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David West’s reliable passing off the bench key for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) David West checks in to start the second quarter and the rest of the Warriors know to have their hands up and ready to catch his passes, because they will come fast and right on target. He has a knack for finding the open man before the man is even open, somehow seeing a play develop before it has even developed.

For all the years West yearned to be part of the great San Antonio Spurs franchise, he finally got that chance last season. Now, he is facing them from the other side with Golden State and doing his part to chase a championship. His old coach, Gregg Popovich, believes West has found a perfect fit in the Bay Area alongside Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the others, as hard as it is for Pop to see him in another uniform.

“We’ve got a lot of experience and guys who have seen just about every sort of mix you can find in the NBA, so that’s been the joy, also just sort of figuring out what works for us defensively with all the different moving parts we have,” said West, a 14-year veteran who returns to San Antonio for Saturday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals with his new team up 2-0.

“Personally, I expected us to take a little bit longer. That was a surprise just how well we all sort of meshed.”

The 36-year-old West is a big reason why. He has experienced a special two-year stretch deep into his successful NBA career, finding an important role with the Warriors’ second unit that strives to take the pressure off while maintaining the high level of the starters.

“Ah, man, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” forward Draymond Green said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s a special person. I didn’t know he could pass as well as he does, he’s as smart as he is, on and off the court, just a brilliant person, someone who always has your back. Anybody on the team, he’s riding for you. It’s just been great having D-West here. Hopefully we can keep him for as much longer as he wants to play.”

West always wanted to play for Popovich in San Antonio, then once he’d done so decided to move on to Golden State. It seemed like the next intriguing move to be part of the Warriors’ roster of superstars.

Still, the Spurs miss him.

“He was wonderful. He’s a class act. He’s a contemplative guy. He thinks about things,” Popovich said. “Beyond basketball, it’s fun to be around him to talk about social situations. We’d share that sort of thing. As a player, he’s in the perfect system. They’ve got the big guys out on the court and passing and everybody’s running splits and back door and slipping, and he’s a good passer. If you get off, he can shoot the shot. So I’m happy for him in that situation. We hated to lose him.”

West has been a steady contributor, initially surprising many teammates with just how spot-on a passer he is and how he immediately makes things happen while providing much-needed boosts during important stretches.

“David is such a good passer. He loves to get to those elbows,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He has good cutters around him. We have a lot of guys on the floor who really like to cut and move without the ball so David has fit in beautifully with the way we like to play anyway. He’s really added a dimension to our game this year to be able to play through him when he’s out on the floor.”

West dished out a season-best seven assists in Game 1 against Utah the last round, his most in a playoff game since getting eight three years ago with Indiana. He notched six assists in just 15 minutes last month against Minnesota, five during a short second-quarter stretch.

Golden State is fortunate to use three distinct centers: starter Zaza Pachulia, dunk master JaVale McGee and West.

Durant left Oklahoma City to join the Warriors last July 4 then West signed only five days later.

“I got the freedom just to pick a place to go play ball and leaving there wasn’t tough,” West said. “Obviously, it was just something I wanted to do. It was sort of one of those things on my bucket list. I always wanted to play for the Spurs, see what the inside of the organization felt like. Really last year was the only opportunity I had in my career to do it. Took a shot at it. I felt like coming up here to play, experience this environment. It has all worked out.”

Notes: F Andre Iguodala, who missed Game 2 with soreness in his left knee, practiced in full Thursday while Pachulia participated in some of practice then worked out on a stationary bike as he nurses a bruised right heel that sidelined him for the second half of Game 2. Both were listed as questionable to play Saturday.

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Cavaliers GM on LeBron James: ‘We want to respect his space’ during contract decision

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — With one deadline looming on his future in Cleveland, LeBron James has been in contact with the Cavaliers through his representatives.

Following the NBA draft on Thursday night, Cavs general manager Koby Altman said he has had positive discussions with the three-time champion’s group. James has until June 29 to tell the team if he will pick up his $35.6 million option for next season or become a free agent.

“We continue to have good dialogue with his management team,” Altman said. “I think LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does. He’s done that before, so this is nothing new for us. We want to respect his space during this process and I continue to have really good dialogue with his management team as he goes through that process.

“That’s probably all I can say at this point regarding him, but we don’t take him for granted. We love him, this city loves him. He means the world to us and this franchise.”

James led the Cavs to their fourth straight NBA Finals this season, carrying a team that endured injuries and a roster overhaul at the trading deadline. Cleveland was swept by the Golden State Warriors, and following Game 4 the 33-year-old said he would weight family concerns and his desire to win more titles into his decision.

James has signed several short-term contracts since returning to the Cavs in 2014 after spending four seasons with Miami. After the Cavs won the championship in 2016, James signed a two-year contract with an option for this season.

The Cavs can offer him a five-year, $209 million deal this time. It’s possible James could choose to sign a one-year deal again with a player option and go through the free-agency dance again next summer.

To look more appealing to James, the Cavs need to upgrade their roster and they took a significant step by selecting Alabama point guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 overall pick. Sexton averaged 19.2 points as a freshman and he addresses the club’s biggest need – a playmaker to fill the void left when the Cavs traded All-Star Kyrie Irving last summer.

Altman hopes Sexton’s arrival will make the Cavs more attractive to James.

The 19-year-old lacks professional experience, but Altman pointed out that James dealt with that issue this season.

