And now, 29 teams will start chasing the champion Warriors

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The alarm was sounded loud and clear by LeBron James not long after the NBA Finals ended, and every other player, coach and general manager around the league who did not end this season drenched in champagne surely agreed with what he was saying.

The Golden State Warriors are a problem.

And they’re probably going to stay that way.

There will be one question inevitably asked this offseason by most of the 29 other teams in the NBA whose fingers didn’t get to smudge the golden surface of the Larry O’Brien Trophy this year. That question will not have a good answer for many, if any. Basketball’s offseason is here, a draft and free agency loom, and for the second time in three years everyone is chasing the Warriors.

Good luck, everybody.

You’re going to need it.

“They’re going to be here for a while,” James said after the Finals ended , his words coming as the Warriors’ celebration was still going in earnest. “They’re going to be around for a while. Pretty much all their guys are in their 20s. Pretty much all their big-name guys are in their 20s, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.”

Boston has the No. 1 pick in the draft to add to a team that went to the Eastern Conference finals this season. Miami will have around $37 million in spending money once Chris Bosh comes off the books. James will try and lure more help to come to Cleveland. Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Gordon Hayward, Paul George and Blake Griffin may all be changing addresses. The Knicks have openly been begging Carmelo Anthony to seek a trade elsewhere.

No, quiet will not happen in July 2017.

It’s unclear if any of this summer’s moves will matter come June 2018.

The Warriors might be that far ahead of the field already.

“There’s going to be a lot of teams that’s trying to figure out ways to put personnel together to try and match that if they’re able to actually face them in a playoff series, both Eastern Conference and Western Conference,” James said. “Because they’re built for … from my eyes, they’re built to last a few years.”

Technically, the Warriors have some work to do in order to remain the Warriors.

Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee will be among many Golden State players in the free-agent waters, and Kevin Durant will likely join them. Even though it will cost the Warriors big money – remember, Curry is in line for an enormous raise and made “only” $12 million this season – it’s more than possible for them to keep their core intact.

There also are some other matters of business around the league to clear up this season.

Many players have opt-in decisions coming before the July 1 shopping spree opens. Some of those decisions could affect what happens on draft night, when Markelle Fultz will likely go to the Celtics with the No. 1 overall pick. And there is still all the awards that need to be handed out, like settling the Russell Westbrook versus James Harden race for MVP.

There hasn’t been a coaching change in more than a year, which is an incredibly rare occurrence for the league. But some front offices have undergone recent overhauls, and more of that could be on the way – especially if Cleveland does not retain GM David Griffin, whose contract with the Cavs is expiring.

Rosters, though, will definitely change. They always change. The Warriors won’t be the same when Commissioner Adam Silver hands them their rings next October (when the league’s longer season designed to give more rest over the 82-game span) begins. The Cavaliers won’t be the same either. Nobody will have the same 15 players they ended the season with.

But the Warriors look like they’re on the brink of something dynastic.

No team had a winning record against Golden State this season – five were .500 against the Warriors – and 16 of the 29 other teams in the league didn’t beat them even once. The best example of how far the league has to go to catch the Warriors might be the Portland Trail Blazers, a very solid team with two great scorers in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Portland played Golden State eight times this season. The Blazers went 0-8.

Again, good luck, everybody else.

“We’re obviously just getting started,” Curry said. “This is something that we want to continue to do.”

 

Watch James Harden drop 44 in final preseason game

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MIAMI (AP) β€” James Harden sure seems in midseason form.

Russell Westbrook isn’t there yet.

Harden, the reigning NBA scoring champion, scored 44 points in 35 minutes – 18 of those points coming in the third quarter – and the Houston Rockets ended the preseason with a 144-133 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night.

]”James was ridiculous,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Harden was 12 for 26 from the field, 8 for 16 from 3-point range and 12 for 13 from the foul line. He also had seven assists and five rebounds, and finished the preseason averaging 31.5 points.

“That’s the way he’s wired,” D’Antoni said. “He loves to play. I couldn’t take him out in the fourth quarter if I wanted to. He’d play 48 if he could. He’s wired that way. He gets better every time. I don’t know what his ceiling is. But he’s, to me, the most improved player every year. He’s just ridiculous.”

The Rockets didn’t get out of the game unscathed, however. Austin Rivers could play only seven minutes before being downgraded to out with neck soreness, and Westbrook – who has been dealing with some dislocated fingers on his right hand – left the game in the fourth quarter in obvious discomfort.

Westbrook lost the ball, immediately grabbed at his right hand, then ran off the court and straight into the tunnel leading to the Rockets’ locker room without stopping. He finished with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists on 6-for-13 shooting in 26 minutes.

“Both of them told me they were OK, so we’ll take that,” D’Antoni said.

D’Antoni said Westbrook aggravated the finger issue, and will be fine. A top task for the Rockets in this preseason was figuring out all the ways to best utilize their new point guard, with D’Antoni acknowledged is still a bit of a work in progress.

“I was with him for eight summers in USA Basketball,” D’Antoni said. “He’s a great guy. Works hard. Unbelievable athletically. Just the speed and power that he can play with … he’s relentless.”

Some of D’Antoni’s favorite moments during Westbrook’s brief Houston tenure so far have been ones that few people have seen – since they’ve come in practice, in moments where the competitive juices have perhaps overflowed.

