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If Joel Embiid wins Rookie of the Year, he’d demolish record for fewest games by major-award winner

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Patrick Ewing missed 32 games his rookie year, summing up the season by saying: ”It was disappointing in some areas. It was very hard to watch your teammates and not be able to play.”

He still won Rookie of the Year.

Nobody has ever won a major individual award — Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year — while playing such a low percentage of his team’s games. But Ewing’s record, playing just 50 of the Knicks’ 82 games in 1985-86, could fall this year.

Joel Embiid, who played only 31 games before the 76ers ruled him out for the rest of the season, could still win Rookie of the Year.

If not Embiid, who else?

Embiid was incredibly successful while on the court, nearly singlehandedly transforming Philadelphia. He almost became just the third rookie All-Star this millennium (Blake Griffin and Yao Ming).

Meanwhile, the 2016 draft class his been dismal. No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is missing the entire season himself. No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram and No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown have increasingly flashed talent, but they’ve too often struggled adjusting to the NBA. Going further down the lottery produces similar results — at best.

Bucks guard Malcolm Brogodn, the No. 36 pick, has been the second-best rookie behind Embiid. Beyond Brogdon, the only other two rookies with more win shares than Embiid are the Heat’s Rodney McGruder (undrafted in 2013) and Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez (No. 35 pick in 2015).

Considering Embiid is done, the Spurs’ Davis Bertans (No. 42 in 2011), Thunder’s Alex Abrines (No. 32 in 2013) and Grizzlies’ Andrew Harrison (No. 44 in 2015) could soon pass Embiid, too. And we’re obviously not talking about eye-catching talent.

The Nuggets’ Juan Hernangomez (No. 15) and Raptors’ Pascal Siakam (No. 27) are highest among 2016 first-rounders in win shares — and they’re still just tied for eighth with the Mavericks’ Dorian Finney-Smith (undrafted). The highest-ranking 2016 lottery pick is Marquese Chriss, who places a meager 12th.

There’s also a strong case win shares undervalue excellent per-minute performance relative to playing time. Embiid has probably made more of a difference in his 786 minutes than Brogdon has in nearly twice as many, and that might remain true even as Brogdon continues contributing down the stretch.

All this leaves Embiid a viable choice for Rookie of the Year.

Want to reward the rookie who has reached the highest level? That’s Embiid.

Want to reward the rookie who added the most value to his team this season? That could come down to a tossup between Embiid and Brogdon (and maybe another challenger, if someone finishes strong).

Want to reward a super-talented rookie who sustained solid production over a reasonable number of games? Um… There just isn’t anyone this year, though some voters will surely talk themselves into Ingram or Brown.

It’s too early to say Embiid deserves Rookie of the Year. Brogdon and everyone else still has time to build their cases.

But I predict Embiid will win the award. Enough voters will include him on their ballots, including some who pick him first, and a lack of a clear second choice will have other competitors splitting votes.

If Embiid wins, he’d demolish Ewing’s record for games missed by a major-award winner.

Here’s every major-award winner who played fewer than 70 games adjusted to an 82-game schedule (seasons with fewer games are noted in parentheses):

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In fact, just a few players have received even a single vote for a major award while playing a lower percentage of their team’s games than Embiid:

Andrew Bogut (2012 Most Improved Player): 12 games

Bogut received single first-place vote. Even in a lockout-shorted 66-game season, the then-Bucks center barely played due to injury. How did he get an MIP vote? Accounting firm Ernst & Young screwed up a vote than should have gone to Andrew Bynum.

Michael Jordan (1995 Most Valuable Player): 17 games

Jordan came back from his baseball retirement and played 17 games in 1995. Some voters probably figured he’s still Michael freaking Jordan and picked based on his ability, not his contributions that season.

John Williams (1990 Sixth Man of the Year): 18 games

Williams came off the bench in 81 games the year prior, and then he averaged 18.2 points per game for the Washington Bullets in 1989-90. One problem: Williams started all 18 of his games in 1989-90. Still, two people voted for him.

Sean Elliott (2000 Most Improved Player): 19 games

Elliott missed most the season due to a kidney transplant. When he returned late in the year, many wanted to rally around him. One person decided an MIP vote was the appropriate way to do so.

I didn’t have Rookie of the Year voting before 1977, so there could be a few other little-playing players who received award votes. But these situations have often involved strange errors or extremely irregular circumstances.

By comparison, Embiid’s situation is pretty standard. He played extremely well then got hurt. Other rookies have mostly struggled.

The combination just sets up the possibility for history: Embiid playing only 31 games and winning a major award.

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)

Drew Brees sent Zion Williamson a signed jersey that said “Passing the torch to you”

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New Orleans is a football town.

The Pelicans are trying to carve out their space in that market — and landing Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick in the draft has helped generate the kind of excitement they need — but the Big Easy is all about the Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees is treated like a deity in that town.

Brees welcomed Williamson to town Tuesday by giving him an autographed jersey, one that read, “Passing the torch to you.” It also came with a card that said, “Zion, welcome to the family. Let’s dance.”

The best part of this is Williamson’s reaction — he is genuinely in awe. Much like when he teared up on the night of the draft (when we all knew he was going to be taken No. 1 for months), Williamson just seems humble and taken aback by everything through this process.

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.