside. He has gone from a guy who couldn’t stick in Sacramento due to a lack of work ethic and maturity, through playing overseas in places such as Lebanon, to coming back to Miami and leading the league in blocks. He’s going to get a $22 million a year max contract, which is amazing for a guy who has never even made $1 million in a season before. Can he handle it? A lot of teams including Dallas, New York, and the Los Angeles Lakers think he can and will chase him hard. Miami is in the driver’s seat, he wants to stay with the Heat, but they are chasing Kevin Durant and have to pay Dwyane Wade, it’s a financial tightrope walk for Pat Riley at the start of free agency.

3) Dwight Howard. Despite what his legions of Twitter-based critics think, Dwight Howard can still play: He averaged 13.7 points a game on only 8.5 shot attempts last season, added 11.8 rebounds a night, and is a decent defender. He’s not the same player after the back surgeries, but he’s good. The questions teams have are about everything off the court — he’s left a wake of fired coaches and damaged organizations behind him — and how long they really want to be committed to a center with back problems. He’s a No. 3 option who should be focused on defense, but he doesn’t want to accept that role. That said, when teams strike out on Whiteside, Howard’s agent will get a lot of calls.

4) Pau Gasol. At age 36, Gasol was an All-Star last season who put up numbers for the Bulls — 16.5 points and 11 rebounds a game. His high IQ game and passing can help any offense. However, there are declines in efficiency that are not going to get better with age, and he defends like a Spanish matador at this point. The Spurs are reportedly interested and that fit makes sense, but the Knicks and a number of other teams will give Gasol a lot of options.

5) Joakim Noah. He’s great in the locker room and he’s still fierce on the defensive end, but at 31 years old his body has started to betray him and teams need to be concerned about how much he can play (and if they can limit his minutes). There is going to be a lot of interest in Noah, and that starts in New York, which already acquired his buddy Derrick Rose.

Bonus: Bismack Biyombo. The fact he’s going to get a contract in the $20 million a year range shows how important rim protection is and how desperate teams are to obtain it. Biyombo has little offensive game to speak of, but teams want his defense that much. He’s not sticking in Toronto, and once teams strike out on Hassan Whiteside Biyombo’s agent will get a lot of calls.

Others of note: Al Jefferson, Zaza Pachulia, Festus Ezeli (restricted), Ian Mahinmi, Donatas Motiejunas (restricted), Timofey Mozgov, Marreese Speights

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t like how Bruce Lee was portrayed by Quentin Tarantino

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was friends with Bruce Lee before the actor’s tragic death in 1973. He was his teacher, pal, and co-star in in 1972’s Game of Death. Naturally, Abdul-Jabbar is protective of his friend’s legacy, and he’s not too happy about how Lee was portrayed in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film.

Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a meandering, beautiful, boring tribute to the film industry as it was changing at the end of the 1960s. It’s worth seeing just as a thing to look at, but the narrative — or lack thereof — is plodding, and the ending harkens back to a kind of transposed version of Inglourious Basterds that leaves you wondering what the point of making the film was in the first place.

Somewhere in the middle of its long 2h 45m runtime, there’s an extended scene in Once Upon A Time where Brad Pitt’s character Cliff fights Bruce Lee. Why? Probably because Tarantino wanted to pay tribute to Lee being an important part of that era, and because Tarantino so untouchable that nobody could tell him to leave the extemporaneous scene on the cutting room floor.

Instead, what Tarantino’s tribute scene appears to have angered Abdul-Jabbar along with members of Lee’s family.

In an article penned in The Hollywood Reporter this week, Abdul-Jabbar called Lee’s portrayal “sloppy” and “somewhat racist”.

Via THR:

Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does not live up to this standard. Of course, Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants. But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being.

The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt), an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle. Of course the blond, white beefcake American can beat your fancy Asian chopsocky dude because that foreign crap doesn’t fly here.

Lee’s family, including daughter Shannon, has also spoken up about how Lee was portrayed in the film. In an interview with The Wrap, Shannon Lee said that, “He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air.”

Once Upon A Time is a forgettable movie wrapped in the trappings of modern prestige media, where viewers are either unable separate production value from content, or unwilling to do so. It is beautiful, and the people involved are heavy hitters. But halfway through, the viewer is left asking “What’s the plot of this movie?” and that question remains until the final 15 minutes, when the inevitable, telegraphed ending finally, mercifully closes the story and the end credits roll.

Meanwhile, in true Tarantino form, his indulgences have created a mini-storm around one of his films in the most unnecessary way. An ill-conceived and executed scene that added nothing but length to Once Upon A Time has turned into a grating talking point for people like Abdul-Jabbar and Shannon Lee.

Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor to host ‘NBA Countdown’

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Things just keep getting better for NBA fans when it comes to national TV broadcasts.

It was announced in August that TNT would be doing away with the “Players Only” broadcast that appeared on NBA TV. Those broadcast crews were roundly criticized as being meandering and uninformed when it came to the product on the floor.

Now fans are getting more of what they want in the form of Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.

According to a report from Richard Deitsch, Nichols and Taylor will be the hosts of ESPN’s pregame show, NBA Countdown.

Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups Won’t return as analysts on the pregame show next year, leaving just Jalen Rose. That means there are a couple of spots open, and we don’t yet know who ESPN will fill them with. Nichols will reportedly continue to host her regular show “The Jump”.

As the league continues to get more popular, it makes sense that broadcast partners listen to the audience. Nichols is an NBA favorite, so having her be more visible makes a lot of sense.

NBA players roast Kyle Kuzma over outfit posted to Instagram (PHOTOS)

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Kyle Kuzma is going to be expected to have a big year for the Los Angeles Lakers. He thinks he can have the impact of a third star for L.A., a team that didn’t add Kawhi Leonard to go alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis this summer.

That’s big talk from Kuzma, but perhaps that talk has boosted his confidence a little bit. In a photo posted to Instagram this week, Kuzma could be seen wearing… whatever this is.

Via Twitter:

Twitter had a great time with Kuzma outfit, which looks like something pulled straight out of an early 2000s episode of TRL.

Kuzma’s contemporaries in the NBA thought he was getting a little wild with it, too, with several hopping onto the post to roast the Lakers big man.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know what this means for the upcoming Lakers season, but I’m sure it’s something interesting.

Draymond Green says he’s ‘at a loss for words about’ DeMarcus Cousins injury

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Everyone has been upset about the recent ACL tear suffered by DeMarcus Cousins. The Los Angeles Lakers big man just can’t seem to catch a break, and has injured his Achilles, quad, and now ACL in the span of two years.

Last year was supposed to be one of retribution for Cousins with the Golden State Warriors, but the results were disappointing. Even still, the Lakers decided to take a chance on Cousins as they tried to push for supremacy in the Western Conference.

Meanwhile folks have shown their support for the former Sacramento Kings All-Star, with Draymond Green being the most recent star to offer comment. The former Warriors teammate of Cousins told ESPN how he felt about the injury this week.

Via ESPN and Marc Spears of The Undefeated:

“One of my goals coming into this season was for DeMarcus to destroy everybody and come back and show how great of a player he is and get what I think he deserves,” Green told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “I’m really at a loss for words about it. It’s one that really hurt me for sure.”

Cousins is now 29 years old, and the question is whether he will ever return to any kind of form approaching what he had in Sacramento. His injuries have been devastating, and they are the kind that few have returned from to play at an elite level in the NBA.

Cousins appears to be fast approaching a spot in NBA history with other potential greats whose careers were ruined by injury. Hopefully he can find a way to avoid that track.