“He gets ticked off in practice sometimes and the next 3 minutes, he’s killing people,” D’Antoni said. “He needs that competitiveness to juice him up. He’s not like the old guy at the Y who will knock you down and shoot it. No, no, he’s coming at you with all the athleticism that he has.”

Westbrook will have a few extra days to get through the issue with his fingers. He and the Rockets don’t open the regular season until playing host to Milwaukee on Thursday.

Eric Gordon scored 23 points for Houston and Clint Capela finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Kendrick Nunn scored 40 points in 40 minutes for Miami, making 15 of 27 shots. Tyler Herro scored 14 points and Bam Adebayo made all six of his shots on the way to a 13-point, 11-rebound night.

Jimmy Butler didn’t play for the Heat, held out to rest.

Andrew Bogut appears to take shot at LeBron on Twitter

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The NBA wants it to, and it will eventually fade some (only to flare up again later), but the NBA/China relationship issue is not going away.

The latest spark comes from across the ocean, down in Australia, where former Warrior (and Buck and a couple other teams in the middle) Andrew Bogut takes what is a pretty clear a dig at LeBron James over the China issue.

Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted support for the Hong Kong protesters just before the NBA was about to send the Lakers and Nets were about to head to China for a couple of exhibition games. China flexed its muscle to punish the NBA for touching a third-rail issue by having corporate sponsors pause their involvement with the league and preseason games were not shown in China. Adam Silver issued a milquetoast statement that seemed aimed to appease China, and when a backlash from the United States β€” still by far the largest NBA market β€” came swiftly Silver adjusted his position and came out more backing Morey’s right to free speech.

After all that, once back in the states, LeBron vented about the situation, saying Morey wasn’t “educated” on the topic, and seeming frustrated because the Tweet put the players in China on the front lines of an international trade dispute β€” remember, there is a trade war and tariffs. However, LeBron’s meandering comments came off as being more concerned about money than free speech. LeBron said he was saying Morey didn’t think through the consequences of his Tweet (true) and that he doesn’t have to take a public stand on every issue (also true) but it all came off as LeBron prioritizing protecting his brand,

Which leads to a lot of criticism. Some a lot more direct than what Andrew Bogut said.

Report: Grizzlies, Bulls have conversations with Iman Shumpert

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Iman Shumpert is just 29 years old, which seems crazy because it wasn’t that long ago he was making the All-Rookie team in New York or winning a title with LeBron James.

The point is he’s still young, was on the court for the Rockets during the postseason last year, and is the best free agent available. He turned down a contract offer from the Rockets before the preseason (which may have been incentive heavy, like Nene’s) and remains on the market.

Some team is going to snap him up. That team could end up being the Memphis. Or, maybe Chicago. That according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Free-agent guard Iman Shumpert has had conversations with teams, including Memphis and Chicago, league sources said. Shumpert, an eight-year NBA veteran, is one of the best players remaining on the market.

Chicago has Zach LaVine and Otto Porter starting on the wing, but they may want more veteran depth behind them. Memphis has the combination of Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen at the two, they may want to add some veteran depth to that mix.

At this point, teams are just starting to accurately assess where they are and where they need help β€” players they thought would step up didn’t, or there are injuries creating gaps β€” and that will continue into the first weeks of the season. As that happens, a few of the veterans on the sideline will get picked up (no, probably not Carmelo Anthony, that’s another topic).

Shumpert should be at the front of that line. He’s already got interest.

 

Pacers reportedly testing trade market for Domantas Sabonis

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Two factors are in play here.

First, the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis‘ representatives are reportedly nowhere near an agreement on a contract extension.

Second, there are real questions about how Sabonis and Pacers’ center Myles Turner can play together. If they can’t, then the question becomes how much do the Pacers want to pay Sabonis to be a backup five (because Turner is the better player and a guy they can build their defense around).

That has led to the Pacers exploring possible Sabonis trades, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

…sources say the Pacers have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week about the fourth-year forward. Sabonis, the 23-year-old who arrived with Victor Oladipo in late June 2017 in the Paul George trade with Oklahoma City, is clearly on the market.

There is no lack of interest in Sabonis, who averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season as the Pacers β€” who lost Oladipo to a season-ending ruptured quad injury in a game against Toronto on Jan. 23 β€” pulled off such a surprising campaign (48-34; lost in the first round to Boston). Thus far, sources say the Pacers’ asking price in talks with several teams has been too high.

Sabonis is a skilled offensive big man who is versatile. That makes him a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who can help create space for the ball handler to find a lane, then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game. He can help a lot of teams. However, two things limit Sabonis: He is not good defensively and he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Sabonis is in the final year of his rookie contract and has a healthy pay raise coming next season, up from the $3.5 million he will make this time around. The Pacers, however, just forked out big cash for Myles Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). They may be a little gun shy about doing that now for Sabonis, and there are other teams interested. That doesn’t even count Victor Oladipo’s payday. All this for a team not likely to venture into the luxury tax.

How much the Pacers can get for Sabonis remains to be seen, but the Pacers may want picks because not much salary needs to be exchanged. Of course right now the Pacers are asking for everything but the GM’s firstborn son from other teams, and of course the other teams are lowballing the Pacers with their first offers. That’s how negotiations work. When things start to evolve to a middle ground, the Pacers may well find a deal because, as much as they like him, it’s hard to make everything fit with Sabonis on the team.