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D’Angelo Russell could transform Nets

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Two years ago, the Nets paid $20 million in luxury tax for an old, losing team that wouldn’t have its own first-round pick for the next four years.

Bleak is an understatement.

Yet, Brooklyn acquired a 21-year-old potential franchise player this summer.

The context isn’t as pretty.

Before D'Angelo Russell became available, he had to alienate his teammates by recording and posting a video of one discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé. He had to disappoint with his maturity and work ethic. He had to demonstrate that he wasn’t ready to carry a team on the court.

To get him, the Nets had to surrender their best player – Brook Lopez, who’s on an expiring contract. They also had to relinquish the No. 27 pick in this year’s draft. And they had to accept Timofey Mozgov‘s toxic contract, one of the NBA’s worst.

But the Nets still got Russell – a far more valuable player than anyone thought they would have at this point.

Russell needs development, on and off the court. He will test the culture Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are building. But Brooklyn faces little downside in betting on its ability to reach Russell – and immense upside.

Just because Russell didn’t set the NBA on fire by age 20 doesn’t doom him to obscurity. He has flashed enough of the talent that made him the No. 2 pick just two years ago. Point guards tend to develop later. He might still be a star in the making.

Though far from a sure thing, Russell is now the crown jewel of a young core that also includes Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and No. 22 pick Jarret Allen.

Again without their first-round pick this season, the Nets aren’t cleanly incentivized to turn all playing time over to the youngsters – which would usually come with the upside of more losing and a higher draft pick. So, Brooklyn added helpful veterans, leveraging their bad contracts.

Though overpaid (three years, $48 million remaining) and primarily the cost of getting Russell, Mozgov can still play. He should start at center.

DeMarre Carroll (two years, $32.2 million remaining) came with sweeteners (a first-rounder and second-rounder) from the Raptors, who just wanted to dump salary. The Nets need the draft picks, but they could also use Carroll in the wing rotation. Brooklyn even unloaded Justin Hamilton, forcing Toronto to eat his $3 million salary, in a clearly helpful deal.

The Nets also traded for Allen Crabbe (three years, $56,332,500 remaining) without getting a draft pick, a more curious arrangement. Sure, Brooklyn offset costs by sending Andrew Nicholson (three years, $19,911,007 remaining) to the Trail Blazers. But Crabbe’s trade value now is determined by his actual salary. Considering the immense luxury-tax savings for Portland, the Nets probably should have extracted a pick. They apparently just really like Crabbe, though. After all, they signed him to this contract with an offer sheet the Trail Blazers matched last year.

This summer, Brooklyn took its annual foray into high-priced restricted free agency with Otto Porter. Like with Tyler Johnson‘s and Crabbe’s teams before, the Wizards matched.

So, the Nets turned to a smaller, sensible signing. Their big addition in free agency? Tyler Zeller. Though merely a passable player, Zeller is a big upgrade at center, where Brooklyn had just a 31-year-old who looks incapable of playing huge minutes and a raw rookie.

Despite resources flushed away years ago, the Nets are trying to win as much as they can now while setting themselves up to win a meaningful amount later. They’re threading that needle pretty well.

Offseason grade: B+

Bradley Beal foils Celtics’ foul-up-three plan, forces OT (video)

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Foul or defend?

Though it’s always worth it for teams to consider how they can incrementally improve their odds of winning, the debate over strategy when leading by three points late probably gets too much attention. Teams up by three points late almost always win, regardless.

But the rare cases of a team overcoming a late 3-point deficit are so memorable.

Take last night, when the Celtics – up three – intentionally fouled Bradley Beal with 13 seconds left. Beal made the first free throw, missed the second, grabbed the offensive rebound and scored. It was a heck of a play that forced overtime.

It didn’t pay off for the Wizards, who lost in overtime. But it paid off for us, as the extra period produced this awesome sequence.

Report: Knicks undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier will have higher salary than 20 of 30 2018 first-round picks

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Allonzo Trier took a winding road to the Knicks – grade-school acclaim, failed drug tests at Arizona, going undrafted – but he’s thriving now. Trier is scoring 11.3 points per game, one of the highest marks ever for an undrafted rookie in his first professional season.

