Enes Kanter came off the bench for the Thunder Sunday and played 16:29 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds. That’s five minutes, six points and almost four rebounds off his average.
Kanter is a good offensive big man, but it’s no secret he gets exposed when he has to move his feet and make decisions on defense. Which is exactly what the Rockets started to do to him in the second half of Game 1. Not coincidentally, he was -7 in the half and played when the Thunder began to pull away.
It culminated in the play below — Kanter was yanked 17 seconds later — but check out Thunder coach Billy Donovan’s reaction and words to Mo Cheeks next to him.
Sure looks like he said, “I can’t play Kanter.”
To be fair, we can’t be 100 percent certain what Donovan said (you can be sure he’ll deny it). Also, he could have been referring to this specific bench matchup.
However, what he said is pretty accurate — Kanter’s defensive liabilities are the kinds of things teams hone in on in the playoffs. If Kanter is in, Houston is going to drag him into a pick-and-roll nearly every time down and make him defend it. And when he can’t Donovan will have to find another option, and he doesn’t have a good one.
Billy Donovan has an ace in this series in Russell Westbrook, but Mike D’Antoni has been dealt a much better hand to play. The Rockets have James Harden, but they also have real depth and versatility. They will use that to go at Kanter all series.
LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.
Paul George never said that, though.
So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.
Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:
Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational
When you were just a kid
In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale
We were dreaming too.
While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival
And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.
Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.
The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too
Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?
My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?
That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?
Sam Amick of USA Today:
As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.
Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.
Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.
Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.
LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.
But maybe once is enough.
Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.
league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.
LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.
If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.
This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.
The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.
The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.
But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.
Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.
That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.
Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.
As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.
Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.