Winners, losers from first day of NBA free agency

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Life comes at you fast. NBA free agency comes at you faster.

Within minutes of free agency starting, teams were announcing deals (which in no way were worked out before the start of free agency through back channels, that would be tampering, and no team would ever do such a thing… cough). By the end of the first day of free agency Stephen Curry had the richest deal in NBA history, Blake Griffin had decided to remain a Clipper, and suddenly Philadelphia was looking real in the East (knocking on wood everyone stays healthy).

Here are our three biggest winners and losers from July 1, the first day of NBA free agency.

WINNERS

1) The Golden State Warriors. The NBA’s best team is keeping the band together — and they should. Signing Curry to a five-year, $201 million super max deal was easy, that’s the no-brainer. LeBron is right, Curry is underpaid (relative to what he generates for the franchise, not compared to reality outside of sports, but that’s another larger discussion). More importantly, the

More importantly, Joe Lacob and the rest of Warriors ownership stepped up and bit the bullet on a massive coming tax bill to keep the core of this team together. The Warriors re-signed Shaun Livingston, retained David West, then upped their offer last minute to keep Andre Iguodala — something Iguodala confirmed.

Now Kevin Durant will reach a deal with the Warriors, a 1+1 deal for a few million less than his maximum. Next year, Durant will opt out and get a max contract (likely starting at about $36 million), and the Warriors will be at least $15 million over the tax line and headed into paying the repeater tax in a few years. Keeping the Warriors together is going to eat into the profits of the Warriors, and credit ownership for being willing to pay that to keep the NBA’s best team together.

2) Jrue Holiday. He had the Pelicans up against it. With Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on the team (the latter in a contract year), they need a quality point guard to run the show and get them the rock. Holiday certainly fits that bill, but he had multiple suitors. He was going to make at least $20 million next year. The problem for the Pelicans was if they let him walk they only had about $12 million to replace him, and that was going to mean a serious downgrade in talent they couldn’t afford. So the Pelicans came in big, five years and $126 million. Holiday took it, he wanted to stay in New Orleans, but he wasn’t taking a discount to do it. That’s a lot of money, credit to the man for getting paid.

Now, let’s see how this experiment works in the Big Easy.

3) J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers. We all talk about the great young core with all that potential in Philly: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and on down the line. Then you hear about GM Bryan Colangelo wanting to bring in veterans and think, “please, don’t screw up the process, it’s working.” He didn’t, and the Sixers still got their veterans.

They land J.J. Redick for one year at $23 million (that figure is why Redick is a winner). Is that overpaying? Sure. But it works. The Sixers have the cap space, Redick fits a position of need, and he’s one of the best shooters in the game, plus this is just a one-year deal. Next summer the Sixers have their cap space back. Redick will give the 76ers shooting that spacing the floor for Simmons’ and Fultz to do their thing, but he’s also a perfect mentor off the court — this guy was a huge college star who had to totally rework his body and game to fit in as an NBA role player, and he busted his butt to do it. This is the work ethic and mentality Philly wants to show those young players, show them what it takes. Same things apply to the signing of Amir Johnson — one year, $11 million, very professional and respected by everyone.

LOSERS

1) Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors keep the band together. Paul George goes to Oklahoma City in a trade, despite both the Cavs and Nuggets being down with a three-team trade that would have brought PG13 to Cleveland. The problem was the Pacers didn’t want that, they kept moving the goal posts, then sent him to the West (people around the Cavaliers are convinced Indy wanted George in the West, because why else would anyone want Victor Oladipo over Gary Harris?).

Maybe most concerning: LeBron James is sitting out the recruiting process this summer. Those concerns about him leaving in 2018 are legitimate.

2) Detroit Pistons. On the court, I like the signing of Langston Galloway on this team. He can play either guard spot, he can shoot the three, he’s a good defender, and while $7 million a year is mildly overpaying it’s not unreasonable. The problem is by using some of the mid-level exception to make this happen, the Pistons have hard-capped themselves at $125 million. If another team comes in with a max offer for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the Pistons are going to have to shed $3.4 million to match it. And the hard cap will limit in-season moves. Stan Van Gundy has tied his own hands, and it’s going to be a problem down the line.

3) Los Angeles Clippers T-shirt. They got their man, but looks like the Clippers brought Donald Sterling back to design the T-shirt that staff wore at the end of their pitch to Blake Griffin.