About to run out of NBA service days on his two-way contract, Trier is cashing in.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

The most the Knicks had to offer Trier over two years is $6,933,100 through the bi-annual exception – $3,382,000 this season and $3,551,100 next season. It sounds as if Trier got that and Begley is rounding.

That’d put Trier’s 2018-19 salary above 20 of this year’s 30 first-round picks. Not bad for an undrafted player.

Trier gets buckets. I still have questions about the 22-year-old’s all-around game, but he has proven himself an NBA contributor. New York did well to reward him and keep him on the roster the rest of the season.

The Knicks are essentially buying flexibility next summer by paying Trier so much now. They’re gearing up for 2019 free agency – most notably, Kevin Durant – and value cap space.

If Trier plays well enough, New York can always exercise his team option and keep him for next season. If not, the Knicks can decline the team option. At that point, they could make Trier a restricted free agent or renounce him entirely to maximize cap room.

Even if he completes this contract, New York can still make Trier a restricted free agent in 2020. It’s a lot of team control.

This comes at a cost, in addition to Trier’s salary, of waiving potential trade chip Ron Baker. Baker’s $4,544,400 expiring contract could have been useful in a trade, though the Knicks’ reluctance to add future salary limited options for utilizing Baker’s contract.

Baker will be best remembered for New York rushing to give him that absurd deal on the first day of 2017 free agency, breaking his face when Anthony Davis dunked on him and sucking on a contact lens then trying to put it in his eye.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan playfully slaps Malik Monk for premature-celebration technical foul (video)

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Malik Monk ran onto the court to celebrate Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner last night.

One problem: The game wasn’t over.

Lamb’s jumper put the Hornets up two with 0.3 seconds left, and the Pistons were trying to inbound. Officials called a technical foul, and Detroit made the free throw. But Charlotte still held on for the 108-107 win.

The situation created a few tense moments, though. While officials reviewed the play, Hornets owner Michael Jordan playfully slapped the back of Monk’s head a couple times.

Zach Aldridge of WCCB:

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure those slaps were playful until Jordan and Monk smiled afterward. Jordan is an intense competitor. He once punched then-Bulls teammate Steve Kerr in the face during practice. I bet there was an element of actual warning behind Jordan’s slaps, even if they were mostly joking.

Why did only Monk receive the treatment? He drew the most attention for running onto the court – but just because he stayed at least somewhat near the bench. Bismack Biyombo was practically at halfcourt! Ashley Holder:

It’s amazing Biyombo escaped the owner’s wrath. Does Jordan know how much he’s paying Biyombo?

Watch Warriors be given SI’s Sportsperson of the Year tonight on NBCSN

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Traditionally, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award is given to a… person. Last year it was the NFL’s J.J. Watt and the MLB’s José Altuve splitting the award. Before that it was LeBron James, or Serena Williams, or Madison Bumgarner, or Peyton Manning. All individuals.

This year, Sports Illustrated stepped out of the box and gave the award to a team — the Golden State Warriors.

Tonight you can watch the Warriors receive their award, at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN or on the NBC Sports app.

In addition to the Sportsperson (or, team) of the Year there will be other awards presented, such as the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, SportsKid of the Year, and three separate awards given to athletes who inspired, amazed and surprised the entire sports universe in 2018.

Teams have won the award before — the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox — but it’s rare.

Why the Warriors? I’ll let the eloquent Chris Ballard of SI explain.

There are myriad reasons Sports Illustrated is honoring the Warriors with its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year Award. For sustained excellence, business innovation and cultural impact. For injecting joy into the game and setting fire to conventional wisdom. For winning with a center built like a forward, a point guard built like a featherweight and an offense predicated on the idea that stars want nothing more than to pass the ball to someone who will pass the ball to someone else who might shoot from 27 feet. For thinking the game and speaking out. For being fun to love and fun to hate. For rewarding the stubborn faith of the Oakland fans, not only with titles but also a basketball purist’s approach. And, of course, for always keeping things interesting.

The Warriors are all that. And it’s fitting to honor them as a team, not individuals, because that’s what makes them unique. Stephen Curry sets the tone and culture (plus hits ridiculous threes) but Kevin Durant is their best player, Klay Thompson is magical, and Draymond Green is both the emotional leader and the defensive glue that makes it all work. They are all great players, but they are the perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

They deserve the award. As a franchise.

Tune in tonight and watch them receive the honor.