Kyle Korver
Associated Press

Three things we learned on Thursday: Cavaliers land Korver, here’s how he makes them better

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The biggest news in the NBA Thursday was off the court. Which on a night when Harden and Westbrook faced off is saying something. Time to break it all down.

1) Kyle Korver is headed to Cleveland, upping the arms race with Golden State. We’ve seen this in other sports — the 49ers and Cowboys back in the day, the Yankees and Red Sox more recently. Teams making moves that are mostly about one rival. In the NBA we saw it clearly in the 1980s — the Lakers and Celtics would make roster additions (Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, etc.) aimed at the other and NBA Finals matchups. Sure, those guys helped against the Chicago’s and Houston’s and whoever else, but the move was mostly thinking ahead to the NBA’s biggest stage.

That’s what Cleveland landing Kyle Korver in a trade from the Hawks was. Cleveland only gave up the lightly-used Mike Dunleavy, a 2019 first-round pick (that very likely is in the mid to high 20s), and maybe a dead-weight contract like Mo Williams. That’s a steal. And make no mistake, that was aimed right at the heart of the Warriors. Korver is an upgrade for the Cavaliers, and let’s break down what he brings to the team that is already the defending champs.

• More three point shooting. The Cavaliers are already second in the NBA in three-pointers made per game and three-point shooting percentage as a team. That said, you can never have too much shooting — and of late the Cavs have needed it. With J.R. Smith out until sometime after the All-Star break (thumb surgery) and Kyrie Irving injured the last few games, the depth on the wing has been exposed. Korver helps solve that problem in the short-term and gives the team more versatility and matchup options come the playoffs.

• Korver is an upgrade over J.R. Smith. The Cavaliers are going to be without Smith until after the All-Star break (and maybe into March) following surgery on his thumb. Enter Korver, who can bring the catch-and-shoot that Smith has become deadly at, plus Korver brings other skills to the table: Few are better using screens than he. Korver is an underrated passer. Close out too fast on him and Kover will put the ball on the floor and get into the lane (where he has a surprisingly good floater). He’s going to fit in beautifully, and even Korver acknowledged it.

• Korver has slowed a little the last couple of seasons, but he’s still very dangerous. The combination of some knee/ankle injuries and the fact he is 35 have slowed Korver a little the past couple seasons. It’s particularly noticeable on the defensive end — Korver is not quite the player he was just a couple of seasons ago. That said, he’s still solid team defender, still shooting 40 percent from three overall, still a very high IQ player, and is still a significant talent upgrade.

• Korver’s already impressive shooting numbers are going to go up. We have seen this with Kevin Durant this season: An already amazing shooter goes to a team with more weapons, he gets better looks, and his shooting efficiency improves. Korver is going to feel the same thing as he slides to open spaces on the arc while Kyrie Irving and LeBron James drive the lane. Korver already is shooting 60.8 percent eFG% on catch-and-shoots this season, that number will improve. Also, he has it hit 49 percent of his uncontested threes this season — he’s going to see a lot more of those looks.

• I see your small-ball “death lineup” and call. If he wants in the NBA Finals — and let’s be honest, that’s what we’re talking about with this move, a Warriors/Cavs rematch — Tyronn Lue can roll out a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Channing Frye. When they run a pick-and-roll with that group, Golden State can try to switch, but LeBron’s a matchup nightmare who can drive/post up somebody, and who you going to leave to help out? I don’t know if that lineup defends as well as the Warriors death lineup — that’s the advantage of Draymond Green — but it will be interesting.

• Cavaliers GM David Griffin deserves some credit. He’s been amazing at securing pieces to go around his big three core the past couple years. Other teams had called about Korver, he came through with the first round pick the Hawks wanted and got the deal done.

• Is Korver a rental for Cleveland? Does it matter? They didn’t give up much, and this was a move about a ring this season. He’s a free agent this summer. But the question of Korver’s future in Cleveland is going to have to wait until July, because they need to see how he helps them in June before making a decision.

2) Korver is just the first domino to fall in Atlanta. Coach/GM Mike Budenholzer has clearly realized that with Al Horford bolting this summer his Hawks are a third-tier team in the East at best — they may have won five in a row right now, but they certainly don’t match up with Cleveland (before the trade) and weren’t going to beat Toronto or Boston either in the playoffs. Horford already scarred this team when he left last summer, and they decided not to get burned in free agency again.

Korver is gone. Thabo Sefolosha will be gone. But the big one — the All-Star player bringing real returns — is Paul Millsap and all reports are now out of Atlanta that he will be on the move as well. It’s going to take a big package to get him, and the Hawks can play different teams off each other — just some of the teams mentioned are Sacramento, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland, New Orleans, but the big gun is Toronto — and get a quality package in return. But those dominos are going to start to fall.

Enjoying that homecoming, Dwight Howard?

3) Russell Westbrook and James Harden put on a show. Oklahoma City tried their best to take James Harden away — he was 6-of-16 shooting, although he did get to the line enough for 26 points — but the key to the Rockets win is that Harden has some real help and trusts those guys. You saw it on the final play: OKC is not going to let Harden beat them, Steven Adams doubled him, so Hard found Nene wide open, and he was fouled by Jerami Grant and Nene iced the game at the line.

(Was he fouled by Grant? Thunder fans will tell you no. Grant certainly got some ball, and I don’t see a lot of contact, but I’m curious what the Two-Minute Report will say, those guys have all the camera angles.)

The bottom line is this: Westbrook had 49, and he is all the OKC offense — you may not love all his pull-up three choices, but he hits those plenty (think Celtics game) and he’s their best option. Harden has more help 12 dimes and more help — Eric Gordon had 22, Nene 18, and the Rockets had five players not named Harden in double figures. The Rockets know how to play off each other and get shots — for example, notice that sometimes Gordon/Ryan Anderson/Trevor Ariza spot up about three feet (a full step) behind the arc, because they know Harden will find them and it makes the close-out by the defender harder. The Rockets have figured out how to make this all work.

But man, what a show. I would love this as a playoff matchup.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.

Raptors, Pascal Siakam reportedly agree to four-year, $129.9 million max contract extension

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Pascal Siakam is going to be the face of the Toronto Raptors going forward.

This was expected. Toronto was never going to let its young star slip away; the only questions were when it a contract extension got done and the price.

The answers came Saturday, with the Raptors and Siakam’s agents reaching terms on what will be a four-year, $129.9 million max extension for the reigning Most Improved Player. Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN broke the news.

There are no player or team options, this is a straight four years.

Last season, his third in the league, Siakam made a huge leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, took on a larger role as a shot creator, played impressive wing defense, and was a key part of the Raptors winning the first title in franchise history. He is at the heart of their future and a guy the Raptors wanted to keep through whatever rebuilding/retooling process comes in the next few years.

The Raptors could have played it out, and let Siakam go to restricted free agency next summer. However, in what will be a down free agent market, some team would have tried to poach the young wing — a real position of need around the league — with a max offer. The Raptors would have matched, but all that drama might have created bad blood. Maybe the Raptors overpaid a little, but they get to keep their guy and have him happy.

Siakam is the third player to get a max extension to their rookie contract this summer. Both Ben Simmons (Philadelphia) and Jamal Murray (Denver) signed five-year, $170 million max extensions. Siakam decided to take one year fewer, but also hits free agency again a little earlier.