Yes, that is a shirt comparing Blake Griffin’s time with the Clippers to Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein and Nelson Mandela. That is the very definition of tone deaf.

Out of game, shoeless LeBron James waves towel on court near play (video)

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LeBron James wasn’t about that NBA-rulebook life last night.

Not only did he get away with a comically blatant travel, he – ostensibly out of the game – later wandered onto the court during play. He got pretty close to the action, waving his towel in celebration of consecutive Kyle Kuzma blocks.

And LeBron was wearing only socks on his feet. He had already given his shoes away to young fans – with 4:20 left! Sure, the Lakers were up 19 on the Jazz, but that’s a lot of time remaining. What a kind and totally disrespectful gesture, a real do-it-all move.

Restless-late-in-a-blowout LeBron is the best LeBron.

Three Things to Know: Lakers make defensive statement in back-to-back road wins

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers make a defensive statement in back-to-back road wins in Denver, Utah. After winning 10 games in a row against the softest part of their schedule, the calendar flipping to December was supposed to start a real test for the Lakers. No more playing hard for 24 minutes and getting a victory, no more sloppy quarters leading to a comeback win — the Dallas Mavericks made that clear on Sunday.

Los Angeles answered that with back-to-back road wins where their defense — led by Anthony Davis — shut down the Nuggets and Jazz. Through the two games, the Lakers allowed less than a point per possession (96.5 defensive net rating total), including holding Donovan Mitchell and Utah to 96 points (and a 97 net rating) on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz shot just 41 percent as a team for the game.

Mitchell, who has played at an All-Star level this season, scored 29 but on 11-of-24 shooting — the Laker defense made him work for his buckets. (Bojan Bogdanovic had another strong game for the Jazz with six threes, he has been the Utah summer signing that has worked out well.)

Los Angeles led struggling Utah by 18 at the half and cruised to a 121-96 win. In what looked like a scheduled loss before the season — the second night of a back-to-back at altitude against a good team — never felt in doubt as Davis had 26 points and LeBron James 20 and 12 assists.

The only drama was that LeBron got away with a blatant and hilarious travel and double dribble in the first quarter, one the officials somehow missed.

After the game LeBron owned it, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It was the worst thing, probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my career,” James said after the game… “I didn’t realize I did it until halftime. One of my coaches showed me.”

Coming into the season there were questions about how good the Lakers’ defense was going to be, with coach Frank Vogel wanting to play two bigs and more of a drop-back style of defense. That’s the style Vogel used with success back in Indiana (with peak Roy Hibbert protecting the paint) and has become in vogue again in the NBA. That includes in Utah, where Rudy Gobert has won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards because he owns the paint but also because of his length and mobility tp contest and cause problems out on the perimeter.

Davis has done exactly that for the Lakers this season.

It was most evident late in the game against Denver Tuesday. On one fourth quarter play big man Nikola Jokic tried to back down Davis, put on a move and score in the post and AD just stuff blocked him. A couple of possessions later, Davis got switched onto quick guard Jamal Murray on consecutive plays and forced him into a couple of bad shots that missed.

Stretches like that are the reason the Lakers’ have the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA this season — and it is their defense that has them looking like legit title contenders. Davis is at the heart of it, although both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have used their mobility to be surprisingly good defenders who can contest at the arc and get back to protect the rim.

Davis’ performance has the Lakers already campaigning for him to win Defensive Player of the Year (and some in the Lakers’ media core seem eager to promote that idea). We’re just a quarter of the way into the season, and this award is one that has to be earned over a much longer stretch of ground. There are no actual frontrunners yet, and players like Gobert, the Bucks’ Greek Freak, and Boston’s Marcus Smart — among others — will be in the middle of any conversation down the line.

But make no mistake, the Lakers defense and Davis are for real. They made a statement about that the past couple of nights — and showed why their defense could carry them to a parade in June.

2) Blake Griffin steps over Giannis Antetokounmpo and tempers flare. There wasn’t much drama in the game itself between the Bucks and Pistons on Wednesday — Milwaukee blew the doors off Detroit and never looked back.

Any drama came in the third quarter when Antetokounmpo tried to back down Griffin on the left block, Detroits Bruce Brown came over to double and fouled the Greek Freak, who fell to the floor. Then Griffin stepped over him.

Khris Middleton ran over to get in Griffin’s face about the disrespect and then… well, a lot of words were exchanged. Nothing else. The officials reviewed the play, and both Brown and Middleton ended up getting technical fouls.

