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Report: Pacers both exploring Paul George trade market with Lakers, seeking deals to get him help

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The Pacers are coming up on a franchise fork in the road.

Ideally, Pacers’ president Larry Bird and company would like to keep Paul George in Indiana and join Bird himself as one of the legendary basketball players of the Hoosier state, in PG’s case as of the greatest Pacers of all time. But to do that would require building a contender around George in Indiana — and that means bringing in more talent fast.

George was direct with the Pacers owner in a recent meeting saying almost exactly that, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

So when George met with team owner Herb Simon in recent days and told him that the Hoosier state was still the place for him, how he would love nothing more than to eventually go down as the greatest Pacer of them all, it came with one qualifier.

If they can contend for a title.

However, if contending isn’t in the cards, George could bolt as a free agent in 2018 (there are plenty of people around the league who will tell you George would love to be a Laker and be back in Los Angeles, where he grew up). That concern has the Pacers thinking maybe they should see what the trade market is for PG, if they can get something for him rather than nothing in 2018.

So while the Pacers are saying they don’t plan to move him, they are trying to get a sense of that market, reports Adrain Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Pacers are working the trade deadline on parallel fronts: Pursuing deals that will bring talent into Indiana to sell George on signing a long-term extension – and soliciting deal offers on George that would signal a rebuild around center Myles Turner, league sources told The Vertical.

Ultimately, the Pacers will have to evaluate the two paths and make a decision before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. There’s no urgency to make a deal for George, unless the Pacers fear the Boston Celtics could ultimately provide Indiana the best possible package of assets in a deal – and think that option could disappear if Boston makes a deal with Chicago for Jimmy Butler.

One of the teams moving to get in on the George market is the Lakers, according to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

The fact that the Lakers are in the process of trying to land George right now, with new lead executive Magic Johnson moving fast to fill that superstar hole that Kobe Bryant left behind, only makes these next two days all the more compelling.

Magic had said in interviews on Tuesday that the young core of the Lakers was “untouchable.” It couldn’t be in this case, it would take Brandon Ingram and at least another young player from that core to even get the conversation started — is Magic going to sell out the young core in his first days in power to get a star player immediately?

Unless Boston is willing to part with one of their Brooklyn picks this year or next, it’s hard to imagine a deal sending George outside Indiana done in the next day before the deadline (3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday). And the word around the league so far is Boston is not giving those picks up.

It feels like Indiana is more likely to bring in help at the deadline — they have engaged in talks for Jahlil Okafor among many others — but failing that will take a harder look at trading George around the draft or this summer.

There is one complicating factor here — the designated player rule. If George can make an All-NBA team this season or next, he would qualify to get the designated player contract extension, five years and $210 million, at least $30 million more than any other team could offer. If George qualifies the Pacers would offer the deal, and he would take it.

The problem is qualifying. George is a borderline All-NBA player, but there are just six All-NBA forward slots available, and the competition is fierce: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, and the list goes on. George made the All-NBA team last year, but he’s on the bubble again this year.

The Pacers likely wait to see if he makes the team again and if they can offer him the designated player deal. If not, George could be moved this summer (or the Pacers could wait until next deadline and see if George is on pace for an All-NBA nod next season, but if not the trade market for him will be less robust because he’s a rental).

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).