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Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis turning heads after being panned in Paul George trade

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DETROIT – Victor Oladipo is playing like an All-Star, hitting big shots, leading the surprisingly competitive Pacers and – along with Domantas Sabonis, who is suddenly showing why he was a lottery pick last year – forcing us to rethink the Paul George trade.

It has been just a dozen games, but if this is Oladipo’s and Sabonis’ new baseline, their careers – and Indiana’s future – look much brighter. Or this could be just a hot start in a small sample.

“I think this is who I am,” Oladipo said. “I think I can bring that every night, and I’m going to. At the end of the day, this is what it is. People might think it’s a high. It’s fine. Hey, I guess I haven’t proven myself yet. So, I mean, they’re going to think that. But just going to go out there and play as hard as I can every night.”

Oladipo and Sabonis have escaped Russell Westbrook‘s orbit. The Thunder rightfully built their scheme around the ball-dominant superstar, but that probably didn’t benefit Oladipo and Sabonis. Both spent far more time spotting up on the perimeter than optimal for them.

A Maryland native who played for the Indiana Hoosiers, Oladipo says he’s back in his “second home” – and looks far more comfortable. The ball is in his hands more, and he’s sparking a zippy attack. Oladipo is scoring a career-high 22.8 points per game, meeting the biggest role he has ever held with, by far, career-best efficiency.

Sabonis is attacking in the paint far more tenaciously, both as a scorer and a rebounder. He’s averaging a double-double with 3.0 assists per game, helpful halfcourt playmaking for a big man.

Neither player chafes at their role in Oklahoma City. “You’re in the NBA. You’re not the best player on your team anymore, in college,” Sabonis said. “You’ve just got to adapt to the role that you’re given and take advantage of it.” Oladipo says he learned a lot from Westbrook, especially his relentlessness. “You can have that mindset, but there’s levels to it,” Oladipo said. “He definitely hits the ultimate level, and it’s something I learned.”

But spending so much time trying to fit around Westbrook bottomed out Sabonis’ and Oladipo’s value. Oladipo looked like he wouldn’t provide surplus value on his $21 million annual salary, and Sabonis appeared to be more bust than boom.

That’s why the consensus, including me, labeled the Pacers big losers in the George trade.

“It doesn’t really bother us,” Sabonis said. “Maybe we want to show everyone on the court that we’re not just those other guys.”

Said Oladipo: “I was already motivated even before I heard that.”

That’s a very Russ answer. But can Oladipo sustain the Russ-lite production?

He might be coming down to Earth. The Pacers have lost four straight, and in his last three games, Oladipo has shot 7-for-21, 6-for-17 and 8-for-21. With a previous career high of 36%, Oladipo probably won’t keep making 45% of his 3-pointers.

Sabonis’ performance seems more reliable. He’s younger, and he’s now playing with the style it appeared he’d bring from Gonzaga.

At minimum, both players have shown the jury is still out on the George trade.

“I’m just happy I’m somewhere where the team wants me,” Sabonis said.

Nets once thought they were trading for No. 2 overall pick, would have gotten Bulls’ second first-rounder

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A Wizards-Suns-Grizzlies trade just fell apart because the teams confused which Brooks was involved. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

But this isn’t the first time wires got crossed in trade discussions.

Former Nets executive Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The closest it’s ever happened – and this is a funny story – is that in 2006, we thought we getting the second overall pick in the draft from Chicago. And we were going to pick LaMarcus Aldridge. And it wound up being that Chicago was offering us their second first-round pick in the draft, which was pick 16. It turned into Rodney Carney. So, that’s the closest that we’ve ever come to backing out or a deal was agreed upon and going from there.

The Bulls might as well have sent the No. 2 to pick to the Nets. On draft night, Chicago dealt No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge to the Trail Blazers for No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. The Bulls got more value from No. 16 pick Rodney Carney, trading up with the 76ers for No. 13 pick Thabo Sefolosha, who was a helpful role player in Chicago then flipped for a pick that became Taj Gibson. In that 2006 draft, the Nets picked Marcus Williams No. 22 and Josh Boone No. 23.

The big difference between this non-deal and the Brooks mishap: It didn’t reach the point active players were informed and details were leaked to the media. That’s harder to walk back and maybe part of the reason the Suns and Wizards still swapped Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers after the Grizzlies pulled out.

Report: Trevor Ariza ‘checked out mentally’ with Suns

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Why did Trevor Ariza leave the Rockets, who came as close as anyone to beating the Kevin Durant-boosted Warriors in the playoffs, for the lowly Suns?

Money.

Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Phoenix last summer. That salary likely far surpasses what Ariza could have gotten elsewhere – especially Houston, where the Rockets are wary of the luxury tax.

Predictably, a veteran signing with bad team for a quick paycheck turned out poorly. The Suns traded Ariza to the Wizards essentially as soon as he became eligible to be dealt.

Duane Rankin of azcentral:

According to league sources, this was a “mutual” decision between Ariza and the Suns.

Ariza checked out mentally early in the season, according to sources. After practices would ended, he’d leave before everyone else, when that’s usually an opportunity to bond.

He’d break from the team huddle before his teammates and wasn’t engaged.

Signing Ariza to that contract was always part of a bad plan. He didn’t put the Suns over the top, and that money could have gone to a player with a future in Phoenix.

Sure, it would have been nice for Ariza to lead and mentor more. He could have served as a better example for the young Suns.

But it’s not easy to go from the peak of competition to a quickly lost season. Ariza’s misery was predictable and understandable.

It spread to the court, too. He’s having arguably the worst season of his career.

Washington hopes Ariza will play better there. He’s better cast as a glue guy on a good team.

However, it’s unclear whether Ariza will actually be rejuvenated by the Wizards, who’ve been stuck in their own turmoil. There’s also risk Ariza, 33, has declined due to age in ways that won’t simply reverse in a better environment.

At least he ends his depressing Phoenix chapter. This will be the lasting scene of his time there. Gina Mizell of The Athletic:

Devin Booker calls out Enes Kanter’s defense after Suns beat Knicks

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In a Knicks’ win over the Suns last January, Enes Kanter irritated Devin Booker into pushing him. The Phoenix guard got ejected then had to deal with Kanter’s online trash-talking afterward.

So, this retweet – following the Suns’ win over New York last night – was nearly a year in the making.

Booker:

There are two possible responses here. I’m not sure which is correct.

1. Booker shouldn’t criticize anyone else’s defense before looking in the mirror.

2. Kanter’s defense is so bad, even Booker is mocking it.

James Harden on double-stepback uncalled travel: ‘What do you want me to say? Tell on myself?’ (video)

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James Harden is difficult enough to defend when officiated correctly.

When he can get away with this? There’s nearly no stopping him. That was a big uncalled travel in the Rockets’ win over the Jazz last night.

Harden, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“What do you want me to say? Tell on myself?” Harden said.

Fair.

Unlike that call.