That’s the most drama there was in Detroit Wednesday. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points and the Bucks won by 24, extending their win streak to 13.

3) Houston “leaning toward” protesting loss to Spurs over missed James Harden dunk call. That will fail, too. Let’s start with the obvious: The referees missed the call on James Harden’s fourth-quarter dunk against the Spurs Tuesday night. The basket should have counted, and after the game the officials admitted they missed the call.

The league’s response to this has been the same as when it says officials missed a call in the Last Two-Minute reports: be transparent about it but nothing changes. Missed calls are part of the game.

The Rockets are now leaning toward filing a protest of the game, according to multiple reports. We’ll see if they actually go through with it (this could be a lot of noise to make their star happy). If the Rockets do file a protest, it probably fails, too, but from the Rockets’ perspective it at least forces the league to rule on the issue.

First things first: The idea put forward that the league would step in and overturn the game outcome and just hand the Rockets a win was — to use the word of some around the league (not directly involved in the case) — “absurd.” The league would never do that. Let us never speak of that idiocy again.

The Rockets’ protest — if they actually file it — is a longshot. The bar is incredibly high. A successful protest requires proof of a  misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited Houston’s chance to win a game. Meaning, just saying the crew got the call wrong is not enough. Houston’s protest would hinge on the idea that coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t given a fair chance to protest the call because of how the referee crew handled the situation. The lead official said after the game D’Antoni didn’t call for a coach’s challenge within 30 seconds, as the rule demands, so there could be no challenge to the call.

The Rockets have a point here. We can be honest and say the referee crew should have handled this better.

However, remember the bar for a protest is the misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited Houston’s chance to win a game. Back in 2008, the league ordered the Hawks and Heat to replay the final 51.9 seconds of a game because the scorer’s table incorrectly said Shaq had fouled out of the game and forced him to sit when in reality he had just five fouls. That scorers’ table error could have changed the end of a game. In the Rockets case, the referees missed a call but proving the referees misapplied the challenge rule and that’s why the Rockets lost (in a game with nearly 8 minutes left) is a tough sell.

We’ll see if Houston goes through and files this, or if all the bluster is just a PR move to keep an angry Harden happy and show they have his back.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 35, Bucks’ winning streak reaches 13 with rout of Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 35 points to lift the Milwaukee Bucks to their 13th consecutive victory, 127-103 over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

The last time the Bucks had a longer winning streak than this was when they won 16 in a row spanning the end of the 1972-73 season and the beginning of 1973-74. They also had a 13-game run shortly after that 16-game streak ended.

Milwaukee had won its previous two games by 41 and 44 points, and the Pistons had won their previous two by 34 and 33. This one wasn’t close either. The Bucks have dominated Detroit of late.

Milwaukee won all eight matchups with the Pistons last season – four in the regular season and four in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks also beat Detroit last month in their first meeting of 2019-20.

The Bucks went on a 13-2 run late in the second quarter to lead 57-39, and although Detroit closed within 11 at the half, the Pistons never made a major run during the final two quarters. Antetokounmpo scored 12 points in the third quarter, and Milwaukee led 92-72 after three.

Andre Drummond had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Detroit. That included a monster dunk over the Greek Freak.

Khris Middleton had 17 points for the Bucks.

There were six technical fouls in the game, and there were words exchanged during a couple mild altercations. The first involved Antetokounmpo and Detroit’s Blake Griffin after those two collided around midcourt in the second quarter.

In the third quarter, Antetokounmpo fell to the ground after being fouled, and then Griffin stepped over him. Middleton came over to confront Griffin. Three technicals were assessed after that.

 

LeBron James blatantly, obviously travels, referees miss it and don’t make call

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Another day, another “how did they miss that?” call in the NBA. At least this one is not going to lead to a protest.

LeBron James blatantly traveled when bringing the ball up the court during the first quarter against the Jazz, and the officials completely missed it.

There was a double-dribble in there by LeBron, too, if we’re going to be sticklers for the rules. Which clearly we are not.

After the game LeBron owned it, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It was the worst thing, probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my career,” James said after the game… “I didn’t realize I did it until halftime. One of my coaches showed me.”

The reaction of Bojan Bogdanovic is maybe my favorite part, he’s incredulous.

This play did not impact the game, the Lakers ran away from Jazz early and went on to win 121-96 behind 26 points from Anthony Davis.