Elsa/Getty Images

Mavericks found a keeper and conundrum in Dennis Smith Jr. and Nerlens Noel

3 Comments

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Mavericks had one building block fall into their lap.

Now, they’re playing chicken with another.

No. 9 pick Dennis Smith Jr. could be the steal of the draft. He hasn’t even begun his rookie year, so plenty is unknown, but Smith’s summer-league excellence only confirms what I saw before the draft. He looks like a potential star, and Dallas gets credit for landing him in the back half of the lottery.

Nerlens Noel‘s restricted free agency didn’t go quite so smoothly. The center, acquired before the last trade deadline, reportedly rejected an offer paying $17.5 million annually and took the $4,187,599 qualifying offer.

That could have major upside for the Mavericks, who could hold him at a $7,956,438 cap hit next summer then exceed the cap to re-sign him after finishing their other business. They could have major cap space, especially if Wesley Matthews declines his $18,622,514 player option.

But this could also be the beginning of the end of Noel in Dallas. Of the 20 players who’d ever signed qualifying offers, only one – Spencer Hawes – re-signed with the same team the following summer. Mark Cuban can try to dress it up, but this situation usually ends with the team and player parting ways.

And it’s not as if the Mavericks can just preemptively trade Noel. As a player on a one-year contract who’d have Bird Rights when it expires, he can block any deal. It’s hard to see a place he;d better showcase himself than Dallas, which needs a starting center and has a scheme that maximizes his contributions.

For that reason, maybe Noel would be the exception who re-signs after taking the qualifying offer. Though being unrestricted should help, the market will still be tight, and I doubt centers suddenly become en vogue in this small-ball era.

Smith, Noel and Harrison Barnes could comprise a nice young core to follow Dirk Nowitzki.

Speaking of Nowitzki, he re-signed for two years, $10 million with a team option – another team-friendly deal granted by him. The Mavericks are trying to remain competitive around him, though that’s an uphill battle as he ages and other Western Conference teams build up.

At least the Mavericks aren’t overspending in some last-ditch effort to win for Nowitzki. That allowed them to extract a second-rounder and cash from the Heat for taking on Josh McRoberts. Dallas still has cap space to pursue similar deals before the trade deadline.

The Mavericks signed their annual gaggle of fliers – Jeff Withey, Maxi Kleber, Maalik Wayns, P.J. Dozier, Gian Clavell, Brandon Ashley, Johnathan Motley – to compete for back-end roster spots. Maybe one emerges as a contributor.

I’d bet Smith becomes much more than that. Even though he has yet to play, he has impressed enough to warrant optimism he’ll out-perform his draft slot. He could be a franchise-changer, and the possibility carries weight.

Offseason grade: B

Rudy Gobert says France’s bronze medal ‘means everything’

Getty
Leave a comment

Some countries, like the United States, don’t really care about the World Cup. The 2019 FIBA World Cup in China was perhaps evidence of that, with Team USA not even bothering to medal.

For countries like France and players like Rudy Gobert, the World Cup is a chance to show that their nation is one that is coming forth as a place to be reckoned with when it comes to basketball development.

France recently took home third place in the 2019 Cup, and for that the Utah Jazz center was grateful. Speaking to reporters after their win over Australia, Gobert said that grabbing the bronze “means everything” to him and to France.

Via Twitter:

That’s some pretty moving stuff from a guy in Gobert who we know is someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Bernie Sanders says LeBron James is the GOAT over Michael Jordan (VIDEO)

AP
3 Comments

Everyone has an opinion about who is the greatest player of all time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Most folks still seem to pick Jordan, although it’s been hard to argue with the type of player that James is in a vacuum outside of measurements like championship rings.

In any case, we now have one more person who has tossed their opinion into the ring of public consciousness. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has now said that he believes that LeBron is the GOAT thanks to his public service.

Via Twitter:

“I think LeBron has been willing to do what a lot of athletes are not and get involved in the political process, put money into education, and I respect that.”

James has certainly done a lot politically, socially, and as an activist. He’s supported things like entire schools, and he’s been on the bleeding edge of NBA activism against things like police brutality.

Jordan has also done his part, including a recent pledge for $1 million in funds to aid Bahamanian hurricane relief. Folks like to bag on MJ for his purported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment, but it’s unclear whether he actually ever said or felt that.

In either case, it appears that we know who Sanders thinks is the GOAT. Next someone should ask Elizabeth Warren if she would have taken Kobe or Shaq in 2004.

Watch Zion Williamson snap the head off a golf club (VIDEO)

Getty
2 Comments

As any good golfer can tell you, the key to getting a pure ball flight is figuring out the idea of compression. Instead of scooping the ball off the ground, the idea is to hit the ball first and use the ground to compress the dimpled object between the earth and the clubface.

And while New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson probably isn’t concentrating on his golf game heading into his first NBA season, it looks like the idea of compression isn’t lost on him.

As the Pelicans held a golf event this week, Williamson was filmed snapping the head off of an iron while taking a shot off the tee box.

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Williamson has a pretty solid swing. I’m extremely jealous of the amount of lag he has at the return parallel position on the downswing.

Someone get this guy a stiffer shaft or something. I can only imagine the kind of havoc Williamson is going to inflict on NBA rims this year if this is how the man golfs.

James Harden on Russell Westbrook pairing: ‘We’ll figure it out’

AP
4 Comments

There has been some doubt that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be able to fit together with the Houston Rockets this season. Both players have matured quite a bit since their time together in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, and now there are real questions about Westbrook’s ability to fit next to just about anyone.

Like Westbrook, Harden is a ball-dominant guard, and we still don’t know the long-term plan for Coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston has real championship hopes, but they could also look much different in a year or two.

Still, Harden and Westbrook have known each other since they were 10 years old. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and are at least very good friends. To that end, Harden says that he believes they will be able to figure it out even if the first year together has bumps along the way.

Via GQ:

It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.

That’s a pretty reasonable outlook to have at this juncture. The NBA is constantly changing, and it’s possible that these two guys could have such a personal connection that their on-court conflicts end up being negligible.

It’s another new era in Houston as they try to capitalize on the Golden State Warriors’ injury issues.