“He went through it this year a little bit with some of our young guys, especially in the playoffs,” Altman said. “What’s amazing, he talks about this all the time – the best teacher is experience. And our young guys got some really good experience this year. And while it wasn’t consistent throughout the playoffs, each guy had their moments. And we went through two Game 7s and got to a Finals, and that experience is a huge teacher for those guys.

“So that experience is amazing for them and their confidence level as they approach next year. And then Collin, we got to get there with experience as well. But like he (James) says, experience is the best teacher, and we gave those guys a great experience over 30 games and into the playoffs and into the Finals, and what does that mean for us moving forward, I think it’s all really positive.”

Report: Lakers tell LiAngelo Ball he will not be invited to Summer League team

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LiAngelo Ball was never going to get drafted Thursday night. He simply is not that good (something I heard from every scout I talked to that saw him play).

He did get invited to work out for some teams before the draft (including the Warriors and Lakers). Impress there and the next step is an invite to play on a Summer League team. I don’t know if the middle Ball son impressed enough in workouts to earn an invite, but I do know he had an extra hurdle to climb — and a big one to most teams — because organizations do not want to deal with LaVar Ball and that circus.

That includes the Lakers, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

It will be interesting to see if another team is willing to give LiAngelo Ball a roster spot in Las Vegas. I would be shocked if a G-League team or two does not make him an offer for next season — for them, the marketing and publicity would be worth the hassle. How well he plays is secondary.

If a player is as talented and has the potential of Lonzo Ball, teams will put up with a lot. The Lakers organization has its frustrations with LaVar (to put it kindly), but they like Lonzo and what he could become (the team just played better with him on the court last season). Yes, Lonzo has trade value, too, but they’re not opposed to keeping him, depending upon how this summer shakes out. They can ignore the dad for him.

LiAngelo simply isn’t the level of talent where teams will tolerate the circus around him.

The big question for me is LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers, who was considered a top prospect for colleges a couple of years ago (and had committed to UCLA). How has being pulled out of his high school and playing low-level European competition in exhibitions in Lithuania impacted his standing? Something to watch over the next few years.

Just know LaVar Ball is never giving up the dream.

In surprise to nobody, Carmelo Anthony reportedly will not opt out of $27.9 million

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Carmelo Anthony is going to take the money. Who could have seen that coming?

Not that we should blame the man — anybody else in his shoes (including you, dear reader) would do the same thing. Anthony is contractually owed $27.9 million next seasons, and while he can opt out he knows if he did the open market would not pay near that much. So the man is going to take the cash, which was expected but Marc Stein of the New York Times is making it official.

Carmelo Anthony does not intend to opt out of his current contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to a person familiar with Anthony’s decision.

Anthony has until Saturday at midnight (Eastern) to exercise the option that would make him a free agent July 1 — provided he were willing to walk away from the $27.9 million he is owed next season. But he is planning to let the deadline pass quietly and keep his current contract in effect, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

The Thunder are in a bind.

It became clear in the playoffs that at this point in his career, Anthony’s defense and ball-stopping offense are just not a fit with this Oklahoma City roster. He played 194 playoff minutes with the Thunder and had two assists. Last regular season, 32.5 percent of Anthony’s offense came from isolations or post ups, and he scored less than 0.9 points per possessions on those — his numbers aren’t awful, but they’re not good enough to  make up for his poor defense. (Stats via Synergy Sports.)

That’s why Anthony saw his minutes and role shrink in the postseason — but he said after the Thunder were eliminated (in the first round) he did not want to accept that role and fewer touches next season. He said he wants to get back to playing his way. (Stop laughing, Knicks’ fans, it’s not polite.)

The Thunder may try to trade him. Good luck with that. There is going to be limited to no market. With that salary they are going to have to throw in a serious sweetener to get other teams to bite (and/or take on a worse, longer contract in return).

Anthony is not likely to take less in a buyout to get out of town.

Nobody should blame Anthony here — he is taking the money is is contractually owed. The Knicks gave him this contract, the Thunder traded for it. But OKC is backed into a corner with this move and has few options.

 

Report: Steve Clifford strongly urged Hornets to draft Donovan Mitchell over Malik Monk

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The Hornets have been taken through the ringer for rejecting a monster trade package from the Celtics, who wanted Justise Winslow, for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft. Instead, Charlotte kept the pick to take Frank Kaminsky.

Though they weren’t alone in erring by refusing to trade with Boston, the Hornets added another catastrophic missed opportunity to their ledger last year.

Charlotte picked Malik Monk No. 11 over rising star Donovan Mitchell (whom the Jazz selected No. 13) and apparently over protests of then-Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

The Lowe Post podcast:

Jonathan Givony:

Charlotte, I had them projected to take Donovan Mitchell, because I heard that Clifford was on the table in the war room saying, “We need to draft Donovan Mitchell.” And he was overruled on that, and they took Malik Monk instead. And it’s interesting how that played out in hindsight.

Zach Lowe:

Cliff was 100 percent trying to get them to take Donovan Mitchell.

I rated Monk ahead of Mitchell, but unlike me, the Hornets had an opportunity to work out the players. Mitchell performed so well in his Charlotte workout, he believed the Hornets would pick him. They have to own that mistake.

It’s unclear who overruled Clifford – then-general manager Rich Cho or owner Michael Jordan. But Clifford and Cho paid the price, both getting fired this year.

It’s easy to believe that, if Charlotte took Mitchell, both Clifford and Cho would still have their jobs there.

To be fair, it’s also easy to believe we’ll never hear about the draft calls Clifford would have gotten wrong.